As kids age and grow, you want to help them move from naive innocence to a more measured awareness of the world around them. And especially about the people that inhabit it. Which is why I persistently try to develop their common sense by asking: Now think, does that pass the common sense test? Does that make sense?
What exactly is common sense? My definition has been that it’s the ability to think through situations and examine problems in a manner that is both rational and realistic. Bear in mind that my own youth was spent talking office politics at the dinnertable with a father who a co-worker later described as having "the ability to slit a guy’s throat two weeks before he even knew that it was slit." So I’m aware that I am a skeptic and need to protect my kids from veering into full-blown cynicism. Yet they also need to learn how to consider what they see, hear and consequently do.
When do the common sense questions apply? Surprisingly, more often than you might think.
- In reviewing the answers to math problems. Okay, you have that answer. But does it make sense that the answer to that addition problem is less than one of the two addends?
- In considering the answers to history and social studies questions. If you heard a recording of one of FDR’s Fireside Chats in class, does it make sense that he delivered the Gettysburg Address?
- As occurred in my house this morning, if using gasoline engines less helps the environment, does it make sense that riding a dirtbike falls into the same transportation alternative as walking?
- So Kelly was bragging of her family’s money and that she owns a pair of $725 shoes. Think about what your shoes cost, does it make sense that a parent does it make sense that a parent would spend that much money on shoes for an adolescent girl who’s still growing?
- Your classmate George has Swine Flu (H1N1)? Who told you this? Before you panic, was George tested to be positive or could this be the typical seasonal flu? Does it make sense that a classmate would know this firsthand?
The upshot of this is that you have to pay attention to the kids’ comments and conversations. As much as I would love to walk into the mancave, the reality is that a large part of parenting and fatherhood means that I have to listen to what the kids are saying, reading, listening to, watching and doing. And I then have to apply my own common sense test to determine whether I need to address it further. The next question is how much time I have to spend on the issue and whether to handle it in the moment or set aside time later.
I then have to work to assure that I am consistent in how I ask the question. Kids learn much through repetition and hearing the question in the same format will help cement it into their thinking.
It’s a time-consuming process and often frustrating. But without the time spent in pushing the common sense questions, they’ll be at a disadvantage in critical thinking at a time when it’s more desperately needed than ever.