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We Generation

Raising Socially Responsible Kids

by Michael Ungar

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child, parent participation
list price: $22.00
published: 2009
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Engaging and timely, this book is an invaluable resource for parents who want their children to become socially responsible and globally aware adults

As youth culture seems to grow more self-centred and obsessed with "Me,"Michael Ungar shows us that, in fact, children today are as willing as ever to think "We." Given the right signals, and some important changes to the homes we live in, our schools and communities, kids will seek out close connections with the adults in their lives. Like generations before them, they want to be noticed for the contributions they can make. What they need, though, is compassion and encouragement from parents, and some careful attention to their most important connections, those made at home. Combining inspiring stories taken from his clinical work with families and children with expert research gathered from around the world, Ungar reveals how the close connections kids crave, and the support adults provide, can help kids realize their full potential - and how it can also protect them from the dangers of delinquency, whether it be drug abuse, violence, or early sexual activity.

At a time when global issues and activism have come to the forefront, We Generation offers a fresh, optimistic way of thinking about our children’s true nature and potential.

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I started writing this book on the day the principal of our local elementary school told me about a conversation he’d had with a parent of one of his eleven-year-old students. Driving home after work, he’d passed the boy playing road hockey with his friends. When the principal waved hello, the boy shouted back, “F– you!” and then, with a big smirk, went back to his game. The next morning, with a defiant boy in his office, the principal phoned the boy’s mother. He was astounded when she told him, “You have no right to discipline my son. He was off school property and it was after school hours. You have no say over what he does. I’ll decide what to do with him, not you.”

The principal stammered, “I see,” and hung up. He still gave the student a detention, but he wondered later what would become of such a boy.

I wasn’t that surprised by the mother’s response. I’ve seen fathers at my children’s soccer games yell insults at thirteen-year-olds on opposing teams. I’ve seen parents at the university where I teach hire lawyers to defend their sons and daughters who have been caught plagarizing. I’ve seen a mother of a three-year-old complain angrily to a daycare worker that another three-year-old was bullying her child by not getting off the playground swing quickly enough.

While parents don’t consciously raise their children to be self-centred, there are subtle and not-so-subtle things we do that teach our children to think about themselves (“me”) first, and about others and their own connection to those others (“we”) second. We can decide to consciously steer our children in the direction of more socially responsible behaviour. I’m convinced their generation has the potential to become far more connected with others and more compassionate than the generation raising them was raised to be (that’s us). In the pages that follow I’ll show how to raise children to think We during these Me-thinking times.


Say the phrase “connected kids” and most parents think about an Internet generation of MSN-chatting, online-gaming, text-messaging, and YouTube-surfing young people. They think of children sequestered in their bedrooms surrounded by technology, hardly wanting to break for dinner. This book is about a different kind of connected child.

Despite appearances to the contrary, our kids still crave old-fashioned flesh-and-blood connections with their parents, and with lots of other adults in their communities besides. They have a need to feel close to those who populate the “village” that raises them. But our children, whether they are five years old or fifteen, need parents most.
One parent or two, step-parents, or a caring grandparent who takes over when necessary — it doesn’t really matter who’s doing the parenting as long as it includes modelling the compassion that nurtures children’s own caring instincts. When we show children compassion, the odds are that they will grow up giving a damn about others, and caring about people in their families and communities as much as they care about themselves. They’ll become a We Generation.

Raising children to think We might just help us rethink some of our own Me-thinking ways. Afer all, many of us grew up in Me-thinking times. We feel guilty about driving huge gas-guzzling vehicles, but keep driving them to get our children safely to school or hockey practice. We try to forget the impact our actions have on the environment, while our children in the back seat report what their teacher said about global warming and our environmental “footprint.” We don’t mean to segregate our communities, but choose to live in gated communities just the same. We blush with embarrassment when our children finally notice that the poor people have been pushed away. We mumble something about “That’s just the way it is,” or make a donation to the food bank, but we are shy to say anything about how our choices are part of the problem. We want our children to have access to every available medical and social service imaginable, but we look for ways to avoid paying our taxes, hoping someone else will foot the bill. We don’t mean to be so self-centred, but as individual adults, we haven’t shown much inclination to take responsibility for the fiscal, environmental, or social liabilities we are leaving our children. It is a small step from such selfishness to the actions of the parent who excuses her son’s belligerent behaviour when his principal calls home.

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Contributor notes

An internationally recognized expert on resilience in youth, Michael Ungar runs a private practice specializing in working with children and adults in mental health and correctional settings, and is a professor at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University. He lives in Halifax with his wife and two children.

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Editorial Review

Praise for Michael Ungar:
"Too Safe for Their Own Good offers us fresh, powerful and deeply relevant ideas about the developmental needs of teenagers. Ungar’s thought-provoking book is both wise and practical. All of us parents, therapists and educators who work with adolescents will benefit from his ideas on what teenagers require for optimal growth. This is a paradigm-shifting book." — Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia

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About the Author

Michael Ungar

Michael Ungar is a professor of social work and a marriage and family therapist based at Dalhousie University. He is internationally recognized for his work in more than a dozen countries on resilience and at-risk youth, and appears regularly on radio and television. Michael lives in Halifax.

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