Stop Telling Our Kids What To Think, Teach Them How To Think Instead

We Need To Stop Telling Our Kids What To Think

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I try not to teach my kids too much.

Perhaps I should clarify: I try really hard to teach my kids, not what to think, but how to think. I want my kids to leave my home as young adults possessing the tools to acquire knowledge and analyze data and come up with creative solutions to unique problems on their own. I don’t want to eject a carbon copy of myself and my belief systems out onto the world.

It grates on me when I hear a kid proudly parroting their parents’ beliefs, clearly demonstrating that those beliefs have been rammed down their throats since before they were able to regurgitate what they’ve been told. Whether it’s religion or politics or arbitrary social norms, it makes me cringe to see a kid repeating their parents’ mantras like a tiny robot clone.

Even if it means they end up disagreeing with me on topics I consider important, I don’t want this for my kids.

This is tough with foundational belief systems like religion that, beyond being a guide for behavior and morality, are also woven into the fabric of one’s culture. I was raised up in the Southern Baptist church, and my kids’ father was raised and still practices Catholicism. Catholicism isn’t just a religion for my kids’ father — it’s literally a part of his culture. Family gatherings are planned around the liturgical calendar.

Our kids have attended Mass on and off since they were babies and both have received their first communion. They believe in God and Jesus. But they also know that only 31% of the world is Christian. That means the vast majority of people on this earth are not Christian and do not share their beliefs. In fact, the third largest group represented when it comes to faith are those with no religious affiliation at all. My kids know this, but a lot of kids raised in various religions assume everyone shares their beliefs because no one has ever thought to tell them otherwise (or they did think about it but intentionally opted not to). I was one of those kids. The first time someone confidently told me they were an atheist, my head about damn near exploded. I had no idea.

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So, although my kids are exposed to and practice Christianity, I won’t shove dogma down their throats and demand they acknowledge Christianity as the only possible truth. It is arrogant, in my view, to be a part of a 31% minority and to claim, essentially, that the entire rest of the world is wrong. I recognize that acknowledging the potential for another truth conflicts with the very idea of faith, but this conundrum is exactly why I’d rather give my kids the tools to evaluate different belief systems for themselves. I won’t paint them into hypocrisy by commanding them to believe a certain thing. I’d rather they learn about different religions and spiritual philosophies and think about why people are religious and how they got that way. Then, based on the information they’ve collected, they can decide for themselves what to think.

Granted, part of teaching my kids how to think means teaching them to question whether a belief system or “difference of opinion” infringes or aims to infringe on someone’s basic human rights or labels any person as unworthy or inferior. I know plenty of Christians who, for example, are working hard from within the church to change the church’s bigoted stance on the LGBTQIA+ community.

Same goes for political ideologies. I will tell my kids what I believe and why I believe it, but I will also share with them views that are in opposition to mine. Why do so many people disagree with me? What led them to think this way? Was it their environment? Their education? Their belief systems? Greed? Bigotry? Could it be possible they actually believe their particular set of values (which may be in opposition to my own) truly are what’s best for society as a whole? And why might they believe that?

I try to share knowledge with my kids in a way that allows them to arrive at a conclusion as a result of their own thinking. I can tell them it is important to be kind, but why? I ask them why kindness matters and encourage them to think about what a world without kindness would look like. I ask them how they feel when they do something kind for someone else or when someone else does something kind for them.

I also admit when I’m not as informed as I’d like to be on a certain topic. I don’t want to present myself to my children as someone who has all the answers because then they may arrive at adulthood expecting to know all the answers, and won’t it be a rude awakening to them to realize that’s not how any of this works. And guess what — mom might be dead wrong about some things. That’s okay, because admitting you’re wrong and committing to learning and doing better is one of the richest gifts you can give yourself in life.

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I want my kids to question sources and factor in bias. I tell them to question and doubt anyone who acts like they have all the answers. I tell them almost nothing is black and white, there is rarely a definitive answer. In a world where too many people “inform” themselves via inflammatory headlines without even clicking the link, I want my kids to explore nuance. To understand the difference between statistics and anecdotal evidence. To understand that sometimes humanity trumps numbers.

Sure, it’s cool to see your kid parrot you or do something just the way you taught them; but it’s infinitely cooler to hear an original, insightful argument come out of your kid’s mouth as a result of their own careful thought and research. Even if the end result is that you disagree.