My 12-year-old recently heard about “dinner-debate nights” and really wants to hold them at home. Any tips? – Amy
Ahhh, the dinner-table debate. It’s an old idea that carries a brand new urgency: Done well, it can teach young people how to discuss polarizing issues without fearing disagreement and, at the same time, without scorning the “other side.” So you’re right to seek advice, Amy.
First, I recommend listening to “Smash Boom Best.” That’s a wildly popular NPR Kids’ podcast. It pits two of something — for example, comic book heroes (Batman versus Superman), foods (ice cream versus french fries), or animals (pandas versus penguins). Experts guide a kid through the pros and cons of each option. The kid then decides which choice — Batman or Superman (or Wonder Woman, hello?) — should come out on top.
Fun facts abound. Pepper the facts with dry wit and sound effects, and ta-da! You’ll soon understand why Smash Boom Best is a fabulous experience that you and your child can learn from.
True, you probably can’t replicate that level of entertainment at the dinner table. But, taking a cue from the podcast, you can start any debate with subjects that matter to kids’ daily lives.
Later on, get into some techniques for having productive disagreements. Genuine listening, for instance, involves trying to understand why the other person believes they’re right, not instantly striving to prove them wrong.
You can role-model curiosity by asking your child basic questions like, “What got you thinking about this? Was it a book? A video? An experience?” Then name what you’ve just done: express curiosity, not judgement. Speak with your kid about the value of asking questions instead of making assumptions.
And, at the next “dinner-debate” night, raise a topic that you and your child see differently. Invite them to ask questions about where you’re coming from and do the same about where they’re coming from. Who knows? You two might find common ground.
In short, “dinner-debate nights” don’t always have to be about the what (topics). They can also be about the how (communication style). After all, how we communicate what we believe can make all the difference to being understood.
Before you know it, your 12-year-old will be updating Dale Carnegie by vlogging, How to Win Friends and Influence Parents. You can thank — or blame — me later.