When I tell people that I’m raising my kids to challenge and question everything, they look at me like I’m crazy. After all, most of them grew up either in the “children should be seen and not heard” generation or the “because I said so” era. But I think teaching my kids to ask questions is one of my most important jobs as a parent. Read on to learn why.
Raise Kids Who Challenge & Question Everything…Even You!
I’ve touched on this in the past, back when I wrote about the most important lessons I want my kids to learn, but I want to talk about it in a bit more detail today. I think it’s so important to teach our kids to question everything and challenge the things that don’t make sense to them. Let’s talk about why.
Teaching kids to question authority helps protect them from predators
Protecting our kids is the single most important job we have as parents. Yes, teaching them the lessons they need to become kind and decent beings who, hopefully, change the world is definitely a priority. Sure, we even want to help them become successful (although I’d rather have kids with rich hearts than rich bank accounts). But ultimately, our number one job is to keep them safe.
Sadly, the greatest threats to their safety come not from “stranger danger” but from people that they know and love. People that they also view as authority figures. In cases of child abuse- especially sexual abuse- a staggering (and gutwrenching) 93% of children know their abuser. Roughly 30% of those abusers are family members, and 60% are adults that the family knows and trusts.
If our kids feel like they can never question or challenge adults, they’re going to feel like they have to do whatever they’re told…even if it’s something that they know is wrong. I never, ever, ever, ever want my kids to feel like they can’t say “no” to someone who is trying to hurt them. That’s also why I don’t let anyone force hugs on them, either. I want them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they alone hold all of the rights when it comes to their body.
Kids who are comfortable challenging norms may resist peer pressure better, too
The second greatest danger to our kids’ safety is, of course, other kids. More specifically, their peers. One survey found that 90% of kids have felt pressured by their peers, and 28% of those kids believe that giving in to peer pressure will improve their “social standing.” If that’s not alarming enough, here are some other stats on peer pressure that would freak any parent out:
- That same study shows that 70% of teen smokers do it because their friends smoke, too.
- According to the Underage Drinking Initiative, roughly 66% of 10th graders and 20% of 8th graders have tried alcohol.
- According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 50% of kids have tried an illegal drug at least once.
The dangers from peer pressure extend way beyond drugs and alcohol. Teenagers admit that their friends pressure them to have sex, bully other kids, and even self-harm.
When we teach our kids to question everything, we’re also teaching them to challenge the “norms.” We’re helping them understand that no one should just “go along to get along,” or go jumping off proverbial bridges (or heck, even literal ones) just because all of their friends are doing it. Will it save them entirely from peer pressure? Probably not. But like keeping them safe from predators, it’s part of a multi-pronged approach.
The world doesn’t need more adults who blindly obey authority
L. R. Knost, an expert in the gentle parenting method wrote, “The ultimate gift we can give the world is to grow our tiny humans into adult humans who are independent thinkers, compassionate doers, conscious questioners, radical innovators, and passionate peacemakers. Our world doesn’t need more adults who blindly serve the powerful because they’ve been trained to obey authority without question. Our world needs more adults who question and challenge and hold the powerful accountable.”
I think that’s the best explanation for why it’s so important to raise kids who challenge and question everything. We live in a time where way too many people blindly believe everything they read on a Facebook meme or a Tweet, without even questioning its validity. That’s not a slam against one side or the other. Both sides are equally guilty of blindly following their favorite politicians. Neither side seems to want to question their chosen “authority figure” for fear of giving the other side something to use against them.
Only by teaching our kids to question EVERYTHING- including both the people they agree with AND the people they disagree with- can we break this cycle of just blindly following orders. Then maybe we can start to see some real progress in the world again.
Knowing how to ask the right questions will help them in life.
There are two quotes that go along with this one. The first, from Warren Berger, says, “Knowing the answers will help you in school. Knowing how to question will help you in life.” The second (source unknown) goes, “Knowledge is having the right answer. Intelligence is asking the right questions.” I think both quotes are important. It’s not enough to just ask questions. We also need to teach our kids how to ask the RIGHT ones. But we can’t do that unless we’re allowing them to question everything in the first place.
You can raise respectful kids who question everything, I promise
Critics of this parenting philosophy erroneously believe that raising kids to question everything equals raising rude or disrespectful kids. That’s just bs. If that were the case, then it would stand to reason that everyone who grew up learning to NOT question authority would be polite and respectful towards everyone, right? I think we can all agree that’s definitely not true!
Along with teaching my kids that it’s okay to ask questions, I also teach them about the importance of kindness. My rule is that they can ask me anything and challenge anything I say BUT they MUST be respectful about it. If I tell them “no” to something and they start screaming “why” at me, that’s not acceptable. If they politely ask why I feel that rule is important, though, I will absolutely tell them. If they understand why I set a rule, they’re more likely to respect it because they know that it’s not just “because I said so.”
More importantly, when they respect my rules, they’re less likely to break them. Later on down the road when they’re teenagers, not breaking my rules could very well save their lives. For example, I absolutely intend to have a “no texting while driving” rule. So, again, by raising them to ask questions, I’m doing my most important job: protecting them.
I hope my kids never stop questioning
I’ll leave you with one last quote. Einstein once said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” I truly hope my kids never, ever stop asking questions. I hope that they keep asking them until they fully understand the answer. Just as important, I hope that challenge any answer that makes them uncomfortable or that they know in their hearts isn’t right. If they do that, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job as a parent.