I had a conversation with a friend of mine this morning discussing a conversation with a fifteen year old. It was enlightening.
I taught teenagers for a long time. I had two of my own. I found them to be some of the most fun and frustrating creatures I have ever met!
Adults need to remember that most of the teenager’s goals during these years involve separating from their parents’ control and proving to adults how smart they are. This can lead to statements coming out of them that we just shake our heads at.
The adolescent brain is different from the adult’s. They are more emotional, less rational, and more impulsive. So, trying to frame a debate with one with any kind of logic is a lost cause.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It is important that we teach our young people the skills of presenting a logical argument with facts and rationale. If we allow them to stay in their adolescent mode and never encourage a more mature, meaningful conversation, they will turn into useful adult idiots, like AOC, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, et al.
So, when your teenager starts to spout nonsense, start asking questions. For example, when he/she says that people shouldn’t be allowed to have freedom of speech, ask, ” Why do you say that?” Listen to the answer. They will probably respond with something like banning “hate” speech or the good old “shouting fire in a theater” argument. Ask another question. “How do you define “hate” speech? Who defines “hate” speech?” They will say that if something offends someone, it is hate speech and that it is up to the person who is offended.
This is when you have the great opportunity to teach without lecturing. I like to give them possible examples of “hate” speech. I select words like “old,” “cranky,” and “Boomer.” I ask if those are hate speech. They might say yes, just to be cute, but you need to clarify. At some point, you will find something that they will agree is not hate speech. I sometimes use words like “apple,” “banana” etc. When they say it is not hate speech I will ask, “But what if they offend me? What if I think they are hate speech? Can I get them banned?”
At this point there will be some rolling of the eyes and probably some muttering about how dumb this all is and they will walk away. But, you will have planted the seed, the thoughts of reason.
This strategy can be used in a lot of different situations. When you ask questions and demand that they think about what they are arguing, sooner or later it will sink in.
You may not see it for years. You might think it was wasted breath. I know I did with my kids sometimes. But it wasn’t. They grew to be good critical thinkers. They don’t always agree with me, but they can present good, reasoned arguments.
We can’t give up on them. We need them to be rational, critical thinkers.