Preparing the Kids:  Encouraging Skepticism

With kids spending so much time engaged with one form of electronic media or another, I’m honestly concerned about my kids’ critical thinking skills.  For me, a large part of critical thinking is determining the difference between what’s real and what’s crap and from what I observe, much of what’s presented in the media today is mostly crap.  I want my kids to view things with a skeptical eye, asking themselves whether what they’re hearing, viewing and reading makes sense or if it really is nonsense.  I want them to question and in light of today’s current events – political figures calling for someone’s assassination and the confluence between business and government – skepticism and critical thought are essential.

This isn’t a new goal since I’ve made it a lifetime habit of pulling their legs with nonsense so that they can start to learn to determine the difference between truth and fiction.  But the drive is taking on a new impetus as I no longer have any faith in the traditional Main Stream Media (MSM).  The good thing is the presence of the internet, which allows a person to dig further.  Likewise, the bad thing is the presence of the internet which allows a person to dig further. The key however, is the ability to ascertain whether what’s being presented can stand on its own logic or if it requires further examination and debunking.

Unlike other articles, this one has taken further examination and the language used has changed from the original draft.  My initial impetus was to raise kids that willingly question authority, which is radically different coming from a status-quo conservative; both my wife and I were raised in autocratic households and to an extent, ours has been the same.  But I know that we have reasons to do things a certain way and it’s frankly sometimes a nuisance to raise kids who start in the  home and automatically question everything we do.  Learn how to ask properly and I’ll explain it, perhaps even more than once.  It occurred to me however, that the key is to raise kids who will think through things first and ascertain whether something indeed needs to be questioned.

So how do I manage to raise skeptics?

  • Starting at a young age, pull their legs frequently and then take the opportunity when they bite to examine the information.  Can you really milk an alpaca?  Let’s go find out and verify that.  Is Morocco really just to the east of Las Vegas?  Pull out the atlas and find Las Vegas, and then look to the east.
  • Establish some guidelines about the use of electronics and then work to enforce them.  Make the kids turn off the screens and spend time in the real world instead of the virtual one.  It creates more work for you, but educating the kids is one of a father’s primary functions.
  • Take time to discuss issues with them, even if they’re younger.  It’s certainly a judgment call as to the issues for which they’re ready and expect to draw the occasional blank stare, but you’d be surprised to find out how much  the kids are taking in and if they’re taking things in, it’s best that you have a handle on what those things are.
  • Try the Socratic Method and ask questions to walk them through an issue.  My own father was a master at the Socratic Method and more often than not, my questions only raised other questions back to me.  It was a tremendous nuisance – does the old man know anything? – but it did help me learn how to frame questions and give me some sense of how to approach an issue. 
  • This goes to the next point, which is to be prepared to spend the time to explore their questions with them.  Turn off the damned electronics yourself and spend the moments – hell, hours if necessary – to help them gain a grip on the issue.  Again, this cuts into your own time but remember Fatherhood’s First Law – your life is no longer your own.
  • Avoid overly political labels and try to stick to the salient facts at hand.  Is Julian Assange a terrorist and Sarah Palin a fascist? Who says so, and why would they say it?  What did these people do anyway?  What exactly is a fascist in the first place?
  • Walk with them through the various sources available and critique these sources.  I remember learning a dictum in elementary school:  the educated person doesn’t know everything, but they know where to go for the information.  Help  your kids learn the various sources available to them.

This is an ongoing work in progress and I don’t profess to know the answers.  But these are all items that I try to keep in mind as the kids grow and raise questions and while it sometimes feels as though I’m beating my head against the wall, there are other moments when I can see the lights starting to turn on.  Those are moments that I live for.



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