Thursday, May 10, 2012

Taking Kids Seriously

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.
Henry David Thoreau

These days, expect to read here, more words that come from kids of all ages- starting from babies all the way up to young adults.This is because unlike what society says, young people have much to contribute to daily life and it is time we acknowledge that.
We're in a culture where kids are viewed mostly as beings who need taking care of, or who need things (usually expensive things).
I remember interviewing Dr. Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University back in 2004  who said,
"You are more likely to talk to somebody if you assume that the person understands and appreciates what you're saying and has something to offer you in return.
The mistake that some people make is to assume that the child is not going to understand what the adult finds interesting."   
Dr. Langer pointed out that if when talking to a child, we maintain a limited view of what the child has to offer us not recognizing that the child has something to teach us, "it's exhausting when it could be enlivening. To really understand you have to take the perspective of the other and people don't always do that with children." 

Children see things in a different way than we do. Why isn't that celebrated? Why isn't that awesome? Why doesn't that have value in the everyday world?
Maybe it is because we don't like being challenged (by them) to diverge from our safe and familiar thinking.
What children do naturally-ie. bring fresh ideas to a situation- we grownups will do reluctantly. 
If you pay attention to your state of mind when you're engaging kids, you might notice that you're likely to be waiting for an opportunity to teach them or to correct them; to make them see your faster, better, smarter way.

When you listen to kids, really listen what you'll often hear is that they want to be part of the action. They want the opportunity to do what we grown ups do-case in point, my 2 year old nephew has long since figured out how to use his mother's cell phone, switch channels on the TV, and I wouldn't be surprised if they tell me he's programming their laptop next!!
For me, one of the worst faults about institutionalized learning is that it forces kids away from the everyday world and gives them very little opportunity to contribute in a worthwhile and meaningful way. 

Kids who have big, bold ideas find it difficult to be taken seriously.
For example, my daughter has started a campaign (actually it began years ago when she was about 6 years old. One day, her dad who was going off to vote, took her along. When he told her there had been a crazy time when women were not allowed to vote, her outraged and righteous response was "that's fluckin stupid.").  
Today, she asks the provocative question, "Why aren't youth allowed to vote on issues that will shape their future?
I'm interested in seeing kids being taken seriously and getting the respect we give to adults. 


Jennifer said...

Whoa. That "waiting to teach them something" urge is one I think most adults don't realize. We assume superiority even though all we really have is more experience in *some* ways (mainly in breathing and aging).

rfs said...

@Jennifer-thanks for your comment. Funny!

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