Remember those days when children were seen and not heard? They’re long gone. Today we encourage our kids to speak up and express their opinions. But is it OK for them to speak up and challenge authority? Linda Morgan, a ParentMap editor and the author of the book "Beyond Smart," explains.
Should our kids learn to challenge authority?
We want our kids to be able to question ideas. We want them to know how to think for themselves and think critically, to form their own opinions and have the confidence to say what they think.
What we don’t want are kids who simply follow the pack and never question someone in authority – whether it’s a peer or an adult. We’d like them to be able to stand up to the queen bee in a social group.
Why is this so important?
First of all, we want our kids to be safe. We don’t want them to think that just because an adult tells you something you should do it. We tell them - don’t go with the stranger, don’t do something you don’t want to do.
We want our kids to be able to confront injustice and unfairness. Whether we’re talking about racism, bullying or listening to someone say something that goes against what they know is right, what they believe in.
Doesn’t this encourage disrespect?
The great teachers can foster a balance of respect and inquiry in their class. They demand and get respect. One teacher I spoke to says he loves the students who put the teacher on the spot and point out the holes in his reasoning.
And as parents, we can teach our children how to politely express a different opinion – to a peer, to authority, to anyone.
How can we teach our kids to speak up but still be respectful?
- Offer choices
- Teach respect
- Teach safety
- Admit our mistakes
Offer them choices and let them make decisions. For preschoolers that might mean asking, do you want to go to the playground or the zoo? Do you want the burger or the hot dog? Want to play baseball or basketball? This empowers them to realize they have some power in what goes on in the world, and that their opinions are valued.
Explain to children that questioning doesn’t have to mean you are not respectful. We’d like them to be able to respectfully express a different opinion – to authority, to a peer, to anybody. As they get older, they get better at figuring out when it’s appropriate to challenge adults and other power figures.
Even preschoolers can be taught to question authority if their safety is threatened. Kids need to know that they have the right to say no, yell, or ask for help. If they feel threatened, they have permission to make a scene.
Model decision-making, and admit when we’ve made a poor one. Kids need to learn that even authority figures can make mistakes and that the person in charge is not always right.