If you identify as a progressive parent, chances are you’re trying to raise your child or children to go beyond traditional ideas of what it means to be polite and respectful, in order to become the kinds of people who can help society become a more just place. However, and unlike other things in our lives as parents, there’s no single set of milestones that help us know our kids are developing the way we want. If we pay attention though, we may see certain signs that we are raising progressive kids.
It’s kind of hard to capture, in a single word, what I mean by “progressive.” There are a few different terms, like “tolerant,” “open-minded,” “socially aware,” “socially just,” “woke,” that all approach the same idea I’m trying to convey, but either aren’t commonly used enough to be understood in conversation with most people, or don’t quite hit the mark. “Tolerant” is probably the most common and long-standing, but that word has always grated on me when used in this context. After all, people “tolerate” extreme temperatures or bad smells. So, the idea that someone would need to learn to “tolerate” my Blackness, or gender, or any other fundamental part of a fellow human being’s identity, offends me. What I’m really talking about here is people cultivating a genuine sense of respect and understanding of difference, not merely that they have the bare minimum level of self-control required to live around different people without being overtly hateful or violent.
Because raising the kinds of kids who respect and understand the wide range of differences that form people’s identities is an important goal for progressive parents, I’ll call our kids “progressive,” too, for symmetry’s sake. These are kids who, usually thanks to their parents’ efforts but sometimes because of other influential people in their lives, are growing up understanding the importance of respecting others’ boundaries and consent, appreciating diversity in all its forms, and recognizing how different parts of their identities give them advantages in some situations, and disadvantages in others. They usually can’t express that in those terms, though, but if you notice any of the following things in your child, they’re probably growing up socially just.
They Stand Up For Other Kids
Teasing and bullying among kids often reflects our broader society’s intolerance of certain aspects of the victim’s identity that don’t “fit” society’s preferences. Bullies often seize on a child who isn’t "girly enough" if she’s presumed to be female, or a boy who is perceived as being “too girly” or gay, or they’ll make fun of a child for their weight or size, or whose parents can’t afford to buy expensive, trendy clothes. Progressive kids intuitively understand that that’s wrong, even if they can’t quite articulate why. Quite often, they’ll be upstanders instead of bystanders, calling out bullies who target their peers in the lunchroom, on the playground, or anywhere else.
They Stand Up For Themselves
As they would for another peer they see being mistreated, progressive kids will often talk back to bullies or others who try to make them feel badly about being who they are, or who treat them unfairly for any other reason. All kids will complain from time-to-time about things other kids (or even adults) do that are unfair (because adult privilege is a thing, that we unintentionally exploit all too often), but progressive kids may actually try to do something about it.
They Question What They See In The Media
Recently, when my stepdaughter and I were reading a story about a chameleon to my toddler, she noted that she was uncomfortable with the ending because she felt it suggested that the chameleon needed to find a friend who looked exactly like him to be happy. I agreed, noting that we can make friends with folks who look nothing like us, as long as they respect us. Progressive kids frequently notice and comment on things that don’t quite jive with their values, even when they're reading a book or watching a video. Because they live in a family where it’s common to actively engage with media versus just consuming it, they do it, too.
They Question Things At School
Just like they notice when things aren’t quite “right” to them in a book or during a television show, progressive kids notice when things don’t feel right to them at school and other places they spend time, too. If your kid frequently notices that the adults treat certain kids differently from others, or comments on how cliques function at school, that’s a sign that they’re pretty socially aware.
They Have A Diverse Group Of Friends
If your kid is friends with lots of different kinds of people, that’s a great sign. While hanging out with different kinds of people doesn’t automatically make a person socially just (I mean, we all know people who claim they have “plenty of [Black/Gay/Insert Marginalized Identity Here] friends” whenever they get caught doing something bigoted), kids who feel comfortable initiating friendships with people who aren’t like them, and who actually have those friends, versus just claiming them when it’s convenient like the aforementioned bigoted grown-ups, are often on a good path.
They Do Their Own Thing
When kids are raised to understand and appreciate difference in others, that also frees them to be more comfortable being their own true selves, rather than feeling pressured to conform to society’s ideas about what they’re “supposed” to be like. That can manifest in style choices that go against the grain, picking toys and activities that are unexpected for kids of their gender, race, or class, or other ways of asserting their uniqueness.
They Make Deep Connections
Does your kid ever surprise you by saying something really deep in a conversation, or while watching a movie, or right before going to sleep? Do they ever link little things they notice to big-picture social issues, like connecting being excluded from a playground game because of their gender to why it’s a big deal that Hillary Clinton is running for president? Definitely a sign that you’re raising a progressive kid.
They’re Comfortable Asking And Commenting About Social Issues
A big topic of conversation at our house this summer has been the election, with my stepdaughter frequently commenting that Donald Trump has been allowed to say and do things she and her friends would get in huge trouble for saying and doing at school. “I think he thinks he can do that because he has a lot of money and power.” If your child confidently notices and names -isms when they see them, or has questions and comments when they hear or see certain things in the news, that’s a big sign that they’re growing up socially aware.
They Have A Cause
If your kid has ever started a petition to change what their cafeteria serves for lunch, or wants to start a club for kids who question different aspects of gender, or something along those lines, you may well be raising a progressive kid. Kids with a cause recognize that if something about the world around them doesn’t meet their or their friends’ needs, they can and should do something to change it.