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A boy doesn't have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn't like pie when he sees there isn't enough to go around. -Ed Howe
As we have seen, the characteristics of the modern-day hero have deteriorated greatly. Until recently, our heroes were individuals who braved unknown frontiers at the risk of death or public humiliation, regardless of the sacrifices. Much of what they accomplished was for the good of humanity rather than their own self-centered needs.
In the past fifty years, attitudes, values, and priorities have been increasingly shaped by a mass-media culture. Quiet heroism plays less well on television than does splashy excess. Because of this, our heroes have changed drastically. Today, our children worship wealthy performers who change spouses as often as they change underwear. They look up to musicians and athletes with rap sheets and drug habits. They idolize movie characters whose talents include killing by day and gratuitous sex by night. They revere those with the most cynical attitudes, the most obscene incomes, the foulest mouths, and the lowest regard for human life. To many contemporary heroes, agricultural advancement means sowing bushels of their wild oats everywhere they can. They seem to live by the motto "Snort, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow ... well, tomorrow we'll meet at my place and do it all over again."
Heroism, in other words, is often defined today in terms of what a person has rather than who he or she and what he or she can do to make the world a better place. What these heroes have, of course, is money, fame, athletic talent, or physical beauty. And because of this, they are often given tacit permission to break the rules and sidestep the moral code.
But talent doesn't make a hero, and beauty should not equate to virtue. So before we can raise our children to become heroes, we need to redefine heroism in healthier, less materialistic terms.
Heroes should be people who are willing to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good. Heroes should be those who, day after day, do what they believe is right, regardless of their audience, their temptations, their excuses, the unpopularity of their choice, or the outside reaction it may trigger. And they do what is right for the sake of rightness, not to earn brownie points or special favors.
Real heroes are not only those who risk life and limb to save another, but anyone ready to risk personal loss-of reputation, pride, friendship, confidence, money, pleasure, and opportunity-for the sake of what is right. In short, heroes are led by their sense of honor rather than by the path of least resistance and highest immediate rewards.
I stumble on these ordinary heroes from time to time. The other day, while waiting in the carpool line to pick up my thirteen-year-old son, I saw a seventh grader, Daniel, breaking essentially every middle-school fashion code. First, he was lugging around his band instrument. That alone constitutes pariah status. Didn't he know he was supposed to smuggle the case home with all the secrecy of a CIA operative? As for his clothes, he wore a plaid, short-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way up and tucked into Sans-a-Belt pants with hems just north of the ankle. Those very same ankles were clad in white Fruit of the Loom crew socks with little blue and red stripes along the top. To top it all off, he was wearing shiny new penny loafers. Nevertheless, Daniel wore a broad grin and walked with a confident step, boldly greeting everyone he passed. Middle school being what it is, he was met with name-calling, smirks, and jeers.
I wanted so badly to rush to his rescue and scoop him up in a big maternal embrace, but I quickly saw how unnecessary that was. He seemed to shrug the abuse off as inconsequential and continued to carry himself with pride. And in between being poked, shoved, and taunted, my new hero stopped to help a sixth grader who had spilled the contents of his backpack after stumbling on the steps. Afterwards, I overheard him ask the younger boy if he was OK.
Does this mean heroism requires being a saxophone-carrying, fashion-challenged nerd? Of course not.
True heroism simply means facing every day with courage, no matter how mundane or unrecognized the task. It means doing the best you can with what you've got and making moral and responsible choices day after tedious day. Daniel demonstrated that type of heroism to me through qualities I hope to inspire in my own children-the qualities of the everyday hero.
It isn't more light we need, it's putting into practice what light we already have. -Peace Pilgrim
From the moment they're born, children set themselves apart as very special beings. Who, after all, can resist a baby's smile without returning a dopey grin? There's something about that smile and happy gaze that gives us a glimpse into the child's innermost soul-a soul that hasn't yet been buried under layers of defenses and pain. It's a soul so genuine and pure we can't help but smile back at it.
As children grow, they begin to explore and interact with their surroundings. At first, they're so blind to threats or limits that there is nothing they feel they can't have or do. They know no bounds. But that blissful ignorance doesn't last long. Children are quick to discover that there are threats and obstacles in the environment that will limit them. Sometimes they come by this knowledge naturally. When they reach out to touch a candle's flame, the burn makes them draw that finger back; they now understand that fire can cause pain.
Since, as parents, one of our roles is to protect our children, they often learn through our teachings rather than their own experience. If we see our child reach out to touch that flame, most of us will react by gently slapping their hand away and saying "No." But if we allow that child to feel the heat, the message he receives will be much stronger and clearer. Furthermore, he receives it in a context to which he can relate rather than something imposed on him by someone else. In the end, the child's learning experience is much more effective than yet another one of our admonitions.
