Teaching critical thinking to kids

I’d hoped I could steer clear of having to have these conversations as a parent but, as we all know, parenting is all about having to tackle the hard nuggets of life. This one, in particular, has stuck with me over the past few weeks. 

I’m no great fan of Lady Gaga, and I’d rather not have my kid emulate her fashion sense or performance antics, ever. But I don’t like the idea of my child coming to a decision on someone’s character, based on someone else’s opinion. 

Pop stars are a problem for parents, because it sometimes feels, for me at least, that I’d like to bring them all over to my house and tell them to pull up their pants, eat properly and stop making a spectacle out of themselves. But, I can’t do that, and, really, I’m glad I don’t have to. On that note, if we could please have a nice, wholesome pop star that kids can look up to, rather than diaper-pants Bieber, microphone abuser Miley and the like, that’d be nice. 

We live in an age where, as parents, we need to be gatekeepers to information, where the seemingly infinite stream of information that’s available wherever you look, isn’t always appropriate for kids. As gatekeepers, our family has pretty strict rules about what’s appropriate viewing for children. So, no my kid wouldn’t have much of a reference when it came to Lady Gaga music videos or why someone would think she might be evil. The most understanding my kid has of Lady Gaga is that she heard her songs on the radio. 

I do think it’s unfair of people to outright proclaim someone as evil, and then tell their kid that. Mostly because, our children take what we say as the truth, first, and that’s because we teach our children right from wrong, and safe versus dangerous…and never do we enable them to question it. 

I’m not promoting that we suddenly tell our children “You can look both ways before you cross the road, if you feel like it” but I am saying, that by highlighting someone they heard on the radio as “evil”, we’re teaching them to blindly accept our opinions as fact.

Last time I checked, an opinion is an opinion and not a fact. 

In teaching our children to think critically, we’re doing them not only a favour, but, in fact, the highest service. We’re illustrating to them how, throughout life, they will be bombarded with information and – using that information – they will have to make choices. We hope, as parents, that we equip our children with the skills to make good choices. As children ourselves, we learnt how to make choices by learning to assess the information given to us and then make a choice based on what we learnt.

And, please, don’t tell me how school should be responsible for that. It’s not the sole source of knowledge, and I’ll bet you my favourite shoes that you remember less of your school lessons than you do your conversations with your parents. Plus, school is a noisy, heady time that intersperses learning with the creation of social and friendship bonds. When it comes to critical thinking, our children learn it from us.

So when my daughter asks me If Lady Gaga is evil, I can only offer her the information available to me, and help her to come to a decision. The dictionary defines “evil” as “morally reprehensible”. Is Lady Gaga “morally reprehensible”? Lady Gaga’s music videos aren’t, in my view, appropriate viewing for children, and, musically, I’m not entirely certain why anyone would want to play “Pokerface”. But I can also tell my kid that Stefani Germanotta learnt to play the piano at a young age and that she is a strong LGBT rights activist. Is that “morally reprehensible”? 

My mom was called ‘evil’ once for helping refugees to access shelter, medical care and support when they ran away from their homes that had been under attack during township violence that occurred in the early 90s. Was my mom “morally reprehensible”? I definitely don’t believe she was. 

Most importantly, as a parent, I can show and teach my child how to take information she is given or comes across, and make decisions for herself. What does “evil” in fact mean? There are acts and things in the world that I am sure we all agree are not “good” and that we all wish did not exist. But, I cannot, I think, quantifiably state that Lady Gaga lives on the edge of some weird and dark glory. 

When it comes down to it, of course, the morals and principles that your family adhere to are the founding principles for how your child will be raised and, indeed, these will guide our babies in how they make their choices. 

In our house, we don’t believe in making assumptions on people based on what someone else has said. So, when Casey said: “Lady Gaga is evil”, I hope I’ve taught my kid enough to know that the statement is an opinion, and not a fact. 

Most of all, though, I hope she never wears a meat dress or pitches up for a party in an egg.

What was your most awkward question from your kids you ever had to answer?  

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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