A few weeks ago we were incredibly lucky to hear New York City’s first female fire fighter, later captain; and now artist, 9/11 museum tour guide and humanitarian, Brenda Berkman, talk about the importance of representation in covering first responders. And it wasn’t just Brenda that gave us reason to pause and consider the stories of heroes. A young student said that he understood the role of first responders during 9/11 and local hurricanes but didn’t know that women were amongst those that saved lives.
Combined with the seemingly endless news cycle focused on lies, hate, greed and moral vapidity, we thought about how important it is to show our children where to find the stories of heroism, optimism and strength. So here are a few thoughts about how to make sure our kids don’t lose sight of what’s right in the world:
Encourage a wider view of the news
As a longtime veteran of the New York fire department, Brenda Berkman expected to see stories of heroic women in 9/11 coverage. But instead she realized that most of the coverage of women were as widows, nurses and volunteers. The omission of female first-responders; and the utility and construction workers at Ground Zero in the later years has been something Berkman has sought to correct. So, when we see news of an emergency or world event, help your child see past just the perfunctory news clips to the larger story of sacrifice that is likely more diverse than we think. And the absence of women is more common than you think.
The number of biographic tomes for kids has been growing of late. From the ‘Who Is, What Was and Where Was’ series to great books like ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’. Work as hard as you can to ensure your girls and boys read about people past and present who are extraordinary. It sounds obvious but is often overlooked. We need to give both boys and girls a wider range of extraordinary – gender and racially equal – stories to learn from.
Find everyday heroes
Engage your children in conversations about everyday cool people. We’ve engaged our children in talk about our elementary school teacher who was an accomplished pastry chef and our neighbor who emigrated from a war-torn nation. Try to show your children that there are people with amazing stories of inspiration everywhere. When we were younger these stories came in the form of local media stories, People magazine profiles and even Oprah Winfrey show topics. Today it seems harder to find hero tales but we know they are all around us.
Go on a hero hunt
There is a game you can play that goes something like ‘has anyone done x’ and then you go and find out. Encourage kids to think big. For instance, ask: ‘has someone discovered x’ to ‘do you know anyone that has travelled to y or invented z’. It’s a great way to stretch a child’s imagination beyond what is possible.
The key ultimately is to not let our disillusionment cloud the possibility that exists within the imagination and belief of our little heroes of tomorrow.