Today was full of a bunch of casual, serious-matter conversations with seven-year-old Eliza, and I realized that we’ve never really written about a huge aspect of our parenting philosophy before.
We answer questions honestly.
That sounds simple, but it is actually really difficult. Kids, especially really inquisitive kids like Eliza, ask some really tough questions. Our policy is to answer them in a straight forward, age-appropriate way. Which means that we haven’t approached the birds and the bees yet, but we have talked about a ton of things that most parents would feel awkward talking about with a 7-year-old: artificial insemination, drugs, death and miscarriage , evolution, historical and contemporary discrimination, why exactly the sky is blue… things often get philosophical, and we’re not afraid to tell her we don’t know (followed swiftly by “lets look it up together”) or give her multiple perspectives (as in, some people believe this, but others believe this).
Our thought is that talking about the tricky things will not only educate Eliza and fulfill her curiosity, but will also make it more natural to talk to us about tough topics. That way, when the time comes that she needs to know things about serious topics like sex and drugs, she’ll be comfortable talking about that stuff with us instead of getting the information from equally uninformed friends.
Having teenaged siblings reinforced this idea for us: they came to us with all sorts of questions, and you wouldn’t BELIEVE how misinformed they were. But, you know, we kept it casual then too and answered their questions. Usually with humor. Humor helps. (For instance, if a teenager asks you if double bagging it works, then just say that all condom companies would obviously put FIT AS MANY OF THESE ON THERE AS POSSIBLE on the cover if that were true. They’d sell three times as many. And then go into the whole friction-tears explanation.)
Those super awkward conversations, thankfully, are years off. But we thought we’d give you a sampling of a few of the serious Eliza conversations going on lately.
One of the funnier (and more embarrassing) occurrences after Eliza was teaching one of her friends a Fun. song very loudly in a restaurant. She really loves the song “We Are Young”, and the line “My friends are in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State” didn’t seem like a huge problem until she was teaching it to another kid.
When we told her the line was inappropriate, she wanted to know exactly why. So we told her that “getting high” is slang for “doing drugs” and asked her if she knew what drugs were. She knew that they were vaguely connected to alcohol, so we explained the difference between illegal, legal, and medical drugs. She still didn’t understand the line, but when Jake told her that the Empire State is a really tall building, she said, “Oh! I get it know! It’s a metaphor!” (Parenting WIN.)
We then discussed when it’s appropriate to sing the song (in our house, in the car) and when it’s not (at school, around other kids), and why (some parents might not want to have this conversation, and we need to respect that).
But more often, serious conversations happen not because E needs to understand things that she says or does, but simply because she is excellent at asking questions.
Today’s car conversation is a good example. We went from music, to nudism, to cultural relativism. Yep.
We started off with a random question from Eliza, as these conversations so often do: “I want to go to more concerts! How many concerts did I go to when I was in Mom’s tummy?”
We told her it was hard to count, because we went to Bonnaroo that year and there was literally three straight days of concerts.
“That sounds awesome! Can I go?” asked Eliza.
“No. There are a lot of inappropriate things there. A lot of people were doing drugs, and it made us uncomfortable. We wouldn’t want to take you there,” I said.
“Yeah, and there were nudists!” said Jake.
“What are nudists?” asked Eliza.
We went on to explain about nudists, nudist colonies, situations in which clothing is protective, and situations in which clothing isn’t really necessary, but is totally up to cultural norms. (Eliza, for the record, thinks it’s stupid that boys don’t have to wear shirts when swimming but girls do. “They’re just boobs, get over it!” she says. She picks up on inequality: she doesn’t think it’s fair that boys “can’t” wear make-up and finger nail polish, and finds it confusing that it’s considered perfectly normal for male rock stars but not her friends that might think it’s fun.) We talked about places where people wear just a little clothing and loin cloths, places where people wear a great deal more clothing than we do and find our clothing immodest, and places where people wear a similar amount of clothing, but don’t have a problem with things like nude beaches. We talked about changes in what constituted acceptable clothing over time, like girls in our society being unable to wear pants.
When we talked about people wearing additional clothing, I mentioned that women are expected to cover their hair in some cultures but men aren’t, just like the shirt rule here. “Oh! Madame [her teacher from last year] must have come from one of those countries!” said Eliza. “What do people dress like in Monsieur [her teacher this year]‘s country?”
Her teacher was born in Italy, which falls under the similar to America + some nude beaches category, but I didn’t know about Luxemburg, which is where he was raised, so we decided to look it up tomorrow.
Then we moved on to how she’s excited for Chinese New Year tomorrow, and Mardi Gras later this week. And then we decided where to eat dinner.
All in all, a normal 45 minutes in a car with the Andersons.
While a lot of parents might not agree about talking to kids about serious subjects so young, we think that it gives Eliza more time to work out what she thinks about the world, before peer pressure sets in. We think that conversations like these make her more tolerant of people who are different, because she gets information about people that she might not gather in her everyday life. It gives her a dose of my favorite area of nerddom: sociology. Most importantly, answering her questions as fully and honestly as possible allows her to continue her curious nature, to continue to ask questions, and to continue to expand her knowledge.
Because, as our favorite quote from Socrates goes, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
How do you approach serious topics with kids?
Let’s Get Serious is a blog series where we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!