I just saw a tweet from an online acquaintance who was upset because her little kindergartner came home with the news that her classmates had told her that “Obama kills babies.”
Now that is all kinds of wrong for all kinds of reasons. Number one, it’s factually inaccurate and intellectually lazy: Mr. Obama supports legal abortion; he does not kill anyone. Number two, no five year old needs to know anything about abortion or baby-killing of ANY kind. Let’s preserve their innocence as long as we can.
And then there is number three, the subject of this post: no five-year-old came up with that language independently. Someone they trusted and respected, most likely a parent, TOLD them that. Which means that their parents have introduced inaccurate, inflammatory information into their innocent intellects in the interest of indoctrination. And that’s not how I believe we need to be talking to kids about politics.
I don’t believe in indoctrinating children. (Some of you are probably laughing because you know I am raising my kids Catholic and certainly that implies indoctrination–but moral and religious indoctrination is another story and we can argue about that another time!) What I like to do is to present kids with a variety of ideas, answer their questions, see what they come up with, and correct any misinformation.
So when the subject of the death penalty, or abortion, or any other controversial issue has come up, I’ve explained it to my kids in the most neutral way I can. Then I wait for their reaction. Most recently it has been William, age 11, learning about these things. “But that’s ridiculous,” he said of the death penalty. “That’s horrible. That doesn’t make any sense. You can’t DO that.” Even when I agree with his reaction, I offer him some of the reasons that other people disagree. I don’t want parrots. I want thoughtful critical thinkers.
My kids are–at least I think they are–extraordinarily lucky to have been raised in a home where 1) the adults don’t always agree about politics, and 2) the adults love to discuss politics. John majored in International Politics at Georgetown and is passionately interested and well-informed. I love nothing more than analytical conversations and arguments. But there has never been any danger that my kids are going to go off to school and parrot their parents’ opinions, because we don’t walk in lockstep here. We encourage them to come up with and defend their own opinions. And now that three of the kids are more or less grown up, they don’t always agree with either of us. We’ve got one kid identifying as Republican (not a Romney fan, though) and two who lean Democrat (of the pro-life type) but refuse to identify with any party.
Then there are the little ones. Several weeks ago William announced that he did not like Mitt Romney because “he doesn’t care about poor people.” I assure you, he did not hear that around here. We just don’t make over the top statements like that and we call our kids on them when they do make them, so that I told him I was sure Mr. Romney cared about poor people but that different candidates have different ideas about how to help them. I felt it was only right for balance to tell him some of President Obama’s drawbacks as well. William learned about abortion only a few months ago, even though he has been participating in Marches for Life since he sat in a stroller. He’s an oblivious sort and I was happy not to have to explain it to him. So when I told him that President Obama was pro-choice, he decided he could not support either candidate.
Out of uniform patriotic attire for voting day at school
Lorelei does not know what abortion is and I have no intention of telling her any time soon. Seven is too young–too young, really, to understand most political issues. But she did sit and watch part of the debates with us until she fell asleep, and she was excited to cast a vote today in the mock election at school–for President Obama. ”Why?” I asked her. ”I just like him,” she said. ”Well, that’s fine. It’s your choice,” I told her. She looked so dejected coming out of school today, where predictably Mr. Romney carried the day with over 80% of the vote. She perked up, though, when she got to come help me vote after school.
I read an article earlier today suggesting that we shouldn’t share our political views with our children at all until they are old enough to understand them. I don’t agree. I believe we can share in an age-appropriate way. When Lorelei asked me how I decided on my vote, I was vague: ”There are things I don’t like about either candidate, that make me feel I cannot support either one.” I remember many years ago a friend of mine commented that she was surprised that we talked about politics with our kids. Politics are important. If we don’t talk to our kids about them, if all we do is say things like: “We are Democrats in this house,” or “Obama kills babies,” we are raising people who do not know how to think for themselves.
