Children and Social Justice

By Josette Luvmour Ph.D.

All Hands together

All children want and need emotional connection. We all must take steps to ensure that our children are emotionally healthy. This is the best investment we as a society can make in our collective future. Developing emotional well-being calls for partnerships between families and schools as both are environments of mutual influence between adult and child.

  • Each family is its own culture, and each child develops well-being within that culture. Cultural values, beliefs, customs, and traditions are different in each family (even within similar ethnic backgrounds). These cultural values are transmitted to children both verbally and nonverbally. Optimal well-being means strong, centered, resilient families in which both children and parents continually develop new resources and make contributions to each other and to society. Building relationships of mutual respect for cultural differences begins within the family.

  • Within each classroom culture, it is important for children to feel valued for who they are while being encouraged to feel they belong. At the same time, children need time to play, explore, and experiment. This engagement with experiential learning enables them to make connections between earlier experiences and new learning. For example, teachers can create multi age cooperative learning teams for any given task. Students can be mixed and matched for optimal success when an educator is sensitive to the developmental moment and skill level of each child.

Children who experience themselves as socially valuable throughout their childhood feel trust and have the greatest likelihood of transitioning to a socially just world. A society whose members feel valued will trust and act justly.  

During each age of childhood connection, understanding and appreciation of life deepens when children are valued for what they bring:  

  • Children through age 7 begin the social process with bonding, play, and innocence. Their exuberance for life includes acceptance of everyone in play.

  • Children ages 8 through 12 moves to new abilities of emotional development with feelings of empathy that call forth the formation of ethics, justice, and fairness during engagement in interpersonal relationships.

Together, these ages and stages of development establish the foundation of the child's sense of belongingness and interpersonal relationship, so necessary for healthy social membership.

  • Teens (13 through 17) build on former development by insisting on the right to choose and the importance of loyalty. This establishes individual liberty, a powerful addition to social membership. In a healthy teen's point of view, a citizen belongs and therefore enjoys the right of freedom of choice.

  • Young adults (18 through 23) develop the capacity of reasonableness, which includes a developed awareness of the interconnectedness of all people, tolerance, and a greater ability to make meaning. During this age, the realization dawns that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must include all people.

When these natural capacities are developed at home and in school, it is not whether a person participates in social justice, but how. One teacher wrote,

Students frequently work together at their table to complete a team task, such as a cooperative paragraph or an art project.  I usually model some ways children might solve issues of fairness, should they arise (and they always do). For example, let every person's voice be heard, and then vote to make a decision.

Participation in which all of our contributions have been recognized, valued, and engaged can become a societal norm. That appreciation of social justice becomes an initial condition for cooperative problem-solving. Democracy depends on the moral quality of its people. It is in family and school relationships that the values and morals of the individual develops and matures. When children are valued at each age of development for their social contribution, then each child will have their own unique expression of social justice.

©2012 Josette Luvmour, PhD. All rights reserved.

Posted on June 6, 2012 by Josette Luvmour Ph.D.

Josette Luvmour, PhD is a developmentalist, consultant, educator who specializes in child development, adult development, and sustainable family relationships. She serves in the non-profit sector as Director of Family and Professional Development at Summa Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides Natural Learning Relationships™ programs to students, families, and professionals. In addition to her 26-year consulting practice at Luvmour Consulting, LLC, she is author of five books and numerous journal articles and chapters that focus on building positive relationships with children. 

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