political differences with your kids

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I'm miserable.

My dad is heading down to the March for Our Lives on Saturday and wanted to invite my son to go with him. I thought it would be good. Some time for grandpa and grandkid to have some bonding time and learn about civic engagement. I'm proud to say that I was raised by progressive activists, who have been active in both their church and community for decades in issues across the spectrum: hunger, immigration, anti-war, mental health, all sorts of shit. As an adult I have not been active in this realm at all, outside of voting and the occasional call to my congressman. Starting a family has taken all the energy and time away from me, but I've been wanting to put my money where my mouth is lately.

When I went to ask my kid though, he sighed and said "I don't want to offend you, but I don't believe in that." In response to my shock and further pressing, he said "I don't want to talk about it right now, but maybe we can talk about it later with facts." Emphasis his.

After this, I basically had the same sleepless night last night that I did the night Trump was elected. Racing thoughts, racing heartbeat, etc. Had to drug myself hard with benedryl just to get 4 hours.

I had had a slight suspicion about my kid. I had fielded a couple political questions from him before where I felt I did a good job of setting him straight on some topic. I didn't pay any of that much mind. You expect kids to pick up weird things from other kids on the school bus or whatever and come home to ask their parents. He certainly knows what my opinions are though, and I think that rather than being an apolitical 13-year-old, as I had assumed, he has simply been cagey with me. Not wishing to offend, like he mentioned above.

The thing is, if he wishes to have a debate about it, I'm fucked. I have always been terrible in debate situations. I have ADD and can't recall facts very well in the spur of the moment. He, on the other hand, is very verbally dextrous and lawyerly. I have argued with him and watched him argue about non-political topics and I know his game is on point.

So yeah, what to do? I'm pretty bummed out. And of course, if he is anti-gun control, what other opinions does he secretly harbor?

how's life, Friday, 16 March 2018 08:43 (five years ago) link

i once said to my eldest son, "the only way you could ever disappoint me is if you turned out to be a Tory, and you did, and I dealt with it". i was joking with him a bit, but there was some truth in there, and at the time - he was 18 - he had some centre right opinions that i think came partly came from his mom and her partner and partly from him being an independent human being who had different values and ideas to me.

political "debates" are pretty useless imo, especially with family, but i remember enough of being 13 to remember that passion to prove to other people that you're right, that you can do the whole "DEMOLISH this argument with logic" shtick. i don't think as parents we can have much direct influence over our kids' beliefs and that's just fine. maybe if he wants to talk about stuff you can listen to him respectfully, acknowledge his thoughts and then say something like "i understand what you believe and this is what i believe and here's why". don't turn it into a win/lose situation, maybe tell him that you're not prepared to "debate" him in that way because you don't think political issues can be reduced to objective right/wrong. unless you do think they can be reduced to objective right/wrong, cos i dunno then, you might have to just agree to not fall out over it.

as the crows around me grows (Noodle Vague), Friday, 16 March 2018 08:53 (five years ago) link

god my grammar is all over the place this morning

as the crows around me grows (Noodle Vague), Friday, 16 March 2018 08:54 (five years ago) link

thank you for the advice, nv. I can't tell you how much of a relief it is simply to know that I'm not the only person on ilx to experience something like this.

how's life, Friday, 16 March 2018 08:57 (five years ago) link

had it both ways, my dad got more pugnaciously right-wing as he got older and he was probably the guy that talked to me about socialism in the first place :D

as the crows around me grows (Noodle Vague), Friday, 16 March 2018 09:05 (five years ago) link

I dunno, I think talking with your kid about this is an act of love, even if you don't "convince" her or him. togetherness (and I think the root of being a "good person") is talking about thing, and doing so in good faith with one another is loving.

I say that as someone who "debated" daily with my parents at dinner from age uh 12? until I left home, because my parents are ("nice") racists and I didn't want to abide that. I never "won" but it deepened our relationship in critical ways.

droit au butt (Euler), Friday, 16 March 2018 09:10 (five years ago) link

i'm not saying don't talk, i just know how unnecessarily angry confrontational "debate" can be. i guess that's because i don't ultimately believe there's a right and wrong side.

as the crows around me grows (Noodle Vague), Friday, 16 March 2018 09:15 (five years ago) link

i do! i'm right!

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Friday, 16 March 2018 09:28 (five years ago) link

As a young teen my political views were basically just part of a live action role playing game called life, I was just testing boundaries in a dickish 13 year old sort of way. Naturally this lead to some Nietzschean if not fascist tendencies because empathy is something many people don't get the hang of until sometimes much later and fuck knows I wasn't an early developer in that regard. Glad that libertarianism wasn't a thing in the UK as I can imagine my friends adopting it as a challenging pose. At the age of 38 my political sympathies now basically align 95% with my parents, may well be the same for your son, but it probably won't be for a while.

mfktz (Camaraderie at Arms Length), Friday, 16 March 2018 09:28 (five years ago) link

at age 13 i literally thought aleister crowley was a wise man, had a lot of underappreciated views, i was like ~THINK ABT IT~

