The most important lessons are taught before kids ever step foot in a classroom. It might sound clichéd, but parents really are the most impactful adults in their children’s lives, teaching both positive and negative behaviors with words and by example. When it comes to patriotism, there’s not much room in the curriculum for more than historical facts and figures, so it’s often up to parents to help kids understand and appreciate the American way of life. Retired Marines – and dads – Mark Burleson and Joey Jones share their tips for helping children of every age embrace their love for the red, white and blue.
“Our children are our future, and we need to ensure the values we have fought so hard to preserve are recognized and appreciated by them. If we don't, we run the risk of a generation that won’t understand the sacrifices that were made on their behalf,” suggests Burleson. A combat-wounded veteran and dad to Marcus (11), Isaac (9) and Ariel (7), he knows his own kids have a more first-hand experience with military life and what it means to be patriotic, but he believes getting kids of all backgrounds involved in community outreach programs that support veterans is a great first step to ignite national pride. “When children see their parents are engaged and care about something, they naturally become curious and start seeking knowledge and ways to get involved on their own. Giving back is contagious and can be a great outlet for our children,” he says. “It takes the whole family.”
Jones, father of five-year-old Braiden, agrees that relevant, age-appropriate opportunities are essential for fostering patriotism. The former explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician, himself wounded while deployed to Afghanistan, gives his son simple, easy to digest examples that help him understand why his dad loves America. “I tell him to think about all the fun he has, the things he likes to do and places he likes to go,” he says, adding, “Our country is very different than other places; I explain those kids don't get to enjoy the things he does.” Describing freedom in terms Braiden can relate to at his young age ensures he gets the message.
With much of today’s media coverage of the military being graphic and somewhat scary for kids, Burleson believes providing positive opportunities to meet service members is important for establishing a healthy sense of national pride. “In giving kids the opportunity to mingle and talk with veterans, they start to understand the type of people that join the service, as well as the sacrifices that have been made on their part for the betterment of our society,” he notes. Jones, too, believes encouraging children to appreciate and honor military heroes is integral for teaching patriotism. “I tell Braiden my friends have fought and some have died protecting all the things he enjoys. He should never take them for granted and always be proud of who he is and where he was born.”
With the days of the “war effort” long behind us and a diverse political landscape ahead, being proud Americans is one of the last commonalities we have as a nation, binding us together regardless of gender, race, religion or any other demographic. Passing it down to the next generation is not only one of the freedoms that make our country great, but ensures we’ll have the freedom to be patriotic for generations to come. It makes America truly beautiful.