With so many opinions and personal beliefs being passed off as “hard facts” on both sides of the political spectrum, parents are frequently caught in the middle of some pretty tough topics of conversation. How do you maintain balance if your child is being taught things that you, as a parent, don’t fully agree with? This article will touch on talking to your kids about war, sex, religion, and other “hot topics.”
What’s the problem?
At some point, schools stopped focusing on teaching students the essentials and started allowing teachers and teachers’ unions to dictate talking points instead, similar to the way news outlets stopped presenting unbiased news and began introducing personal opinion as “fact.” Trust in the educational system has been declining for years, and no matter what your personal beliefs may be, it seems there is always some entity working to undermine your values.
Some parents may choose to keep their kids in schools with poor educational performance because private school options are usually religious. Other parents may find that their kids are being taught controversial things that they disagree with, but they can’t afford to place their children in private schools.
The problem then becomes twofold: how do you support your child’s education in an environment that undermines your own beliefs, and how can you steer your kids clear of agendas that you fear may be damaging?
Where do kids get their information?
Kids get information from parents, teachers, and social media. It’s only natural that they will be conflicted and confused.
According to a Common Sense Media research study conducted in 2017, 66% of kids consider family as a news source. After family, kids gather news from:
- Teachers: 48%
- News organizations: 25%
- Friends: 17%
You might be a bit shocked to know that throwing social media into this mix skews the stats entirely, with social media actually beating out the family as the most trusted news source. In fact, 39% of all kids cite social media platforms as trusted places to gather information. Adults, including family members and teachers, are a close second at 36% with traditional news outlets trailing behind at 24%.
What does this mean for parents?
The research shows that parents are in a tough position as kids grow and form their own independent opinions. When your kids were small, you were a superhero who could do no wrong. As these kids become their own people, they are subjected to a lot of external influences that are at odds with your own beliefs and values.
Rebels with a cause
An interesting study published by the Cambridge University Press found that,
“Children who are most likely to initially acquire the political views of their parents are also most likely to later abandon them as a result of their own engagement with the political world.”
These changing viewpoints include politics, war, sex, racism, and other hot-button topics.
So how do concerned parents find the right balance?
Talking to your kids about the tough topics
In today’s politically charged world, ignoring topics that matter is not an option, but parents need to understand how to approach their kids in a way that still allows them the freedom to form their own opinions. Here are a few do’s and don’ts when talking to your children about war, sex, and other controversial topics.
Do: Keep in mind that kids will be required to complete assignments to pass the class
This means that, even if you disagree with the angle taken on a particular topic, you need to encourage your young student to complete the assignment to the best of their ability. Not allowing your child to participate will result in the child feeling left out and alone in their class and receiving failing grades for the assignment in question.
How to navigate: Explain to your child that while you don’t necessarily believe the viewpoint as it is presented by the teacher, they must complete the assignment as required. Never use your child as a pawn in the game by refusing to allow them to work on the assignment. Your battle will be won at PTA and school board meetings, not in the classroom with the teacher. You can choose to supplement the assignments with a fact-gathering session independently with your child to make sure they understand all sides of the conflict.
Don’t: Micromanage social interactions
It’s tempting to keep your child isolated from controversy by limiting social media activities and friendships. Remember that the harder you fight to limit these interactions, the more your child will fight back. This can result in a parent-child relationship where your children will not be willing to share information they learn or ask questions about controversial topics. They will find ways to interact, regardless of the restrictions you place on them. It’s better to have your child’s activities out in the open where you have some control over them.
How to navigate: Let your child see that you are open to them learning about opposing beliefs. Explain that you’re not encouraging these beliefs, but you are supporting their natural desire to explore all sides of a topic. This encourages them to turn to you for guidance, even if what they’ve learned is in opposition to your values.
Do: Consider your child’s age and maturity levels when dealing with hard topics
Children of all ages were confused and afraid after the devastating events of 9/11. Parents had to find the right balance of shareable information as it related to the ages and maturity levels of their children. Some very young children may not recognize the full impact of these hard topics, while some older kids are too sensitive for the full details of the subject matter you’re discussing.
How to navigate: Consider your child’s age and level of maturity when bringing up controversial topics, and find the right balance between what they need to know and full disclosure.
This may prove difficult if your child has already been taught something far beyond their ability to process, however, such as sexually explicit lessons in an elementary school class. In these cases, be ready to speak openly and honestly to your child about the topic and be available to answer questions and help them cope with any distress they are feeling.
Don’t: Discourage discussion
Regardless of how strongly you disapprove of a topic your child brings to you for discussion, encourage the conversation. Kids generally want to find guidance, but they also want to form their own opinions. If you refuse to discuss opposing beliefs, they will find the answers somewhere else…and chances are, “somewhere else” isn’t going to align with your views.
How to navigate: Sharing your viewpoints and beliefs is a vital step in dealing with these tough topics, but never shut the door on a constructive debate with your kids. Debating with you is their first step towards independent thinking and should never be discouraged. Listen to their views with an open mind and never lead the debate with “you’re wrong.” Try answering with something that encourages deeper thought, such as “that’s a good point, but have you considered…”
Even if your child doesn’t walk away from the discussion convinced that you’re right, they will walk away feeling listened to and supported. This encourages more meaningful discussions in the future.
Do: Encourage exploration
If your child is embracing things that you aren’t on board with, encourage deeper exploration. This may mean finding materials that support the opposing viewpoint along with materials that support your own. Remain calm and open to the discussions these explorations will bring to the table.
How to navigate: Encourage your kids to learn both sides of an argument. This may look like watching different news programs so they see all sides and hear conflicting opinions, for instance, or finding information on the internet supporting and opposing whatever topic is on the table.
CAMP offers a great resource that steers kids to apolitical sites that offer age-appropriate news sources offering both national and global perspectives, like the BBC and National Geographic Kids.
Your child will be facing some tough and controversial matters as they grow, whether these topics arise in school, on social media platforms, or their desire to fit in and have an independent opinion.
Parents need to be prepared to talk about these topics diplomatically without crushing their child’s growing need for independence. It’s not easy if they are surrounded by opinions that contradict your values and beliefs, but it’s important to listen to your kids when they express themselves. If you don’t encourage open discussion, your kids will form their own conclusions and, chances are, these conclusions will not align with your values.
Choose your fights wisely, however, and find the middle ground. You may be surprised to find that your child’s opinion on the tough topics isn’t so far from your own when you encourage open discussion.
Remember that your child’s opinion today will not necessarily be the same tomorrow or next year. The best way to approach opposing viewpoints is to make sure your kids have all the information they need and feel they can turn to you as a reliable source of information.