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Friday, 16 March 2018 09:31 (five years ago) link

cannot now fathom the patience my (left-wing, union organizing) parents had with me

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Friday, 16 March 2018 09:31 (five years ago) link

Thanks guys. I appreciate the feedback. And yeah, thinking about it, my folks must have had a lot of patience with the half-baked ideas that I probably floated back then too.

how's life, Friday, 16 March 2018 10:57 (five years ago) link

my parents are more right wing than I am but we tend to not talk about politics anyway. imo it's more important to connect with them on more fundamental values - being a good & honest person, doing the right thing, not hurting others, having & showing compassion for one's fellow man. obv our approaches towards these things are colored subtly by our political beliefs but if you can agree that it's good not to be a self-centered dick then you're 99% of the way there.

had (crüt), Friday, 16 March 2018 13:04 (five years ago) link

also my political beliefs are not set in stone & certainly not at age 13. iirc there are some posts I made on ilx when I was a teenager defending evangelicals that I don't agree with now. I had a very sheltered life and was viewing things in a very limited context.

had (crüt), Friday, 16 March 2018 13:07 (five years ago) link

but I agree that the best thing to do is to have a discussion, not a debate, and to make your son feel acknowledged while still explaining why you disagree. leave the toxic attitude of "we have to sort this out right here right now" to twitter and cable news.

had (crüt), Friday, 16 March 2018 13:10 (five years ago) link

if you do notice he is holding onto some misogynistic or racist beliefs then maybe that's an opportunity to see what's going on in his life & why he feels angry, why he is harboring resentment.

if he just has an opinion about gun rights i don't think that's necessarily a fire you have to stamp out.


had (crüt), Friday, 16 March 2018 13:19 (five years ago) link

if you don't talk to your kids about Reddit, then who will?

frogbs, Friday, 16 March 2018 13:21 (five years ago) link

Oh, definitely. I think we have done a good job raising him to be a caring individual and to think for himself rather than enforcing any kind of orthodoxy on him. My wife and I don't agree about everything politically either and he sees how we put our differences aside to love each other and be parents to him and his sister.

But it was the way he emphasized "with facts" that made me think he is rarin for a debate.

And yeah, I worry that the gun control revelation has the potential to unmask racial or sexual or religious biases.

how's life, Friday, 16 March 2018 13:24 (five years ago) link

yeah i didn't think about that kind of stuff, would definitely bring a different dynamic to the discussion.

"with facts" is such a teenager thing but obviously you still get a lot of adults adhering to that mindset, not gonna zing any ILXors, this is a serious thread. but questioning the underlying assumptions of "facts" might be a good conversation to have too.

as the crows around me grows (Noodle Vague), Friday, 16 March 2018 13:28 (five years ago) link

The "with facts" aspect definitely makes me afraid you've got some kind of Dawkins-loving reddity rationalboy on your hands, but I'm sure it'll be fine. I'm not a parent but I think you've had some good advice on this thread.

emil.y, Friday, 16 March 2018 15:07 (five years ago) link

I have not had to deal with this yet, but here's my advice nonetheless.

I do not recommend challenging the epistemology of "facts." I think such a course of action will backfire and your kid will determine that you're a blind ideologue who takes his beliefs on faith. One can make a case questioning the underlying assumptions of "facts" but if you're already concerned about your debate skills I don't think you'll be able to make the case (and it's a very subtle case to make that a teenager maybe isn't equipped to handle). At the same time you need some ammo. So here's my suggestion: Steer the debate to shared values. If you make it about values then you can determine where he dissents from you. For example, once he agrees that "all people should be treated equally," then if he posits an idea that undermines that value you can point out that his beliefs are not consistent with his stated values.

Mordy, Friday, 16 March 2018 15:55 (five years ago) link

*groan* Overheard him talking to my mother-in-law yesterday:

MIL: Yours is going to be a generation that changes the world. Mine was too.
Son: What did your generation do to change the world?
MIL: Well, back then one of the main things that we did was protest against the Vietnam War...
Son: Why would you protest against the Vietnam War? We were fighting against Communism!

how's life, Monday, 26 March 2018 13:34 (five years ago) link


illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Monday, 26 March 2018 13:39 (five years ago) link

do you think it's a specific friend he's got that's feeding him this stuff? particular reddit wormholes? what? that's a pretty specific (and ancient) political view for him to have cottoned onto

illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Monday, 26 March 2018 13:41 (five years ago) link

thread's a bit of a bummer. my parents would talk with me about politics, ethics, life, religion, history, ideology & whatever else all the time growing up, it taught and shaped me more than anything else. seems like one of the main bits of being a parent to me

ogmor, Monday, 26 March 2018 13:46 (five years ago) link

I wonder if there's an element of adolescent rebellion involved, him trying to establish his own position in distinction from his parents.

jmm, Monday, 26 March 2018 13:47 (five years ago) link

it would be weird if there wasn't

ogmor, Monday, 26 March 2018 13:52 (five years ago) link

lol @ communism

ask him what he thinks about the Frankfurt School, then you'll know for sure

droit au butt (Euler), Monday, 26 March 2018 14:06 (five years ago) link

I know at least one guy he's been friends with since elementary school comes from a very conservative family. I don't really know any of his other friends because he doesn't bring anyone around the house anymore. He just goes off into the neighborhood with his little bmx gang.

