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What adult hasn’t said to their child,
“Just  because all your friends are
jumping off a bridge…”?  If you ask
parents if they want their child
to be able to think for themselves,
they will say “Absolutely.”  

Yet, parents expect that their children will hold their same values when it comes to politics, religion, and general philosophy. Certainly, parents who have children who think like them have more harmonious dinners. 

As a teacher, naturally I had students with opposing views to mine, and to their classmates. This often led to spirited discussions, which I rather enjoyed. I encouraged my students to express their opinions in a clear and polite manner. At the elementary level it was apparent many students were regurgitating what they heard at home, but by their teen years many students would often hold opposing views from their parents either out of rebellion, or from identifying with their peers, or from actually coming to their own conclusions based on what they had heard and read.  Educators teach children that finding the facts and truth are  the most important part of researching an idea. As Booker T. Washington stated, “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right and evil doesn’t become good, just because it is accepted by a majority.”

However, during the teen years it is difficult for students to question a position different from their peers. Recently, there was a walk-out over climate change at a local high school. Some students saw it as a chance to cut class and others were sincere in expressing their concerns. One student, when asked his opinion, didn’t seem to grasp the significance or consider any solutions. When presented with a few facts, he just said, “Science is not my strong suit.”

There are steps parents can take to help
their child to become an independent thinker.

  • Discuss the concept that just because most people believe something to be true does not make it so. There was a time in which common beliefs included a flat earth and an earth-centered universe. History has shown that those who break away from the commonly accepted beliefs are the ones who alter the course of history. It was people like Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler who refused to yield to the popular belief and uncovered a truth not obvious to the rest of humanity. 
  • Expose your child to literature that introduces them to powerful role models based on their interests, such as Galileo, Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Rachel Carson and Susan B. Anthony.
  • Give your child an example of a time you yourself believed a popular idea, but further investigation or events proved your belief was erroneous. It’s okay to admit your own mistakes to further the opportunity for discussion with your child.
  • Children should be allowed to express their own opinions about important events without criticism. Parents who encourage dissenting views and allow for healthy debates, will find that their child is sharing more personal information with them. Teach them how to listen to an opposing view and really think about what the other person is saying, rather than only thinking about their own retort. 
  • Ask your child hard questions, such as: What is a democracy? Should children of illegal immigrants receive a free education? Do they think drug testing of students is a good idea? Should the US ban the death penalty? What is freedom? Have them explain their reasoning.

You may not always get the answer you hope for, but children appreciate being asked their thoughts and opinions on adult topics. And, regardless of their answers, you are likely to have more dynamic dinnertime discussions.

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