01/12/2012 07:16 EST | Updated 01/12/2012 08:55 EST

Change The World, One Kid At A time

Free The Children

Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of Free The Children and Me to We, a social enterprise. They are authors of "The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children Who Care And Contribute," with journalist Shelley Page.

How do two guys who have never (until late 2011) had children of our own get to write a column about parenting? We may be light on dealing with toddler meltdowns, but when it comes to nurturing a sense of global responsibility at an early age, we've got plenty to share.

Over the past 16 years, we've met tens of thousands of socially conscious kids through our work with the organizations we founded, Free The Children and Me to We, and we have a good idea what makes them tick and what they need from the adults in their lives. We've also met thousands of their parents, and from them we've learned enough inspiring lessons to fill a book. So we did: The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Kids Who Care and Contribute.

A lot of our interaction with parents comes through our workshops. We begin by asking about their kids, and hear about academic awards, hockey trophies and debating plaques. Then we ask parents what values they hope to nurture. We hear of love, kindness, caring and passion. Then we ask how these values are reflected in how their children spend their time and ask, "Where does your child volunteer?" The silence is so pronounced we can hear a BlackBerry ping.

There seems to be a disconnect between the values parents hope to nurture and the time they devote to doing so. A mom may say she wants to raise a compassionate, caring daughter, but will note that there's no time because of competitive sports. A dad agrees community service is key, but confesses he can't even get his son to clean up his bedroom.

We propose that we can raise passionate global citizens by instilling in children the 3Cs: Compassion, Courage and Community. We aren't the only ones who believe this is crucial.

As the Dalai Lama famously said: "The greatest challenge facing our time is not poverty, weapons of mass destruction, or terrorism. It is that we are raising a generation of passive bystanders."


There are benefits to helping your kids care -- volunteering promotes healthy lifestyles, enhances development, improves social skills, and encourages a life-long service ethic. Studies show that those who volunteer are more likely to finish high school, and less likely to skip class, drink alcohol and take drugs.

We know it's not easy to connect kids to their community through volunteerism. You can't just drop them off at a volunteer gig, as you can a sporting practice or musical rehearsal. When we were writing The World Needs Your Kid, Harvard University child psychologist Dan Kindlon told us that the first step in conveying values to your kids is to define those values for yourself first. "Parents do a great service any time they can be concrete about what they stand for," he said. "There are so many grey areas in life, it's important to have black and white."

To define family values, we recommend parents tackle materialism right from the first "gimme"; to encourage their kids to discover their passion and the gifts they possess to act on that passion; to help find balance between personal achievement and contribution to community; to find a positive adult mentor who guides and builds self-esteem in their kids; and to be the change they wish to see in their children.

We'll flesh out these ideas and others in the coming weeks of our series, as we share the lessons we've learned from remarkable parents around the world, about how to connect to their community and guide their children on a more meaningful path.

Please try this at home.

Questions To Guide Family Discussions On Priorities

Photo gallery Questions To Guide Family Discussions On Priorities See Gallery

There's no time like now to get your children motivated to "be" the change. Here are a few points to prime the discussion about the Three C's - Compassion, Courage and Community.

1. WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS? Take the proverbial job-interview question and apply it to your family. Will you have accomplished something worthwhile (some community service, for instance) that you can look back on with pride? Together, consider a simple, realistic goal - perhaps one that benefits others - that you can attain as a family. And draw a work-back schedule to reach it.

2. POLL THE FAMILY'S DEFINITION OF SUCCESS: Ask your kids what they perceive to be success. Their answers may surprise you. How close (or far) are they from aligning their current actions (and future plans) with becoming global citizens.

3. TALK AMONGST YOURSELVES: When you see an example of someone who has achieved success on their own terms - a person who has made a difference, say, in their community - point it out to your kids. Discuss how the individual's actions differed from the more traditional gauge(s) for "making it."

4. HAPPILY EVER AFTER: In the same way, find movies - both fictional and not - that highlight a similar message. Reinforcing the message through popular culture that the notion of success is rapidly changing is typically effective.

5. WATCH YOUR BALANCE: Help your kids see that there's more to life than grades. In the same way, show them that it takes more than money to make the world go around.