It's interesting, because he used to spend TONS of time with my MIL and FIL (they live a few blocks away). He'd go over every week to watch football and baseball, but stopped doing so recently and I couldn't figure out why. They are both fairly middle-of-the-road Dems, but also on a very surface-level, repeating the talking points from the news, "Oh boy, that Trump..." kinda people. I'm a Dem too obvs but talking politics with them often stretches my patience. I disagree with my son's opinions, but like I said upthread, he's bright and intellectually curious and good at arguing points. If he's been harboring conservative ideas, I imagine they'd be absolutely unbearable to be around.

how's life, Monday, 26 March 2018 14:07 (five years ago) link

this is an interesting thread, NV's initial reply rings true to me (not a parent, though)

I think it's a bit of red herring, as in not as important as it may seem - as long as there's love and kindness, maybe it doesn't really matter if he believes the Vietnam war was just

iirc I was a Mao apologist around age 14 though I knew hardly anything about Chinese history, throughout my life I've had plenty of wacky ideas - fortunately very few of them turned out to be dangerous since I was never in any real position of power

I think my advice would be to encourage him to read books, I think books are very valuable resources in developing the idea that the world is very complex (and I think, in a way, books can be a kind of anti-dote to the internet) (of course there are also plenty of shit books but no need to recommend those)

niels, Monday, 26 March 2018 14:48 (five years ago) link

The books idea is a really good one! I might have to think about that a little more.

iirc I was a Mao apologist around age 14 though I knew hardly anything about Chinese history, throughout my life I've had plenty of wacky ideas -

Heh, yeah. Something is emerging out of the fog of my memory where I dropped some teenage communist knowledge at the dinner table and my old man (who, as stated above, has always been a very progressive guy) had to give me some guidance.

how's life, Monday, 26 March 2018 14:52 (five years ago) link

one month passes...

How's life, from a neurological view, you don't need to worry too much. I can't explain it much better than this so:

"Imaging studies of the teenage brain show that it undergoes a colossal makeover between ages 12 and 25. During this period, the brain doesn’t grow in size. Instead, it extensively rewires itself. Scientists once thought this reorganization meant that the adolescent brain was a work in progress, and the rewiring could account for teens’ inconsistency, their incomprehensible and terrifying (at least to adults) risk taking and recklessness, and their near-desperate need to be with peers.

New research suggests there’s more to the story. As National Geographic writer David Dobbs explains, researchers have begun to view

“recent brain and genetic findings in a brighter, more flattering light, one distinctly colored by evolutionary theory. The resulting account of the adolescent brain—call it the adaptive-adolescent story—casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.”"


Right column Leftist (sunny successor), Monday, 7 May 2018 19:59 (five years ago) link

I mean i would interpret that as a prime time to maybe not debate but express differing viewpoints with your kiddo if only for the sake of learning that you don't need to be offended or aggressive about someone else's point of view?

Right column Leftist (sunny successor), Monday, 7 May 2018 20:14 (five years ago) link

Thanks, sunny!

how's life, Monday, 7 May 2018 20:17 (five years ago) link

Niels - Cant wrap my head around a kid finding Maoism attractive in any way except as a way to piss people off.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 11 May 2018 20:40 (five years ago) link

If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

bed, bath, and beyond the thunderdome (Ye Mad Puffin), Friday, 11 May 2018 20:59 (five years ago) link

I didn't know anything about Maoism! (Still don't!)

I just decided to become a hippie/socialist since it seemed the countercultural thing to do (also seemed in accordance with my values/upbringing and the music + parties were great) and I found a book on socialism in the library which was very apologetic about every socialist/communist regime and I internalized that apologism, I guess

niels, Saturday, 12 May 2018 00:48 (five years ago) link

agree completely w/ Lennon

reason I remember the Maoism thing is that I had a friend who had been to China and who was like Niels you don't understand anything about Chinese history and frankly it's disturbing the way you defend Communist China and instead of accepting her very valid points I deferred to poor paraphrasing of something I read in a probably very unreliable socialist history book

niels, Saturday, 12 May 2018 00:51 (five years ago) link

three weeks pass...

I've discovered over the past few weeks that his friend group (who he NEVER brings by our house - he's always just "going out" and roaming the neighborhood) is pretty racially diverse. That puts to rest the worst of my fears - that the conservative tendencies he has shown would draw back and reveal some white ethnostate alt-right maniac. If I don't have that to worry about, I feel so much better about him sorting out his political positions on his own, or with his friends and classmates.

how's life, Friday, 8 June 2018 01:44 (five years ago) link


Right column Leftist (sunny successor), Friday, 8 June 2018 22:43 (five years ago) link

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