Fair's Fair, Right? Teaching Kids About Fairness
Some of the most meaningful conversations I've ever had with my Dad over the years took place during my teen years in the family's wood-paneled station wagon. During one of these conversations, I was talking about something that had happened at school or at work and expressing my frustration at the unfairness of life.
"Who ever told you the world was supposed to be fair?" Dad
"You did!" I replied.
Now that I'm a parent myself, I'm convinced that I was putting words into my Dad's mouth here. I think I so desperately wanted to believe that the world was fair — or could be fair — that I only heard what I wanted to hear. The alternative — believing that I had been sentenced to spend the rest of my life on a planet that would always be unfair — was more than I could bear to contemplate at an age when an unfair grade on an assignment or an unfair comment made by a friend could lead to days of navel-gazing and angst. The world just had to be fair. It had to.
When it comes to the issue of fairness, we parents walk a very fine line. We don't want to give our kids a false sense of hope about the type of world they live in — to set them up for a big crash by pretending that they are living in some sort of utopia, and that all people are fair and decent. And yet we don't want to take away hope either — by raising cynical kids and teens who are so without hope that they don't bother playing fair or treating others fairly because they've lost all faith in the golden rule. We want our kids to grow up to be the kind of people who want to make the world a more just and fair place, but yet we don't want their hearts to be broken by day-to-day unfairness of life.
How do we strike that balance to help our kids work for fairness and justice in a world that is anything but fair?
Here are a few ideas:
*Join forces with other parents who share your belief in a more just world so that you can provide support and encouragement to one another.
*Talk to kids about the importance of fairness while making them aware of the fairness gap (the difference between how fairness plays out in the real world and how people who care about fairness and justice would like things to be).
*Get involved in working for issues that matter to you as a family (so your kids can see you walking as well as talking the fairness talk).
What does fairness mean to you? How are you trying to convey this important value to your kids? How do you deal with their frustration and disappointment when they come face-to-face with an unfair world?