IMHO: Why You Should Let Your Kids Think For Themselves
By Marisa Gooch
For some families, Sunday football games mean chip dip, jerseys, and loads of fun. But for my family, this isn’t always the case. When it comes to sports, my childhood home is a house divided.
My brother and cousins love one team, and my parents love another. And when these two teams play each other, the living room turns into World War III. In fact, it is more entertaining to watch my family members fight than to watch the actual football game.
And of course, someone always ends up mad when his or her team doesn’t win. If it’s my brother, he and his wife take off before the game ends. If it’s my parents, they go upstairs to their room so they don’t have to watch my brother’s favorite team annihilate theirs. Gotta love Sunday football.
Even though sports is a touchy subject in my family, my parents have always encouraged us to root for whomever we please. They know that just because we have a different opinion, doesn’t mean we don’t love each other and like spending time together. This principle is also practiced in other aspects of our lives: politics, career choice, where we attend college, the people we date or associate with, etc.
There is value in letting your children think for themselves and supporting their views, whether they match yours or not. As you encourage your children to form their own opinions, you will create an environment of acceptance, prepare them for adult life, and prevent them from resenting you in the future.
Create an Environment of Acceptance
When a child comes to you with an opinion that doesn’t match yours, your first instinct may be to yell, show anger, or tell your child that his or her views are stupid. This can send the message that you don’t accept your child for who he or she is, which can potentially create feelings of shame, guilt, and unwantedness within your child.
It is important to remember that as children become teenagers and as teenagers become adults, they are continually trying to find themselves and feel accepted by those around them.
The competitive nature at school can make this challenging, especially if the child is bullied by his or her classmates. If your child doesn’t feel accepted among his or her peers, how will you be able to help your child build confidence if you don’t accept him or her at home?
John Schwartz, a national correspondent at the New York Times, writes, “When you expect your kids to fit into a mold, especially a mold of your own making, you’ll be disappointed.” He also says that you may not be able to force your child to turn out as you planned, but you can still show excitement about the way your child turns out.
So if your child is highly intelligent or average, religious or agnostic, opinionated or easy going, liberal or conservative, show unconditional love and support. Tell your child “I love you,” and “I am proud of who you have become.” Don’t criticize your child for thinking differently than you do. As you encourage your child to form his or her own opinions, you will help your child feel comfortable and accepted.
Prepare Your Children for Adulthood
The law defines adulthood by age. When someone turns 18, he or she can open a bank account, sue or be sued, vote, serve on a jury, and perform other adultlike tasks. But just because someone has reached the age of adulthood, doesn’t mean they will possess adultlike qualities.
In other words, if a 26-year-old who is mentally and physically capable of thinking for himself asks mommy or daddy who to vote for and which college classes to enroll in, that 26-year-old still has some growing up to do.
If you don’t want your children to be completely dependent on you forever, allow them to think for themselves. According to a study conducted by the University of Edinburgh, children whose parents were less psychologically controlling and more caring were happier and more satisfied as adults than the children whose parents were controlling.
So, how can you be less psychologically controlling? You can ask them what their opinions are on certain social, political, and religious matters—not so you can debate them, but so you can better understand where your child is coming from. In addition, you can encourage your children to join clubs or groups that reflect their opinions. Lastly, you can tell them that you support them regardless of any differences in opinion there may be. Doing these things help your children become independent, which will ultimately help them adapt to the real world once they grow up.
Prevent Your Children from Resenting You
One of my best friends is extremely opinionated. As she grew up and formed her opinions about morality, politics, and religion, her mother began to nag her. She said things such as “Why do you think that?” “That’s just ridiculous!” and “I hope you change your mind because your opinion is stupid.” What used to be a strong relationship between the two of them is now full of bitterness and resentment.
If you want to have a healthy relationship with your children when they are adults, don’t force your opinions on them, and don’t ridicule their choices. Chances are the more you nag, the more they will rebel just to prove a point. Save yourself the trouble, swallow your pride, and allow them to think for themselves.
One way to do these things is never to use demeaning words when talking about your children’s beliefs. That means deleting “stupid,” “dumb,” “idiotic,” “wrong,” and “foolish” from your vocabulary. Say things such as, “I am happy that you are thinking for yourself” or “I am impressed with your knowledge regarding this subject.” Supporting your children’s differing opinions does not mean that you agree; it means that you allow them to be their own person.
Allowing differences of opinion in your household may seem like a way to destroy the unity within your family. In reality, it creates a place that allows differences and individuality, two aspects that make society beautiful. The more you encourage your children to form their own opinions when they are young, the more you can help them feel accepted, prepare them for adulthood, and prevent them from resenting you once they grow up.
Marisa is a writer and editor who lives in sunny Southern California. Her favorite hobbies include listening to podcasts, hiking in the hills behind her house, and attempting to surf alongside her husband who has years of experience.
Photo by Mael Ballard on Unsplash