Either way, children develop their own sense of what is possible in the world and what is not, what represents a danger and what is safe, what throws obstacles in their path and what opens doors. Those kids who are allowed to explore their surroundings in reasonable safety develop an authentic view of what is possible, because their view is based on their own experiences rather than the fears and dictates-rational or irrational-of others. Unhampered by unreasonable limits, these kids are free to realize their own true potential.
On the other hand, children who are prevented from exploring the world tend to base their view of their surroundings on others' perceptions. Some of what they are taught is accurate; some is not. These kids, limited by unreasonable rescue and over-protection, are never allowed to discover their potential and reach it on their own terms. One unpleasant side effect of our youth-centered culture is the tendency we have to take our role as child-protector too seriously. As a result, many kids today haven't had a chance to figure out the stuff of which they're truly made.
Children are inherently capable of much more than we realize. A typical ten-year-old, with some supervision and assistance, can actually paint an entire house. Most thirteen-year-olds can, with guidance, come up with a marketable invention and form and run a company to sell it. Nine-year-olds can mow the lawn. Eight-year-olds can cook dinner for the family. Seven-year-olds can perform the Heimlich maneuver on a sibling. Eight-year-olds can rescue a baby from a burning house. Eleven-year-olds can care for a bedridden parent.
Children can make a meaningful difference in the world. They needn't be sheltered from responsibility until adulthood. All it takes is a reasonable amount of guidance, opportunities to experience success and failure, and our faith in them to conquer the obstacles that stand before the mountains they're determined to move.
Strengths of today's youth
Today's youth possess assets which, if cultivated properly, will help them reach their full potential. Some of these strengths are unique to this generation; others are simply better developed than in earlier generations. Cultural and socioeconomic factors played a part in nurturing these assets. For example, kids born between 1974 and 1994 have had the luxury of living through unprecedented times of peace and prosperity. This period of calm set the stage for a cultural transformation-a zeitgeist of unparalleled youth-centeredness.
There's certainly no shortage of statistics to support this phenomenon. According to the leading marketing information provider, the NDP Group, Inc., toy sales in the United States have catapulted from $22.7 billion in 1996 to nearly $33 billion in 2002. In another study, two Purdue University tourism researchers report that children influence family vacation plans more now than in the past. Alastair Morrison, a professor of hospitality and tourism management at Purdue, cites recent statistics from the Travel Industry of America Association's Domestic Travel Market Report, 2002 Edition: "Nearly one-half of American adults has included children on their vacations in the last five years. One in five parents has taken their children out of school for family getaways." As a result, Las Vegas has replaced its seedy reputation with a wholesome "fun-for-the-whole-family" atmosphere. In men's bathrooms, diaper-changing tables have replaced "For a good time, call ..." messages. Luxury hotels have even become more kid-focused by providing separate, supervised activities and even baby-sitting for kids. Western culture has become a kid-friendly environment rather than one where children were considered either necessary evils or superfluous appendages.
Because of this focus, today's kids are being raised quite differently. In my generation, the typical family was a scaled-down version of a dictatorship. The father acted as supreme ruler whose word was never to be questioned. The mother was his ever-deferential assistant who had to answer to him as well. And the children were the minions whose job it was to obey his commands, to meet his expectations, and to be seen but not heard.
Since then, child-rearing has enjoyed many positive changes. For one, parents seem more involved in their children's lives than before. Even fathers, who in previous generations interacted with their children only after five o'clock and only for the purposes of delivering tedious sermons or punishments, are now seen playing street hockey in the cul-de-sacs with their kids. I see dads at many of the midday school performances, videotaping their children with such zeal you'd think a historic moment was in the making. I've seen them don kneepads and crawl after their toddlers in the slide tubes of Discovery Zone. Fathers are even leaving work early to sit in the bleachers in their suits and ties to cheer on their kids during softball games.
Moms have become more involved, too. When I was a kid, I thought that mothers were born with aprons permanently attached to their waists and that they had cooking mitts instead of hands, thanks to some fortuitous Darwinian mutation. Their role seemed to be taking care of the household, preparing the family meals, and making sure a steaming plate of chocolate-chip cookies was waiting for the hungry after-school mob.
