Opening Up Lines Of Communication On Differing Opinions
One of the most sacred aspects of my job as a mental health therapist, especially when working with teens, is watching a person grapple with new ideas about themselves and their worldview. The teen years are a time when, developmentally, we challenge social and organizational constructs (and often our parents) in an effort to gain independence. Teens often try on many different hats, expressing strong opinions about topics (even if you feel they have little life experience to understand their passionate views).
The current environment is rife with political, social, and civil divides. I am hearing from teens and adults on a daily basis not only about how the national news is impacting them but also how their families are racked with contention over different viewpoints. It is okay to have different “opinions” or “belief systems.” It is not okay to belittle loved ones (whether you are a child or an adult).
How Should I Approach Sensitive Conversations When We Don’t See Eye To Eye?
1) Set Ground Rules & Boundaries For Discussions
We want young people to stay thoughtful, interested, and empowered in current events. They are our future leaders, after all. But it does no good for anyone to engage in hurtful or rude conversations. Setting ground rules when debating is essential. Rule number 1: attack arguments, not people.
2) Don’t Lecture
No one likes to be talked at. We are able to keep our focus for about 3 minutes unless there is back-and-forth engagement. Asking questions about what your child has read or heard is more effective. This helps them make their own connections and distinctions rather than just passively listening to yours.
3) Allow For Differing Opinions
When talking about politics, we must acknowledge that other opinions can also be valid. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree. No political stance is worth the sacrifice of a solid relationship with your child. And don’t forget, you want your child to be strong in their individual beliefs. They are less likely to succumb to peer pressure if they are confident in advocating their own positions.
4) Provide Feedback & Find Common Ground
Very few subjects or causes are all good or all bad. Acknowledge your child’s points and identify common ground. This is a great opportunity to point out qualities that you see in your child that reflect their strengths. For instance, if they are passionately reciting the reasons that schools should not require uniforms and point to infringement on self-expression, use this as an opportunity to acknowledge and affirm their own individuality and uniqueness.
5) Pick Your Battles Carefully & Know When To Quit
There comes a point in every debate when further discussion has diminishing returns or becomes pointless. As the adult, you are responsible to know when to call it quits. This can be hard in a heated debate (that’s where previously set ground rules are helpful), but may be necessary to preserve the relationship. If your teen shuts down, don’t lecture. Instead, drop the topic or ask clarifying questions to better understand where you lost them.
Just because you share DNA, does not mean you will always agree on the issues of the day. But by making it a safe space for young people to explore and express different opinions at home, you are empowering them to keep lines of communication open while informing both of your points of view, even if you stand on opposing sides.