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Collen Taylor (L) watching her daughter Hannah Taylor, 13, visiting horses in the stables before their riding lesson. (unknown)
Collen Taylor (L) watching her daughter Hannah Taylor, 13, visiting horses in the stables before their riding lesson. (unknown)

When your child is tackling the world's issues, you're not a parent - you're also a manager, publicist and bystander Add to ...

"It was not a great parenting moment," Colleen Taylor says of her response to an event that would re-route the life of her daughter.

It was Christmas in Winnipeg, and they came across a homeless man eating out of a garbage can. Hannah, then 5, asked: Why?

Mrs. Taylor answered as best she could, then hoped her child's crisis of conscience would blow over. But the questions kept coming: Why doesn't he have a home? Why do we? Who loves him? Finally, a year later, Hannah turned to a teacher who encouraged the little girl to take action.

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Now 13, Hannah has raised more than $1-million for the homeless through her charitable organization, the Ladybug Foundation. The Grade 8 student has received numerous humanitarian awards and has met Sir Bob Geldof and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Most importantly, her mother says, Hannah is happy to be doing something to help.

"As parents, we don't always know what's best for our child," says Mrs. Taylor. "If we just learn to listen, their profound sense of right and wrong is just that: Profound."

In the years since 12-year-old Craig Kielburger of Toronto took a stand against child labour and wound up on Oprah and winning the children's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, many more young people have followed his lead. Through the Internet and a growing number of youth-driven programs like Free the Children, the charity Mr. Kielburger founded with his brother, Marc, more children have both a greater awareness of the problems of the world and the power to do something about it.

Parents also have more tools: This summer, the Kielbergers and journalist Shelley Page will release The World Needs Your Kid, a parenting book on how to nurture the newest generation of good Samaritans.

But raising the next Craig Kielburger (he is now 26) can be as mystifying as it is thrilling. On the one hand, having a kid who has shaken hands with world leaders is a source of inspiration and pride. But it can also mean your role can suddenly change from parent to a combination of publicist and manager.

As a child is exposed to an adoring public, parents find themselves torn between supporting their kids' passion and keeping them grounded enough to do their homework. It can also be a little bizarre to be schooled on life's lessons by your offspring, instead of the other way around.

"I used to be a jewellery lady, with lots of designer purses," says Shamim Rajan, the mother of a 12-year-old activist named Bilaal Rajan of Richmond Hill, Ont. Then one day her son reminded her about the world's starving children while they were out shopping.

Bilaal was four years old when, horrified by a news story about an earthquake in India, he decided to help. Almost overnight, Mrs. Rajan says, she was fielding calls from journalists interested in the boy who cites Gandhi and the Aga Khan as his heroes. Today, he is a Unicef Canada children's ambassador, book author and motivational speaker. He has raised nearly $5-million for causes that range from helping victims of hurricane-ravaged Haiti to supporting children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

His mother, a part-time pharmacist, is so busy managing his schedule that she rarely gets to bed before midnight.

There are other trade-offs for these families. In school, bullies can be cruel. Once, Winnipeg police were called when a strange man turned up at school asking for Hannah. Both sets of parents take measures to ensure the public doesn't perceive them as overzealous puppet masters: The Rajans avoid being in the room when their son is interviewed; the Taylors have largely remained behind the scenes.

Still, the Taylors discovered that once you're in the spotlight, people make assumptions about you that aren't true.

Both families have also set limits so that the business of being a kid isn't overrun by the world's problems. Once, the Rajans turned off their phones and Internet for two days so Bilaal could simply play with his friends.

Mrs. Rajan, who acts as her son's manager, has limited him to one engagement per week. He's booked until January, 2010. "Right now, it seems okay," Mrs. Rajan says. "But when you look back, you say, 'Oh my God, how many 12 year-olds want to do this?'"

It's a question two teachers from Thornhill, Ont. - Fred and Theresa Kielburger - struggled with too. "I think we underestimated our kids," Mrs. Kielberger once told an interviewer. "I can honestly say at one point [in the fall of 1995] I told Craig he should quit. … I thought it was just a phase. He said, 'No, I can't, I have to continue,' and he didn't often say no to me. Then he started telling me he wanted to go to India."

Across the country, that independent spirit continues to flourish. Tonight in Toronto, 16-year-old Daisy Kline and two friends will put on a Darfur Benefit Concert in Toronto, to raise money to aid victims of the Sudan conflict. While Daisy's mother, Tecca Crosby, spent her youth protesting the Vietnam War, she marvelled at the sophistication with which her daughter went about orchestrating the event, gathering sponsors, a band from New York and a venue. The event could raise up to $12,000.

"They wanted to do it themselves," Ms. Crosby says. "They haven't asked for any help. It's 'Don't worry about it mom - we've got it under control.'"

Mrs. Taylor jokes that it took her two years to absorb what her five-year-old child got in 20 seconds. The lesson, in a nutshell, is that rather than trying to fix a homeless person's problems with money and housing and programs, sometimes what they really need is someone to hold their hand. And she suspects she has more to learn Hannah.

"She's the third of four," Mrs. Taylor says. "If [years ago]someone would have said that my third child would change our life profoundly, and help us go in a direction that we needed to go, I would have said, 'Hmm, probably not.'"

 

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