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Some of our greatest social changes have been brought about by people who have felt an obligation to make a positive contribution to their world. Cultivating this sense of social responsibility in our children has, aside from the obvious benefit of being an investment in our future, a significant effect on their moral development. In addition, it broadens their perspective, encouraging them to think beyond themselves.

Fostering a sense of social responsibility can begin in early childhood. Local food drives, in which various organizations and supermarkets collect nonperishable foods for local food pantries, which in turn distribute it to families in need, are an excellent opportunity for parents to introduce children to concepts of social responsibility. Even young children are able to understand what it is to not have food. Rather than to portray such deprivation in broad, faceless terms, it seems more useful for children to understand that hunger effects people that are basically like themselves. Humanizing the issue makes it less abstract and easier for children to empathize with those in need. That those who can help with such a basic human need as food, should do so is a natural extension of the sharing skills that children are encouraged from earliest childhood to acquire.

When planning a grocery shopping trip, a parent can budget out a certain amount of money to be spent on items for the food drive and allow the children to shop for those things. This helps children to have a sense of making a personal, concrete contribution. For those who garden, setting aside a segment of the garden to grow vegetables that, at harvest time, can be brought to a local food pantry, can be an educational and fun family project that reflects some of the main values associated with social responsibility. Children can only benefit from being encouraged to view world problems in terms of what they can do to help, rather than being unaware of what does not directly impact their life.

Another aspect of social responsibility has to do with the concept of service to others unmotivated by the potential of personal gain, of doing something simply because it is the right and humane thing to do. Parents can easily find opportunities in their communities to help children develop these type of values. In most neighborhoods, for example, there can be found an elderly woman living alone that could use assistance with such heavy chores as snow removal and bringing trash bins to the curb.

Older children and teenagers can also be encouraged to participate in formal volunteer programs, such as those available in local nursing homes, hospitals and schools. This helps to promote the concept that we are responsible for the condition and quality of our communities. In the same way that the family unit functions more efficiently and becomes stronger through the combined efforts of its individual members, so too does society. Those who are more able have a social obligation to help those who are less able, thereby strengthening the whole.

The most effective method that parents have available to them with which to teach principles of social responsibility is their own demonstration of such values. Involving the family, as a whole, in socially conscious projects shows that such values are expected by the parents to be a significant part of the moral development of their children. In this way, parents make valuable contributions to both society and to their children's own personal well-being. It is these type of efforts that ensure the continued improvement of the basic human condition.