Remember, the kids who parrot you now will grow up to parrot some idiot, if you haven’t taught them to think critically. If it’s important for you for your kids to think like you do, then educate them. Tell them WHY (if you know) you think the way you do. For us, having kids who think like us isn’t the goal. The goal is having kids who THINK.
Filed under: Abortion, Deep Thoughts, family, Parenting, Politics, teenagers Tagged: Abortion, Decision2012, Deep Thoughts, election2012, family, Parenting, Politics, teenagers, voting
Today I am joining in Singular Insanity’s weekly link up: Things I Know. In an uncertain world, there’s a certain appeal in believing that there is anything we are sure about, and pride in celebrating and sharing lessons learned and wisdom gained. And I do know a lot of things, some of them instinctively and others through hard life experiences. This week I am telling you what I know–or think I know, anyway–about teenagers.
Let’s be honest from the start: teenagers are going to rebel. They are going to do things they shouldn’t and if they don’t actually get into trouble it’s only because they didn’t get caught. If your teenager always conforms exactly to your wishes, either you don’t know what they are really up to or their wishes are currently the same as yours. At some point when their wishes diverge from yours too much, your child will choose to do what she wants to do and not what you want her to do. The day will come sooner or later and it’s a normal part of growing up.
Teddy and Jake at 17 and 18
You cannot take the blame or the credit for how your teenager has turned out. There are two reasons for this. One is that–as my own teenager told me–kids are a product of genetics and environment and you are not morally responsibility for the genes you passed on and the inherent temperament with which your kid was born. But much more important is a revelation I had last week. You teenagers HAVE NOT TURNED OUT YET. They are nowhere near done and you cannot judge the finished product right now any more than you could judge a cake by eating half-cooked batter.
Think about your own teenage days, and if you were a perfect teenager like me then think about some of your classmates. Chances are you are friends with them on Facebook now, and they have homes and significant others and steady jobs and more money than you do. They have teenagers of their own whom they love and worry about. And you thought they would never amount to anything, didn’t you? Well you were wrong and if you are worrying about the future of your own teenagers think about that. The vast majority of them turn out fine if they make it through their teens.
And that’s no laughing matter, is it? Because what with teen drivers and drinking and drug use and stupid teenage tricks and feeling invulnerable, there are some teenagers who don’t get to grow up and their parents never see how they would have turned out. That leads me to more Things I Know about teenagers: the two most important tasks in parenting teens.
The first one is keep them alive. That sounds melodramatic but what it really means is that the truly important rules, the nonnegotiable things, the things you should really be worrying about, are those that impact your teenager’s safety. Because a bad grade may seem like it will have a dire effect on his future. But it’s really not nearly as big of a deal as ensuring that he HAS a future. Spend less time worrying about homework and grades and more finding out your kids’ friends are and where they are going and what they are doing once they get there.
The second task? Preserve your relationship with them. Are you prepared to say my way or the highway and mean it? Do you really want to go there? Is maintaining compete control worth foregoing a relationship with your grandchildren and your adult child down the road? Because that happens to a lot of parents who are too critical and punitive and authoritarian. Their kids break free one day and don’t come back. Or when they do it’s just a matter of politeness and that distance is never bridged. Do you want that to be you? If not, then let love guide your relationship at every turn, not pride. Don’t let maintaining control–which you are going to lose anyway–which you are SUPPOSED to lose anyway–guide your actions when you have a problem with your child.
So many people have the kid thing backwards. They want newborn babies to sleep through the night in a separate room so that they can “get their lives back”–whatever that means–but they hover over these same kids when they are teens, waiting up for them at night, monitoring their homework, telling them what colleges to go to. No. The teen years are a time for letting go, for allowing more and more independence, for encouraging your kids to make good decisions, for trusting them to be the architects of their own lives. Remember you cannot tell anyone anything. There are very few mistakes that cannot be fixed down the road, and they are not going to learn from the ones YOU made, no matter how much you wish they could. They have to make their own. So let them.
Filed under: Deep Thoughts, Parenting, teenagers Tagged: Deep Thoughts, Parenting, teenagers, things I know, wisdom
A couple of days ago I encountered the following link on a friend’s Facebook Wall. Christi has a knack for getting good conversations started on her Wall (or now I guess I have to sadly say Timeline) and this was no exception.
