Fabeenajeeb asks: In what way we can support our younger generation to shape their future?
Ah, Fabeenajeeb, you are a human after my own heart! This whole website is devoted to just that! All I’m here for is to support the younger generation (of humans!) to shape their future. So if you ask what you can do to help that, my first answer is: tell them to join and read AskShirelle.com!
But what else can you do? Wow, there are thousands of things. But here are a few off the top of my furry head:
1) Provide a Full Education. Kids notoriously avoid doing their schoolwork… until they find something that really interests them. So although it’s necessary to teach kids basics, no matter how boring, it’s also terribly important to give them the opportunities to learn the things that really matter to them. Maybe they want to learn sports, or learn to play a musical instrument, or to act. If all they’re offered is boring math homework and video games, they’re going to opt for video games, I promise. But if children and teenagers are offered the chance to go deeply into things that “turn them on,” they will grow so much more quickly and beautifully.
2) Help them be Healthy! Kids want to eat foods that taste good, and they usually tend to like things that are much sweeter than adults do. This wasn’t a big problem a hundred years ago or so – kids got candy on occasion and loved it – but today there is so much “junk food” everywhere, it’s hard for kids to avoid it. And remember, they’re kids! You can’t expect them to follow a strict diet like a grown up athlete or supermodel! So do what you can to give them good food – even kids who hate vegetables like some vegetables, and all kids like fruit! – whenever you can. And similarly, get those young bodies exercising. Not every kid wants to play sports all day, but even the nerdiest ones will love playing tag in the park, if you encourage them.
3) Talk with them about what matters to you… and Listen! Adults tend to think kids don’t care about the things they do. And they’re right – unless you put it in terms they can understand. Kids would love to talk about politics, current events, or your job, if you don’t talk about it in complicated adult terms that make it all sound boring. But when you talk about these things, be sure to Listen Too! Maybe they won’t totally agree with you about politics or even your job. That’s a good thing! That means they’re thinking for themselves! Encourage that! Most of the time they’ll come around to your way of thinking after a while anyway!
4) Allow them… even Encourage them… to Make Mistakes! I see so many kids who are afraid to try things because they get put down for making mistakes! Hey, mistakes are great! They’re what we learn best from, and can even be fun. You’ve probably heard all those stories – how baseball’s Babe Ruth had the all-time records for most home runs and most strikeouts. Or how many attempts at the light bulb Thomas Edison failed at before getting it right just once. The great animator Chuck Jones told of a drawing class he once took, where the teacher walked in the first day and said, “Every one of you has 500 bad drawings inside you, and our job is to get them out as soon as possible. Pick up your pencils!” Now that is my kind of teacher!
5) Model! Children learn immensely more from watching their parents and other adults than from what those people tell them. If a parent smokes and tells their kid not to smoke, the odds are very high that that kid will end up a cigarette addict. But if that kid sees that parent work really hard to stop smoking, then the child will learn all sorts of things – not to smoke, a great work ethic, that it’s good to admit your weaknesses, that it’s possible to overcome those weaknesses… oh that kid’ll get a great education!
6) Give them clear limits and consequences. The biggest problem I see most parents having today is the lack of clear limits and consequences. Remember, it is a child’s job to test those limits! I don’t have room to go into the reasons here, but it’s terribly important to the child’s development and their sense of stability that they test limits, and get (usually mild) consequences for breaking them. So many parents worry that the kids won’t like them if they enforce these – hey, for a short time, you’re right. And I didn’t particularly like Handsome when he scolded me for peeing on the carpet either. But I sure loved him once I learned the rules, and was able to not only live happily in his house but handle myself well in others.
7) Teach them cool things! Parents teach children so many necessary things: what words mean, not to walk into the street, how to brush their teeth. But what about teaching them things that are simply cool? How to whistle. How to do a magic trick. How to make that funny sound with your hand under your armpit (Hey, dogs don’t have hands, or even the same sort of armpit. So the only way we can make that sound is… never mind).
8) Love them, Love them, just Love Them! Do you recognize this line? It’s based on a song in a play called “Camelot,” where King Arthur tells “How to Handle a Woman.” And if it’s true for women, it’s even truer for children. You may know deep down that you love them, but do they know it? Are you reminding yourself all the time that you love them? When they go into a screaming fit in the car dealership because they want to look at shiny license plate holders while you need to talk about the repair bill – are you feeling you love them? Okay, maybe it’s not always possible! But most of the time, as much as you can – openly, actively, passionately adore them. They deserve it, and so do you.
9) Avoid Shaming Them! I believe that more damage is done to and by humans because of Shame than anything else. It’s impossible for a human not to ever experience Shame, but if you can keep it to a minimum, they will be so much better off! When kids need to be disciplined, make sure they understand that they did something bad, not that they are bad. When the kid is irritating you by expressing their feelings, make sure they know it’s what they’re doing that’s irritating you, and not the feelings, which are legitimate. And when the kid disappoints you, or embarrasses you, just realize that that’s your shame you’re feeling. And that it’s not that kid’s job to keep you from feeling your shame! (But that doesn’t mean you have to pretend you like it!).
10) Give them Nature!! Some psychologists are starting to talk about a new mental illness these days: Nature-Deficit Disorder. Yes, they’re saying that humans keeping their kids locked up inside schools all day and inside houses and apartments all afternoon and night are damaging their children’s minds and souls! And who can possibly deny it? All animals, including humans, are made of Nature. There are all sorts of religious texts that talk about how we’re made from the Earth and to Earth we return in the end. But we need to enjoy hanging out there in between too! Nature teaches all the best lessons to kids, and offers the most beauty. And I don’t just mean about the biggest scale – sure, take your kid to a great campsite or mountain for a vacation. But what about the rest of the time? Is there a yard they can dig in? A place they can find bugs? An open space they can run in and fall in and skin their knees in? Children need this! Their muscle and bone development needs it, but even more, so do their imaginations and their understanding of the world and their place in it.
And I’ll bet you were guessing I’d get to this: if you want to give your kids Education, Healthy Activities, Important Lessons, a safe way to Make Mistakes, a great Role-Model, training in Limits and Consequences, Absolute Coolness, Enormous Unending Love, Absolute Lack of Shame, and Connection with Nature… GET THOSE KIDS A DOG! We are the absolute best companions possible for all these things! Plus we tickle when we lick, and we’re great to cry on, and we will protect those kids from mean people (and squirrels too, but kids never seem as bothered by them as we are!).
I mean, when you think about it, what is there that a kid needs in their future that they can’t learn from a dog? Okay, I know: Algebra, Chemistry, History, Computers… But is any of them nearly as great as learning to joyously run till you make yourself sick?! No Way!!