Lately, my son, who’s 11, has been making statements. He’ll make a statement about a news event, or a political debate, and it’s usually something that he’s heard from someone else.
While we’ve tried to instill our own values in our son, sometimes we find that the things he’s exposed to at school, talking to his grandparents, and in the media conflict with the values we teach in the home.
It’s tempting to either tell him that others are “wrong,” or to try to limit his exposure the ideas that we find somewhat repugnant. However, this doesn’t teach him to think critically about things, or to develop his own sense of self so that he can stand strong in his values later on, without us prodding him this way and that way.
The answer is to help him develop critical thinking skills so that he can learn to evaluate statements others make, rather than just accepting them — and finding himself blown about, depending on the last thing that was said.
One of the best ways to foster critical thinking in the home is to ask questions. When my son says “I think that…” and follows it up with something that I disagree with, or that I think deserves extra consideration, I’ll ask him why he thinks that.
This forces him to evaluate the statement. Why is he making it? Because one of his classmates said it? Because his grandmother said it? Because he heard it on the radio? Or because he’s given it serious thought? Often, asking him the “why” behind the statement forces him to look for answers. He knows, by now, that “because” is not an acceptable answer, whether we’re discussing which incarnation of the Doctor is the best or the theories about what happened to a lost airplane.
Sometimes, this question-asking behavior means that my son questions me about things, but that’s ok. I know why I value the things I do, and I think it’s good for him to ask questions. I’ve even told him in the past: “You don’t have to agree with me, but you’d better know why you don’t, and be able to articulate it.”
Backing It Up
When you ask questions, you also encourage your child to look at evidence, and weigh different sources of information. Two sides of a debate are not necessarily the same. Sometimes, what an expert says should carry more weight than a random pundit’s opinion. We encourage our son to look at the source of the information, and also to look at opposing viewpoints.
Sometimes, we only adopt an idea because it is what we’re used to, and we haven’t had exposure to other ideas and cultures. I encourage my son to learn about other cultures and viewpoints, and then evaluate different sources and statements.
Wide Exposure to Viewpoints
A wider exposure to ideas and different ways of doing things is also important to critical thinking. On a recent trip, I made it a point to bring Gavin into a Catholic church. We lit a votive candle and left an offering in front of a statue of St. Christopher (well, we were traveling), and talked about religious traditions different from our own.
He also gets plenty of exposure to viewpoints other than ours because we live in an area in which our political leanings are very much in the minority. Having exposure to different ways of thinking, and different sources of information, fosters a greater propensity for critical thinking.
Additionally, we talk about how to change our minds and others. I’ve been known to change my position with new information, and my husband and I make it clear to our son that he can change his mind, too.
If you want your child to grow with a better ability to think things through, now is the time to start teaching critical thinking skills.