How do we give our children the ability to think critically, politically?
I had the opportunity to hear two very different conversations that showed me how parents politicize their kids.
A group of adult Democrats sat watching Hillary Clinton give her presidential launch speech on a large screen. Their children seemed to be playing while the adults listened. However, when an adult said to a seven-year-old pointing to Hillary Clinton on the screen, "She may be the next president of the United States," surprisingly the boy turned immediately away from his toys and looked the grown-up straight in the eye and said, "a girl?!"
Did he think there was something wrong or at least confusing about that? Apparently not because then he raised his arm and put his little hand in a pumped up fist and said with a determined look and strong clear voice, "Yeah!" affirming this was a great thing.
A sixteen-year-old who said she was from a "Republican family" was having a discussion. She said she didn't believe in evolution because it wasn't in the Bible. She went on to explain that gay marriage was wrong because it went against the New Testament. However, she added that other people might believe differently which was okay.
How exactly did this seven-year-old and this sixteen-year-old derive their beliefs? To what extent were the ideas their personal own? How clear was the internal logic behind their thinking? They were old enough to begin building value systems that would develop as they grew older. Who would help them with that?
These two conversations make us highly aware of how political our kids are whether we realize it or not. They overhear our parent conversations in these heated political times. Isn't it our job as parents to be aware that our kids hear every morsel of what we say and to realize that we owe it to them to teach them how to think through complicated questions in a critical way?
Are we uncomfortable considering the idea that our children might disagree with us if we lay out our logic, so they can also trace their own steps to conclusions which may or may not be the same as ours?
Or, is it more elementary than that? Many children may blindly voice what they hear out of deference, love, and loyalty to their parents' beliefs. It's certainly common for children to grow up learning the traditions of their familial culture including religious precepts that are passed through generations. This helps many families bind together and sustains cultural ties. But how do children know the difference between beliefs and rigid dogma?
Isn't it our job to teach our children to be curious, to question, to discover? Don't we need to teach them ways of thinking things through, to follow a sequence of ideas that link together?
Isn't it important to encourage them to understand that what we all have in common is the right to question how people reach conclusions? Isn't it essential to help them clarify their ideas so they can express their viewpoints that may be multi-faceted while also recognizing other peoples' vantage points?
Finally, children need to learn what others think of their views without being defensive but instead being intrigued and desirous of learning more. Parents need to encourage their children to think and then these parents need to listen carefully to their children's arguments and beliefs.
After all, these children will become our leaders.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst who specializes in infant-parent, child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy. Her new book is Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior that can be pre-ordered from Amazon at a discount. Tweet Laurie @lauriehollmanph.