Skeptic meaning for the young

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Many of today’s kids, at least my kid, seems to think it’s perfectly OK to have fun believing in ghosts, unicorns, witchcraft, demons, UFOs, vampires, and the like. They appear to understand that much of this is by choice and strictly for entertainment purposes only. It seems fair to think that childish things will eventually be discarded.

But, I’m concerned.

During a dinnertime discussion I pressed the issue about the lucky numbers that appeared in our Chinese fortune cookies. The concept of lucky numbers is silly. I got mad that my husband wanted to bait my rising irritation by saying how the restaurant lady must have been guided by destiny to pick our individual fortunes and lucky numbers in a mass produced, poorly tasting “cookie”. My older daughter (11) thinks of me as the party pooper on these topics by suggesting alternate ways of simply thinking about the issue that end up being the less mysterious interpretations.

Today, she said my skepticism “gets old”. Why don’t I just be open-minded and let people believe in unicorns if they want to? What’s the harm?

Well, she did need some schoolin’ on this point. Not being preachy but I did give her some less warm and fuzzy examples — the recent cases of children who died because their parents prayed and trusted their God to heal the sickness instead of doctors; how people still kill so-called witches in third-world countries; that people lose their life savings by giving it to psychics and astrologers instead of sound financial advisors; and of families torn apart by false memories of abuse implanted by therapists. Finally, I told her how mainstream parents are falling prey to the nonsense of the antivax promoters whose tactics allow for the resurgence of long-supressed childhood illnesses.

Would she rather believe in the truth or an interesting story? What about when it really counts?

This was the first that she made the connection between critical thinking and life-changing or life-ending situations. At least, I hope she did.

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2 thoughts on “Skeptic meaning for the young

  1. How has the situation progressed since (scrolling back up to see the date) Aug 2009? Your post caused me to think about how significantly my child’s level of skepticism may change as my daughter gets older — and her brain undergoes major changes.

    My daughter (Kate) is 5-years-old and asks many questions — many of which i have not figured out how to answer using language she might understand well enough. But, there are many questions i can answer.

    One question was about the existence/non-existence of mummies. This conversation resulted from many readings of “Skippyjon Jones in Mummy Trouble” and comments to her by some schoolmates that mummies were real.

    The conversation ended with Kate happily understanding that “preserved” and often(?) wrapped mummies are real — and she looked at many images with some interest and comments and was particularly interested to see cat and alligator mummies. But, she also knows that mummies that move, make sounds, and walk about are not real.

    Kate then said she knew fairies are not real and asked about Santa Claus. My brain seized for a bit. I then asked her if if she wanted me to tell he about the stories that people tell because they are fun, or if she wanted me to tell her what the truth was. She said she wanted the truth — so i told her. She was seemingly relieved, and happy with the answer.
    I could go on — but i will spare you — and go play with Kate and her Barbie dolls.

  2. idoubtit

    SBA: Thanks for bringing me back around to this. There IS more. My daughter has recently been attending church with a friend. She went twice and told us how the kids group was instructed on how evolution is a myth. She completely comprehends how evolution is the way life works on earth. No religious mumbo-jumbo is going to sway that. When she described her amusement, I felt proud. But, frankly, I think she’s had enough of the church experience and I think these people are a bit evil.

    She is trying things out. I see that. The whole 2012 fears are big, the idea of hauntings scare her, she still wants to have fun with those concepts, mainly because it’s exciting to be scared about them together in her peer group. However, I think I’ve given her a strong foundation. She listens to me. It’s hard to tell, but she DOES. Parents have a huge influence.

    Santa is a tough one. My 7 yr old asked about it last xmas and I made a point to say “Well, what do YOU think?” It takes a while for eyes to open (Hell, mine still are being opened about various stuff!), but it’s quite gratifying when you realize that YOU have taught someone how to THINK. What a lifelong gift!

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