Young people will reiterate overheard opinions or stories, tack new meaning onto them, and state them as though entirely self-conceived. My daughter recently made a certain statement that I found a bit embarrassing. I don’t know where she heard it, but it at least entered private conversation at our own dinner table, where we could discuss her words and the impression they may give. Her opinion was terribly slanted and I am afraid that if she says it in public, she will have misrepresented the true feelings and spirit of this family.
“We really should stop selling stuff to China. We shouldn’t be paying them all this money,” she mused, “and let them solve their own problems or whatever.”
(Yes, I am sure you were expecting something a little different.)
My husband smiled and spoke gently. He said that what she appears to have learned about the relationship between the US and China is a bit limited. He explained about trade, about China having loaned money to the US, and touched on countries having to work with each other. He addressed her immediate statement and raised possible questions that will help her understand there is always more to a story, and that an opinion, such as what she likely overheard from another parent or teacher at school, is not necessarily a fact. He did a very nice job.
This week, my daughter hit us with another one:
“I’ve been studying Mesopotamia at school. Did you know we now call Mesopotamia Iraq? I hate Iraq. All they do is kill each other. The whole culture there is bad.”
Mercy! I took a breath.
“Sweetheart, it’s so much more complicated than that,” I began. I told her I have taught children whose families had emigrated from Iraq to the US. I explained that what she is seeing on the news about war there is indeed unfortunate and horrible, but just one slice of what is an ancient and incredibly fascinating culture. My husband said that to make a grand slam statement about an entire culture is not okay, and that she needs to learn more about it. Mothers, fathers, and children live there--just like us, I reminded her.
After that I gave her the usual reminders about the other things we teach our children: sit up, elbows off the table, and close your mouth when you chew. Conversation turned to other things, such as school and weekend plans. Visions of Breyer horses and doll dress designs resumed in her head. I am glad, however, my little girl is aware that these political issues are part of the world we live in, and maybe one day she will develop incredible diplomatic skills as a result of having to research an issue and form an educated opinion. I do look forward to seeing what she will discuss next, and I hope that she still feels she can air her thoughts at the table. Trying not to quash that while coaching her toward a broader view requires diplomacy on our behalf as well.