Originally posted on Medium

Family. In one way or another we all have one. Whether we were raised with one or both of our biological parents, an aunt or uncle, our grandparents. Whether we were adopted, had siblings, or were an only child. Whether we have a spouse and children of our own, or are the proud parents of furry animals.

Every family is different — we play different games, watch different shows and movies, take different family vacations, have different sports interests and hobbies. But at the center of all that, despite location, financial status, religion, etc. our family is our roots.

What does it mean that our family is our roots?

Our family is how we start to define ourselves, our world, our values. From our experiences and interactions with our families. They are the foundation from which we grow. They provide us support, encouragement, love, a place we can return to.

Family roots often extend beyond what we can see. Because our roots, our families, have experiences of their own, have life lessons that they are trying to impart on us. They’ve travelled to India and discovered a great recipe for Paneer. They’ve found the perfect camping spot. They’ve passed down stories, games, and traditions.

Our families are our first teachers, whether it comes to respect or wisdom, or even encouraging creativity and truth. Our families shape our values and define for us what is normal.

How can normalcy be dangerous?

It can seem perfectly normal for a child to live with their grandparents, to have a stay-at-home dad, to have a nanny that takes care of them. Something other kids might not experience because their family dynamic is different.

As children our family is our whole universe, what is normal is defined by our experiences. We have nothing to compare with and this can be dangerous in certain situations. It is why young children can get confused when they go over to a friend’s house for the first time and learn their friend has two moms — while not dangerous, there’s a disconnect it the child’s brain and they may not understand it.

It becomes incredibly dangerous when children in abusive (mental or physical) homes don’t report to police or leave. Their “normal” has been defined for them and until they understand otherwise there is nothing they can or will do to change that.

When children get caught up in what they believe is normal, they can start to think that different is bad, leading to intolerance and disrespect.

The baby grew into a girl without freckles, with a crooked smile. Who didn’t understand why her friends did not have darkrooms in their houses. — Sarah Kay | Extended Development

How do we avoid unhealthy norms?

Providing our children with a variety of experiences is the best way to help them see and understand diversity. As parents, getting the kids dressed and out of the house can be stressful. It can be a lot of work and take up a lot of our time. So the inclination to just stay home can be more welcoming. But even as young children, these excursions out of the house, to visit different parks, shops, cultural exhibits, neighborhoods, family members, and friends can have a positive impact. They see diversity, they interact with people whose lives are different from theirs. Their idea of normal expands.

Many parents believe in and see the impact travel has on their children, even kids as young as 2 years old. Helping them be more adaptable, aiding in their development, and their willingness to be adventurous and try something new.

It doesn’t have to be halfway around the world. Can be simply to a new city, province, state. There is diversity right in our backyards. And the time spent together as a family can have significant benefits.

“That’s the biggest rat I’ve ever seen.” My uncle calmly responded, “Sweetie, that’s a cat.” To which I shot back, “Oh ya!? Well, what’s it doing outside?” My parents realized there are just some things you couldn’t learn in New York City. — Sarah Kay | Montauk

The internet can be an amazing place where children learn about diversity. As parents and guardians we can’t be afraid of the internet, but still create boundaries and help our children navigate the online world. When children ask questions the internet can provide diverse answers. As their family, we can help them find positive information that fuels their curiosity and acceptance of diversity.

Why should we choose our family?

There is this saying from To Kill a Mockingbird “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family…” and at the time the book was published it was likely more relevant than it is today. Because while you cannot choose who you are born to and who raises you, as you grow up you can certainly choose who you consider family — who will be the roots you grow from and who will be the home you can come back to.

As the world becomes a more global place and more people choose to relocate to other cities, away from their immediate families, creating a family network becomes more important. Who will help support you, your children? Who will become your village?

What does family have to do with Digital Citizenship?

When we first started our conversation on what it means to be a good digital citizen, we mentioned that “Whatever family structure you come from, your core values are your roots.” Our family helps us define what our core values are. Those core values determine how we navigate the world around us and how we interact with people. It is from our families that we must be taught how those core values extend into our digital lives as well.

At Mazu we believe it takes a village to raise a child and that families are a necessary part of a child’s development. In the end, family is at the heart of everything we do.

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