Never Too Young

Posted Jan 26, 2010 by 7 Comments

The other day, my 3 and a half year old niece Isabella was talking with her mommy about the earthquake in Haiti.  All of a sudden she started counting the chairs around her dinner table.  When her mother asked why she was counting, Isabella said, “to see how many people we can feed at our table!”

Now, Isabella is not even four yet.  She barely understands what is going on in Haiti.  But she does know this… People need help.  People need food.  And her house has a nice big dinner table with room to spare.

When Amy, one of our readers, found out about the chance to take in one of the Haitian orphans expected to be flying into Indianapolis this past week, her family began talking seriously about the possibility.  And even though it turned out that the orphans may not be coming after all, her three sons, Tucker, Charlie and Isaac have thrown themselves into the preparations.

Isaac (8) talks about “his Haiti friend” all the time.  He wants to get  him or her a card for his church’s children’s ministry so that he/she can come as soon as he/she gets here.  Tucker (12)  is conscientious and tender-hearted, watching and talking about the news with his father, while his brother Charlie (11) insists on getting  their potential new brother or sister signed up for soccer…

My point in telling you about these kids is this… I think that children have a much higher capacity to understand the basic issues of social justice than we give them credit for.

Hard-wired into us is the understanding that everyone deserves to eat, to drink and to have a home.  Children understand concepts of equality and freedom and health, if only at their most basic levels.


And yet, our suburban culture has taught us to shield them from the world, hasn’t it?  We try our hardest to shelter them from the harsh realities of a broken humanity, and our children grow up oblivious to the truths of injustices that are out there.

Will kids in our culture ever know or care about the poor?

The other day I had the chance to speak to the 2nd-5th graders at my church.  I talked a bit about what I do, a bit about the people I meet on my travels and a bit about the Haiti earthquake.  But there was one moment that stood out as both hilarious and a bit sad.

To explain how my job works, I brought my suitcase with a few pieces of “gear” that I take with me when I travel.  I held up each item and explained why I needed it.  I take my water filter because many people in the world don’t have clean water, I take cans of tuna because many people in the world don’t have enough food to eat, etc.

At one point I took out my headlamp to explain how a lot of people in the world don’t have electricity.  I asked the kids to imagine what it would be like without electricity in their own homes.  “At night, there would be no lights on.  No TV.  No Xbox or Wii…”

At that, the children audibly gasped.  Immediately they all began to chatter with wide eyes.  No Xboxes?  No Wiis?

Even though I had talked about kids who don’t have food, water, clothing or shelter, it was the lack of gaming consoles that really hit home.

Many of these kids have been completely sheltered from the world, and they have no idea how much they have.  It got me thinking… Is it really for the best to keep children oblivious to the real world until they’re “old enough?”  Or is there some value in teaching them the truth from an early age?

Will your kids know about what's happening in Haiti?

Setting an Example

Now, obviously there are many details that children just can’t handle.  I’ve talked to some parents who don’t go into detail about the devastation in Haiti simply because they know it will give their kids nightmares.  But they still attempt to get their children engaged at a level they can deal with.  As one father told me, “they can get their mind around people needing to be healed.”

These parents know that their children can and should be aware of the fact that many people in the world don’t have food, water, shelter, clothing or medicine.  They know that their kids will grow up as more compassionate people because of what they are taught at an early age.

But I think there is one aspect of getting children involved that shouldn’t be overlooked.  When parents teach their children about the injustices in the world, they can teach them how to respond.  In a culture characterized by indifference and ignorance as ours so often is, parents here have the unique opportunity to show their kids what it means to care for the poor and marginalized.

I know that my own parents have always been generous with their time and money when it comes to the less fortunate, and they taught my sister and I from an early age to always treat people with respect and equality.  What probably seemed like a natural way of life for my parents has had deep repercussions in my life and has undoubtedly led, in part, to what I am doing today.

Your Thoughts

How do you teach your children?

