We are raising the next generation of thinkers and problem solvers in this increasingly polarized world. How do they become independent thinkers? Are we making sure that they have the tools to think their way through problems of the future? What are those tools and how do we help our children develop them? Let’s hope that their schools are all about doing this work, but here are some thoughts about how we can help:

Listening: We have to encourage our children to listen carefully, critically, with an intent to understand, not to just to reply. Sounds good, right? But careful listening is a skill that has to be taught. Model it yourselves, and try to remind everyone in the family not to interrupt each other.

Understanding: News and information is being delivered these days in sound bites and in 140 character bursts, in an effort to appeal to our ever decreasing attention span. But understanding concepts, especially complicated ones, usually takes more time and effort. It often takes reading more widely and deeply. We should encourage our children to do this and ask themselves: What are the various perspectives that surround an issue? What makes sense to me and what doesn’t? What other information could be helpful to further understanding an issue?

Agreeing to Disagree, Part 1: The goal is to encourage our children to think for themselves. They need the confidence in their own thinking processes to be able to disagree with popular ideas (ours and others), and to come up with new ideas. We can encourage this by asking them (encouragingly, not combatively) about the process by which they are reaching their conclusions. Have patience and try not to judge, or it will discourage them from sharing their opinions.

Agreeing to Disagree, Part 2: We also have to encourage our children to view some different opinions as just different, rather than a clear indication of the person’s rotting moral core. One can agree to disagree on a point and move on to another, where there may be common ground. While there are certainly perspectives in current national conversations that do evidence a rotten moral core, we can’t assume that in every instance. Moreover, calling someone stupid (or anything worse) because they don’t agree with you is guaranteed to make them stop listening.

These notions are easy to write about but so much harder to do. To be continued…