The shameful behavior that made the news throughout 2017 gave us a lot to talk about with our kids. And, make no mistake about it, it’s important to talk about bad behavior in frank and honest terms. When parents fail to do so, kids are left alone with their own ideas, Google, and hot takes from their peers. I’m sure that thought scares other parents as much as it scares me.
Unfortunately, many of 2017’s toughest conversations were preludes to even harder conversations that will need to happen in 2018. Fortunately, parents already know what a lot of the topics are so they can prepare themselves for when the moment comes to really hash it out.
Power Should Be Exercised Generously
Why It’s Going to Come Up: Like Trump or hate him, it’s impossible to deny that he’s interested in stress-testing democratic norms. But this isn’t just a Trump issue. This is how to talk about sexual harassment without being explicit.
What We Can Tell Kids: Essentially, we can use our power in one of two ways. We see the first, power over, everywhere. It’s power as command, control, and domination. Taken to the extreme, it’s abuse, as we saw so much in the news last year. Power over becomes essential in some instances—a medical emergency where a physician must take charge, for example—but it kills fairness if always in place. The second option, power with, sees power as the responsibility to make good things happen together with other people. It’s about collaborating, sharing rewards achieved, and leading by example. Power with is the power of love. Giving our children this power over/power with framework can help them make sense of what’s going on around them and, also, shape their own best behavior.
Critical Thinking and Truth-Seeking are Obligatory
Why It’s Going to Come Up: The rise of fake news and the labeling of real news as fake drives home the importance of media literacy and evidence-based conclusions.
What We Can Tell Kids: Frederick Douglass said, “Truth is beautiful in all times and in all places.” Truth is beautiful because it’s our foundation for sanity, safety, and connection within a shared reality — and thus each other. If we lose our grip on the difference between reality and lies, we become defenseless against those who seek to control us or divert our attention.
Given the tonnage of untruth in circulation it has never been more important to think for ourselves. Critical thinking requires taking information from a variety of credible sources, evaluating what we’ve gathered using our own judgment, and forming conclusions. What does this mean for kids? Respectfully asking questions of authority figures such as their teachers and community of faith leaders and the willingness to face facts that don’t support preconceived notions or ideas.
Mutual Respect is Possible and Pleasurable
Why It’s Going to Come Up: Republicans and Democrats now treat each other with horrifying disrespect. Elections won’t change that.
What We Can Tell Kids: Fundamentally, this can be an extension of the conversation parents frequently have about sharing. There are, however, some semantic distinctions kids need to grasp.
Power over sees difference and asks:
- Who’s right and who’s wrong?
- Which way of being human is healthy, holy, and correct?
- Is this person one of us or one of them?
Power with sees difference and asks:
- What can I learn from this new perspective?
- How can these other ways of living, loving, and connecting spiritually expand my understanding of what it means to be human?
- Who knew there were so many ways of being one of us?
Because we have lived in a mostly power over world, we can talk with our kids about our efforts to get this way of thinking out of ourselves and assure our kids that there is no them, only us.
Having the Strength to Apologize is Important
Why It’s Going to Come Up: We live in the age of the mea culpa. Kids can learn from that and, specifically, learn to be forgiving.
What We Can Tell Kids: All human beings make mistakes. The strong among us claim responsibility for our errors, sincerely apologize, and commit to change. Apologizing creates the possibility of forgiveness, restoration of mutual respect, and the start of a new history. We can help our kids see the value of following this course.
The Environment Needs Our Help
Why It’s Going to Come Up: Kids are naturally drawn into nature and they will witness its degradation.
What We Can Tell Kids: Power over seeks dominion and strives to dominate nature. Too many of us, it seems, believe that we can consume the natural world and suffer no consequences. Power with seeks communion and strives to respect and collaborate with the natural world. Science affirms that we need natural systems in order to sustain human life, and the world of nature can be a source of emotional and spiritual health. We can help our kids recognize and support our efforts to sustain a livable world.
Conflict Is Okay If Resolution Is Possible
Why It’s Going to Come Up: Because life. Also, the midterms are going to be a bloodbath.
What We Can Tell Kids: One of my family therapy mentors, Monica McGoldrick, tells the story of a young couple who saw her because one spouse worried that they may have made a mistake in marrying. The young woman said, “We see most everything differently. We always talk things through to compromise, but I wonder if this is normal. After all, my parents never ever disagreed.” Monica assured the couple that they were doing fine. After sharing the couple’s story, Monica tells her students, “I felt sorry for those parents. No two people, if they’re being honest with one another, always see things in exactly the same way. If what that woman said was true, then her parents never really got to know one another.” The moral? Conflict is a normal part of human interaction, and we need to value it as a hallmark of honesty and trust. When we approach it holding a power with mentality, most conflicts can be resolved amicably, even if the resolution is a respectful agreement to disagree.
Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio is an author and family therapist. His books include Simple Habits of Exceptional (But Not Perfect) Parents and Making Love, Playing Power: Men, Women, and the Rewards of Intimate Justice. Ken founded GreenGate Leadership after retiring from his role as Vice President, Health and Wellness, at Prudential.