There’s no denying it. In the last week, our country has been in complete turmoil because of the events in Charlottesville. In days gone by, children would be insulated from the news. They would only learn about it at school or from their parents. But today, with social media, it comes right to their phones.
So how do we talk to our kids about these difficult topics, topics that divide our country in ways that we haven’t seen in decades? In my opinion, we have a responsibility to do so.
First, I would say we must talk to them - and talk to them as soon as possible. Don’t think they won’t learn something about this national conversation without your help. They will. Because you can’t filter what they’re hearing, it’s important to have age-appropriate conversations with them at home to help them parse all this information.
Secondly, when you’re having these conversations with your kids, remember to listen. Hear them out, first, and then calmly discuss your interpretation of what they’ve said in a diplomatic way, even if you disagree with them. Model diplomacy by respecting their opinions. By doing this, you are teaching them how to do the same with others.
Third, and this goes along with respecting their beliefs, teach them to think for themselves and not just parrot what others are saying, including what you’re saying. This requires studying an issue, being open to other people’s ideas and allowing for an evolving point of view.
And finally, help them learn how to discuss controversial topics with others in a diplomatic way by listening, honestly considering what they’re saying and not trying to make ourselves right by making others wrong. Clearly, this is one of the hardest things for anyone, including adults, to do. Spend a few minutes on social media to see how we are struggling more than ever as a society to relate to one another in a constructive way.
Because of what I do, I am prohibited by my company from liking, sharing or commenting on controversial topics online, especially politics, on my professional and social platforms. Radio silence. Some of my friends think I must feel incredibly hamstringed by such an edict, but honestly, given the acerbic direction of our national discourse, I’d rather not. If I want to have those conversations, I will have them in person, off-the-clock. Even then, my aim will always be diplomacy.
Our children will learn from many sources — teachers, peers, social media. But, at the end of the day, what they learn at home will be the foundation that will carry them throughout lives in ways that are currently unforeseen, but are profoundly critical to their positive development into adulthood.
In the words of Crosby, Stills and Nash: “Teach your children well…And feed them on your dreams.” And maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn something from them in the process.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.