Moms are now volunteering on field trips, in classrooms, in school libraries, and in computer rooms. They're slaving over hot copy machines, tediously cutting shapes and letters out with plastic safety scissors, and manning sloppy cookie-decorating booths at school festivals. The modern mom is chauffeur, tutor, chaperone, political activist, conflict mediator, confidante, cheerleader, psychologist, school liaison, child advocate, and executive manager. Throw in a job, cooking, cleaning, and mending, and all I can say is "Whew!"
On top of these changes in parental roles, many parents today are well versed in basic elements of child psychology, so it should come as no surprise that today's kids are being crafted with more love, support, and involvement than ever before. Perhaps as a result, kids today seem to have a healthy respect for authority and a better relationship with their parents.
Most kids today say they identify with their parents' values. According to a 1999 Time survey, 79 percent of kids look up to their parents more than to anyone else in their lives. And 90 percent say they feel very close to their parents. There has also been a steady decline in the percentage of children who report significant conflict with their parents. In the Alfred P. Sloan Study, a nationwide longitudinal study of students conducted by the National Opinion Research Center and the University of Chicago in the late 1990s, most tenth and twelfth graders feel that their parents love and accept them. Nearly half feel appreciated for who they are and regard their parents as strong sources of support.
Another encouraging reward of our parenting and cultural transformation is the unflinching sense of optimism, high ambitions, and strong self-esteem characterizing this generation. According to a 1999 USA Weekend "Survey of Teens," 52 percent feel they will be better off than their parents when they reach that same age. When asked how much they expect to earn by age thirty, the median answer was $75,000. (The average income for thirty-year-olds in 1999 was $27,000.) According to the Sloan Study, more than 88 percent of adolescents who report highly supportive parents expect to earn a college, professional, or advanced degree. The "Class of 2000 Survey" by Nell Howe and William Strauss, authors of Millennials Rising, revealed that 77 percent of kids are either very or somewhat confident about their future. If their optimism and self-confidence are justified, these attitudes will serve them well as adults.
Young people have also been altered, in part, by the globalization of economies and the cultural diversity that followed in its wake. Many live in nontraditional households - same-sex parents, single parents, mixed-race parents, multigenerational families, and so on. As a result, they are perhaps the most diversity-tolerant generation ever. When asked in a 1999 Reaction.com poll, 82 percent of teens report that they are completely comfortable dating someone from a different race.
Excerpted from Raising Everyday Heroes by Elisa Medhus Copyright © 2004 by Elisa Medhus. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted May 28, 2013
Posted July 25, 2008
This is perhaps the best parenting book out there! I have read numerous parenting books over the past 13 years and feel that none even come close to this one! Dr. Medhus provides clear, practical advice and real life experiences. My children range in age from Kindergarten to Middle School and there are tactics that I can apply for all ages. She has shown that we can raise healthy, competent children in an age when often all we see are the exact opposite. Definitely read this book ~ and then pass it on!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 24, 2004
In Raising Everyday Heroes, Elisa Medhus gives parents the essential tools they need to 1)raise responsible, caring kids and 2)help parents learn ways they can make a difference in the world and act as strong role models for their kids. And the tips she offers start by teaching children as young as 18 months that they too, have an important role in life and society, as they learn basic skills -- from picking up toys to picking out their breakfast -- that teach them responsibility and therefore, builds strong character and work ethic. The tips are easy to read and are bulleted, great for busy parents -- or any parent looking for quick tips to help them raise kids who make a difference.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 6, 2004
Dr. Medhus has written an important book that addresses the most significant issues parents face in raising children. Raising Everyday Heroes is filled with practical strategies for helping children become confident and self-reliant, as well as capable of making good decisions based on strong internal values. Like Dr. Medhus's other books, Raising Everyday Heroes is written with warmth, understanding, humor and wisdom and is as readable as it is informative.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 15, 2004
As a college educator, I have been become increasingly concerned about the almost complete reliance college students have on their parents. Our objective as college educators is to create independent thinking and self-reliant students but it is quite difficult if parents call many of the shots. I hope every parent reads this because what happens when these dependent kids become parents on their own. Who are their children going to turn to?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 10, 2004
This is perhaps the single most relevant and important book out there for parents and grandparents. Kids today, including mine, protected and sheltered from nearly everything that represents a challenge: frustration, boredom, responsibility, delayed gratification, consequences, accountability, conflict and so on. As it stands now, my children aren't very self-sufficient. I worry how they'll deal with real life as adults. I know I'm not alone. Lots of my friends are concerned too. What does that mean, not only for our children's future, but for the world's, too? Scary! I'm so thankful Dr. Medhus has brought this epidemic of helplessness to the surface, raising social consciousness about it. She also gave me lots of hope with practical suggestions to help my children grow from helpless to hero. God bless you, Doctor!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.