Think of a difficult topic of discussion – whether with your child or with others. Now imagine that your child has confronted you with this issue. How would you deal with such a conversation? Recently I was confronted with such a topic based upon a movement within our community. The topic is:
How do you explain hate crimes to your children when they ask or are confronted with them?
Most of us teach our children that it is wrong to hate. Many of us teach our children that it is wrong to dislike, hate or discriminate against another person because they are different. However, hate groups and hate crimes still exist.
How do we talk to our children about the attitudes and behaviors of others when they disagree with our own?
Let me start off by saying that I am staunchly against anyone speaking or acting against another person because of an inherent difference (or any difference, for that matter) including, but not limited to, race, gender, sexuality, religion, culture, ethnicity, religion, etc. I believe that everyone has value and that we all are created to be exactly who we are, without fail or error, and that we must embrace “who we are” without attempting to live a lie to please others.
And that is the best way to start off such a conversation with your children – state your beliefs! If you make it clear how you feel about an issue, then there are no “muddy waters” between you and your child. They know exactly where you stand and, because you openly express your beliefs, they will tend to believe that they are at liberty to openly express their own. This establishes the perfect environment for healthy discussions.
Discussions do not always lead to everyone being in agreement. Do not be afraid of a difference of opinion between you and your child. Remember that they do not have the life experience that you have on which to base their thoughts. They are “developing” their beliefs. A good way for them to question themselves and explore their beliefs is to discuss them in an environment where they feel safe. As long as you create that space within your own family, you have the opportunity to influence those beliefs. However, if they have to explore other venues to find that safe place for discussion, you open them up to outside influences. This is not always a bad thing! However, as they are learning and developing, it is good for parents to have more influence. Make them feel that home is a safe place to express themselves, even if you are in disagreement.
Discuss, don’t debate. Give facts along with beliefs. Do not allow emotions to rule the conversation. Use logic, statistics, rationale, understanding, and good old-fashioned common sense. There are some topics over which we cannot help but get ourselves emotionally involved. However we must balance our emotions with logically stated facts. This gives our children a well-rounded picture of the issue and our stand on it. When you child disagrees, ask them why they feel the way they do. On what are they basing their beliefs? Help them to analyze, but do not make them feel as if they are wrong. Guide them. Help them explore the topic in a way that they learn more about it and are better able to make judgments for themselves. But do not discourage…
Use the media as a tool to help you educate your children. The media use us every day – for ratings, to polarize society for particular causes, to manipulate our government. We need to learn how to use them, too. Local and national news coverage has many opportunities to teach our children about right and wrong, causes and social issues. When your local news reporter tells you that the National Socialist Movement will be holding a parade down Main Street, it is time to explain to your child the philosophy behind the NSM and why it is wrong. Talk about how those in disagreement can express themselves. Talk about how people become so misguided. Listen as much as you talk, because your child will have questions and if you miss them, it will be because you are not listening hard enough.
Understand that you will not be able to explain everything or answer all questions. You are a parent, and only human. Being a parent does not make us the ultimate authority on all forms of knowledge. When you come to a question you cannot answer or a concept that you cannot explain, do not view it as a failure, but as an opportunity. Take your child to the library; get on the internet; research the subject with your child. Teach him how to find more information and how to discern which information is credible and which isn’t. Teach him that you cannot believe everything you read, but yet we still must read in order to make decisions for ourselves.
So what are you going to do about the NSM rally? Obviously talking about it is not the complete answer. Nothing changes in having a discussion with your child. This is where you have the opportunity to teach him or her to be a responsible citizen. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Write letters to your state legislators, the chief of police (to get a permit to march, they had to apply for a permit!), and research to see if there will be a counter-demonstration. There is a fine line that you walk when it comes to counter-demonstrations. Your actions here will depend on how you feel about demonstrations in general. However, at the very least you can discuss why people would counter-demonstrate and the pros and cons of demonstrations in general. Children need to learn that there are consequences to actions, even as adults. If you are a person who is comfortable with public demonstrations and you know your child will not be harmed, then consider attending a demonstration with them, so they can experience the issue up-close and personal. If you are not a demonstrator, then explain to your child why you are not and the alternate methods that you feel would better address the issue.
As with all parenting issues, the key is communication. You can discuss anything with your child as long as you have kept the communication lines open and are willing to put in a little effort. Communication is critical for all parents, but especially for single parents, as they must consider themselves the only source of parenting influence for their children. Whether the topic is difficult or easy, you should be one of the main sources of influence in your child’s life. Put aside the fear and tackle the issue – communicate with your child!