As I sat with Middle at the kitchen island yesterday morning, I commented that this was the first day of the government shutdown. He yanked his head upwards in surprise. What? How can this happen? The conversation ensued as I explained that certain functions would certainly continue and that the world wasn’t going to come to an end; the linkage was inevitably made between the rollout of the new Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare and the debt issue and how the last minute Republican spending included a year-long delay in the individual policy segment of the Act. It was here that he discovered that the Congress, in it’s infinite wisdom and deep compassion, was exempt from the law and actually had its own healthcare program. Greedy Bastards was his simple response.
There are certainly many other aspects to the issue, difficult to parse through in short time frames and hard to keep clear and factual in light of tweets he was receiving about how the Republicans are to blame for this mess. My response to that on the car ride to school was a succinct pox upon both parties; each has contributed mightily to the mess and neither is beyond reproach.
But with such rancor and smoke, how do I get a factual and informative basis across to this smarter-than-average teen? I’m certain that he’d prefer to ignore it since it disturbs his zen, but his generation is going to be paying for this slow-motion trainwreck and it’s best that he have a clue now, sooner than later.
The first point to remember is to keep it as factual as possible; calling a particular politician a raging cretin – even if he or she is a raging cretin – is certain to create a block because it’s indicative that Dad’s simply back on his soapbox. Blah, blah, blah, runaway deficits, blah, blah, blah like the famous Far Side cartoon. Dad feels better but it’s rolled off with no impact whatsoever.
The second point is to actually use correct facts. It’s become nigh impossible with the mainstream media cherrypicking their information, depending upon whether they’re CNN, Fox or MSNBC so be prepared to go to other sources for the information. The other aspect to this is that if he’s embarrassed in front of friends, classmates and teachers because of incorrect information, then he’s going to simply turn you off when you begin to talk about it.
The third point is to present it in bite-sized bits. Most parents don’t spend a huge amount of time with the kids and as they age, your available time with them shortens so you have to be prepared to grab the moment and present a segment. Kids also don’t have the attention span that they might have had fifty years ago because of the prevalence of the ubiquitous electronics. Try to squeeze in too much and you’re going to reach concentration overload with many kids sooner than later.
The fourth point is to be consistent in your beliefs and conversation. With enough time and effort, the conversation will shift from the factual to the philosophical and here’s where the core of values teaching takes place. You might not think that they’re out of the zombie state yet, but they are actually thinking and working to put two-and-two together; if you make the effort to bring them along, many will make the effort to coalesce everything into a coherent whole. Your inability to remain consistent in your own beliefs will simply sabotage the entire process as they will root out the inconsistencies. And this I speak from experience as a few instances of waffling have brought forward cogent, almost surgically precise questions that made me stop and re-think what I’d said so that I could either clarify or, in one particular case, acknowledge that I’d been wholly inconsistent. The simple truth is that kids can smell out hypocrisy like a dog can sniff out a bone.
Issues of such complexity are not made for one-off conversations. They require multiple efforts and considerable thought, both of what was already discussed and what should be covered next to help clarify things further. But if my job as a father is to prepare the kids for their future, then it’s my responsibility to think through the process and then make the effort so that they don’t suddenly awaken in ten years, upset that they didn’t have a clue of what was coming.