Go read it or what I’m going to write won’t make any sense.
Some people were all like, “Yay! What a super mom! How understanding! I hope I’m like that when my kid’s a teenager!” Others were like, “Not in my house! Over my dead body!”
As you might predictably assume, I’m in the over-my-dead-body camp. And sure, we could easily say premarital sex is BAD. Sinful. End of story.
But there’s more to be said about this, it seems to me. And there are many reasons why even parents who theoretically don’t object to premarital sex might have a problem with this arrangement.
The mom in the story trots out that tired old argument: They are going to be doing it anyway. Why should we make it more dangerous by having them sneak around? Let’s give them a safe place to have sex and that way I can make sure my daughter is taking her birth control pills regularly!
Besides the squick factor of KNOWING your daughter is in your basement having sex with her boyfriend RIGHT THIS MINUTE, this argument leads to the logical conclusion that we should all be letting our teenagers do anything they want at home in order to keep them safe, life drinking and using drugs, for example. Aside from the fact that doing this puts parents at risk for criminal prosecution, AND the additional fact that studies have shown that kids whose parents let them drink at home have MORE alcohol problems down the line than those whose do not, there is the small matter of setting standards.
As parents we are supposed to set standards that we want our kids to follow. Yes, we know they probably won’t always follow them, because teenagers think they are immortal and have undeveloped brains and boys will be boys and all that. But we are still supposed to have them. What’s more, even if they act like they don’t, our kids WANT and EXPECT this. Just like toddlers exploring their limits, teenagers are pushing all the time. But if your rules are reasonable, they may argue, they may break them, but they won’t hate you for them or expect you not to have them. My 18-year-old limit-pusher declared this article “sick,” and said “no kind of parent” should allow such a thing.
It’s in the nature of kids to rebel. The author of one of my favorite parenting books suggests that if you don’t allow your teenagers to rebel in small ways, they will look for bigger ones. “Not letting them rebel” doesn’t just mean having uber-strict rules, it also means not having ANY so there is no way for your teenager to explore issues of freedom and individuality. If your teenager dies her hair pink and you say, “Oh, cool!” she will have to find some more radical way to be her own person and irritate you. If you say, as the author suggests, “Yuck! But it’s your hair,” you’ve given her autonomy to explore and to rebel against your tastes. I have to wonder what on earth the girl in the article will do when she leaves for college to assert her independence.
I’m also concerned about the unnatural affect this premature level of togetherness is having on the young couple’s relationship. Teenage romances are supposed to be fraught with uncertainty. You are supposed to be mooning around waiting for phone calls and looking forward eagerly to the next meeting. You are supposed to be doing your homework and hanging out with friends and wondering where your boyfriend is and what he is up to. You often have to deal with long separations brought on by family vacations, summer camps, and even college. Under these pressures relationships often end, and there aren’t many teenagers who look back longingly at these relationships five years later. They’ve moved on.
On the other hand, especially strong relationships MAY last as the couple learn together to navigate issues of trust and separation. There are the “high school sweethearts” who stay together and eventually marry. But that’s rare.
Allowing these kids to live together is short-circuiting the process above. These kids aren’t even 20 and they are already like an old married couple. They don’t need to worry about learning to trust because the other is always in view. They don’t have the opportunity to explore attraction to other people. What is more, they are like an old married couple with none of the normal pressures that come with marriage. Mommy pays their bills. She provides their housing. They are living a fairytale. They are playing house.
The mother implies that the only consequence of sex is pregnancy, and her daughter’s faithful use of birth control pills prevents that. She doesn’t take into account the bonding effects of sexual intimacy. Teenagers who sneak around don’t get to sleep in the same bed and have sex every day. This young couple are bathing themselves in powerful binding hormones. By allowing this arrangement she is essentially insuring that either they are going to get married, even if under normal circumstances they each might have found different partners down the line, OR that they are going to have a very painful breakup while at their separate colleges, akin to a divorce, at a time when they are both young and immature and vulnerable and supposed to be learning and having fun and preparing for the future.