But all that said, the fact is that I’m not a parent.  I don’t have any kids to teach and raise.  So I need your input on this one…

Do you agree that children should be taught about social injustice from an early age?  Or should they be protected until they are more mature?  How has your family treated this issue?

For those of you who do have kids, do you have any advice for new or expecting parents?  How do they even begin to raise their children in a world so dark and broken?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  I would love to hear your perspective!

Hope for the Future

As we continue to watch the situation in Haiti unfold, I am in awe of the way my friends and acquaintances are responding.  Whole families are stepping up to help.  Our church is going absolutely crazy with volunteers and donations.

And at the center of all of this are the kids.  Because of things like the internet and globalization, they are growing up in a small, flat world.  For just a couple of thousand dollars, they’ll be able to some day fly anywhere and see the world for themselves.

Now is the time to set them on a path of compassion.  Now is the time to teach them what the Kingdom of God looks like in the real world.  And now is the time to show our children what it means to care for the “least of these…”

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Michael Poorman said... 


    January 26th, 2010 at 2:52 pm  

    I think children at any age should be exposed to social injustice and the reality that it exists. We are involved in outreach opportunities that provide a place where we and our childen can experience something outside Hamiltion county and to serve the poor and the marginalized. It is GREAT to see my daughter playing with kids her own age that have a different skin color and different circumstances and realizing that they are a masterpeice no matter where they were born or their economic status.

  2. Alli said... 


    January 26th, 2010 at 3:23 pm  

    At, the source for kid-friendly answers on how the world works, we’ve partnered with qualified experts for help in discussing some of the tougher topics with kids ages 4-8; here’s our advice and talking points for helping children talk about global disasters, including the tragedy in Haiti:

  3. Dave Rod said... 


    January 26th, 2010 at 11:33 pm  

    First things first…parents must first be convinced that social justice is God’s agenda, care for the “least of these” Jesus’ expectation, and the Kingdom of God a present reality. We cannot expect a child to grasp what a parent cares nothing about.

    There is no child too young to begin to understand the way of compassion. But they’ll grow up to be self-centered, spoiled consumers if their parents show them no other way.

  4. rob yonan said... 


    January 29th, 2010 at 10:27 am  

    We must engage them. We must do all we can to create the kind of space that allows their hearts to be tuned to things that matter most. If not, their hearts will be tuned to things that will distract.

  5. Shelley Harder said... 


    January 30th, 2010 at 4:09 pm  

    Our kids absolutely need to know about social injustice from an early age. They need to learn from an early age how fortunate our culture is and how to share those blessings with others. About a year and a half ago, we took our kids, then 2 and 4 down to Sunday Suppers. We told them that we were going to bring food to people who didn’t have any. Our 4 year old said, “Dad, we better hurry.” This is the time to teach them because they are sponges. They HEAR what you are saying, and they are taking it all in.

  6. Lauren T. said... 


    February 26th, 2010 at 1:20 pm  

    Absolutely, our kids need to know that what they are living isn’t reality for the majority of the world. We tell them all the time how blessed they are, but when they hear about classmates that have so many nicer things and opportunities than they do, it’s sometimes hard to remember. So, we have always taken them with us to serve others when we do so ourselves (at least once/month at Shepherd on Saturday). As a result, they have developed a tender heart towards those experiencing injustice. They are envious of us going to Haiti in March (because I won’t let them go at this time), and out 15 year old daughter has decided that Urban Ministry is where she will spend her life. So yes, they should be exposed ~ and then stand back and watch what God does with it!

  7. Abigail Roth said... 


    March 25th, 2013 at 9:12 pm  

    This article was posted forever ago, but as a teen, one of the most impactful things my parents have done for me is expose me to the injustices within this world. Its very easy to go out and live however you want if you can pretend everyone else can do the same, and thats what I did. But its when you have to learn to face the reality that this world is suffering , that I was impacted to get up on off the couch and truly live for Christ.

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