Humanity Starts at Home


Scout leaders, teachers and clergy may all contribute to instilling the desire in children to help others. But nobody can do it like a parent, according to family studies expert Urie Bronfenbrenner, a professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

“The more we study human development, the more it becomes clear the family is the most powerful, most humane and, by far, the most economical way of making human beings human,” he said.

If parents want their children to be caring citizens, they need to do more than lecture, he said. “It’s doing things, rather than talking about things, that makes a difference.”


And they need to start at home. “Before you start worrying about being nice to other people, be nice to each other,” Bronfenbrenner said. “Keep the house clean and quiet and organized.”

Preschool children can be encouraged to visit nursing homes, or tell stories to the elderly.

Younger children need to be supervised and given examples of what they can do, he said.

Teen-agers need to know that adults have not given up on their ability to contribute, he said.

“We have this crazy notion that with teen-agers it’s all over. Nothing of the sort. It’s never too late,” he said.

In the L.A. area, the Volunteer Center, (213) 484-2849, can help match families with groups seeking help.