Would you care to weigh in? Would you allow this in your home?
Filed under: Parenting, teenagers Tagged: cohabitation, morality, Parenting, premarital sex, teenagers
If you are a parent, you KNOW that you understand exactly what I mean, right? Your kid fixates on some favorite book–which you HATE–and he wants to hear it multiple times a day, sometimes chanting “Again, again!” right after you finish it, like a Teletubby.
After five kids, you had better believe I have done my share of reading to children. And I know how to condense a story and rush my way through a hated book. I honestly don’t get how some of this stuff makes it into print.
But books that parents love to read and kids hate to listen to are no better, are they? I’m thinking about all the beautifully illustrated hardback poetic bedtime story books I’ve bought over the years that, frankly, bored my kids to death. I’d look at them longingly, sitting ignored on the shelf, but Emily was the only one of my children who would put up with listening to baby literature.
Emily is a book addict like me, and she was born that way. Before she could walk, we could sit her in front of her shelf in the bookcase, and she would pull out every book, one at a time, and actually look at each picture (not throw them behind her for fun, like the rest of my kids). You could occupy her for an hour that way. And because she was the first child, and the only one for three years, we read to her all the time. I can recite the entire Dr. Seuss ABC book from memory (you probably can too, so I know you aren’t impressed) and large parts of other children’s books as well, thanks to Emily.
There wasn’t as much time to read to Jake and Teddy. Most of our reading happened at bedtime. They were actually really cooperative about listening to what I would consider “improving” books, like treasures from my beloved Eloise Wilkin collection like Prayers for Children and My Little Golden Book about God. They had a book about the Parables of Jesus that they loved. They asked over and over again to hear the one about “the man in the ditch.”
I am embarrassed to admit how little I have read to Lorelei and William my comparison. I don’t mean I never read to them, but it wasn’t daily, not even at bedtime. Maybe it makes up for it some that Emily likes to read to them. Since we moved here, I read bedtime stories to Lorelei most nights, usually the books she herself has picked out from her school library. She especially loves the Pee Wee Scout chapter books.
What children’s books do I like? I could write post after post on this topic (Ah! There’s an idea!). I’m not a fan of sappy tearjerkers like I’ll Love You Forever. Make of that what you will. I also loathe gimmicky retreads like If You Give a Moose a Muffin. There was an awesomely hysterical article posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago about horrible children’s books, which I did not repost because of the Bad Word in the title. But I agreed with almost all of it. Except I do think the Amelia Bedelia series is amusing. My new favorite children’s book isn’t exactly for children. But I digress.
Let me share just a few that my kids like and that I don’t mind reading over and over:
I first heard Owl Babies on Reading Rainbow. We bought the board book and Jake and Teddy loved it. We changed the three owls’ names to Emily, Jake, and Teddy. I never tired of reading it and they never tired of hearing it. The underlying message–that Mommy ALWAYS comes back–is organic, not tiresome and preachy.
More More More Said the Baby is a feast of bright colors and baby love. It’s multicultural without screaming “Hey, look at how diverse these characters are!” It only has a few words on every page! What more could you ask for?
I think Red Red Red came to us via Imagination Library. As if it weren’t enough that someone surnamed Gorbachev would write a book with that title, it’s a lovely book. I had to read it to Lorelei every night for months so I know. I just love the moment at the end where everyone finds out what is red. What a great reminder to enjoy the little things in life.
Doesn’t EVERYONE love Frog and Toad? I didn’t appreciate them nearly as much as a child as I have come to as a grownup. These books teach friendship by showing it, not preaching about it. Can you tell I hate preachy children’s books? And they are funny, too.
Will you share your favorite picture books with me in the comments?
Filed under: books, Parenting Tagged: books, children’s books, Parenting, picture books, reading
I thought it was hard when they were 2 and 3; 16 and 17 is way harder.