Nothing is typical. As I’m sitting here in the lobby of the hotel noticing that far fewer than half of the people waking back and forth in this busy hotel are wearing unusual science fiction or fantasy costuming (that will change as the day develops) this (“nothing is typical”) is the phrase that sticks in my mind from this morning’s session on Skeptical Blogging.

The five people on the panel seemed to all agree that the way we treat our commenters, the way we treat people with whom we disagree (or that are disagreeing vehemently amongst themselves) is impossible to plan in advance or to calibrate actively. Skepchicks and my blog, for instance, have the same exact policy for serious intervention with commenters or for banning: We don’t have a policy, but if you annoy us enough we’ll adopt a temporary one, it will be all about you, and you probably won’t like it.

One of the questions from the audience that I thought was most interesting, or at least that led to some of the more poignant thoughts in my mind, came from a young woman dressed as a witch and wearing a green dragon on her head who wanted to know what everyone thought about the problem of being a skeptic first entering high school. As she was about to do in the coming year. Of course, this means she is the same exact age as my daugther, who will also be entering high school next year. Pam provided an excellent description of what the research says about high school students and how they react to new information and so on, but I think that advice might have been more useful to a teacher or administrator. The best advice for the young woman herself may have been to remember that high school only seems like it takes forever, but that it would end eventually. Probably.

Elsewhere at The Con a parallel conversation was developing. When you raise a child, how do you make sure that as the child matures s/he does not adopt the opposite political orientation that you have? Or become religious (assuming you are an atheist) or whatever? Indeed, how do you guarantee that the person you marry does not do this? Such things have happened.

Again and again throughout The Con a similar, related issue came up: How do you talk to someone who believes in Teh Stoopid and have that conversation make a difference. Two answer kept coming up to this question.

1) Set an example, model, show rather than tell the way. This may not work really well but it will minimize the kind of head butting that may cause movement in the opposite direction.

2) Plant seeds, not already grown up trees. That is a metaphor of course, you don’t actually plant actual seeds. What you do is to make simple statements that are innocuous but skeptically grounded like “Yea, my uncle went to a chiropractor and died” and then just drop it, when someone mentions that they might go to a chiropractor. Then, later, when the person is getting back surgery to fix what the chiropractor broke, you can say “Yeah, like my uncle, but you didn’t die anyway” and then drop it. Then later when they get the big bill from the chiropractor who almost killed them, you go “yea, my Uncle got one of those just before he, you know, died and stuff.” Eventually your friend or family member will get one of those light bulbs over their head and say. “Hey, what’s that story about your uncle and the chiropractor?” and now you have an in. You planted the seed, it grew, and now you will have The Conversation.

Be the model. Be overt enough for your child, your friend, your relative to see, but not so in their face that they build a barrier. Let them come to you when the time arrives. And be ready for when that happens.

Comments

  1. #1 JJ
    July 6, 2009

    When you raise a child, how do you make sure that as the child matures s/he does not adopt the opposite political orientation that you have?

    I have issues with this question. It shouldn’t be the parents ‘decision’ how their matured child thinks ideologically. If anything, one would assume forcing the subject would just make a kid run the other way. This is what I loved about my upbringing – I was allowed my own thoughts, my own ideas. And as you say Greg, plant some seeds, which is what my parents did. We don’t always see exactly eye to eye, but we’re pretty damn close, and the respect that we have for each other and our views can open up some really good discussions. Teach your kids morals, how to have an open mind and think critically, everything else will fall into place.

  2. #2 Jodi
    July 6, 2009

    When you raise a child, how do you make sure that as the child matures s/he does not adopt the opposite political orientation that you have? Or become religious (assuming you are an atheist) or whatever?

    Thank you so much for posting about this Greg! I have had this same thought so many times, and just the other day Jason and I were discussing it and I explained to him my concerns about having this happen. I felt like maybe I was a bad person for even thinking it because it seemed like no one else (friends included) was as concerned about this as I was. But now I know I’m not alone!

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 6, 2009

    Thank you so much for posting about this Greg! I have had this same thought so many times, and just the other day Jason and I were discussing it and I explained to him my concerns about having this happen. I felt like maybe I was a bad person for even thinking it because it seemed like no one else (friends included) was as concerned about this as I was. But now I know I’m not alone!

    One thing to keep in mind, Jodi, is that kids will frequently change their minds about who and what they are. They’ll try things out. My kids are alternately atheist or pagan, depending on who they are hanging out with.

    But they avoid chiropractors.

    As of yesterday morning, Ella was comfortably an atheist.

  4. #4 Jodi
    July 6, 2009

    That’s a great point Mike. I know I’m not nearly ready to be a parent yet though, so hopefully I wont have to think about this for a while.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    July 6, 2009

    One word: A Thousand Clowns. OK, that was three words. If you have not seen the movie you must.

    JJ: I don’t have issues with this question at all. I would not rais my child in a moral/ethical vacuum. Therefore, I raise my child with a moral/ethical framework. I love my child. Therefore I try to come up with a moral/ethical framework that is a good one. Therefore other moral/ethical frameworks that are antithetical are likely to be something that I would never want to raise my child in or see them gravitate towards or shift to.

    I am actually fairly horrified that anyone is religious, but I deal. I certainly would be rather horrified if my child was religious! I mean, what kind of parent would I be if I wasn’t? What kind of world tries to force me to seriously consider it to be OK or even desirable to have a situation where there was a fairly good chance, nurtured by myself, in which a child would somehow chose religion?

  6. #6 jj
    July 7, 2009

    I don’t have issues with this question at all. I would not rais my child in a moral/ethical vacuum. Therefore, I raise my child with a moral/ethical framework

    I don’t disagree at all, I just think the phrasing of that question is poor, I guess. As I mentioned, it is the moral framework, rational thought and an open mind, that I find to be necessary. But obsessing on what political orientation your child will take, shouldn’t be such a big deal. I’m saying this trying to leave religion out of it. I know economically conservative atheists, moderate to say the least. And I’m sure that’s few and far between, but if religion isn’t the driving force to becoming conservative, then I don’t see the harm so much, as that would normally constitute a moderate.
    Thanks,
    JJ

  7. #7 Kammy
    July 7, 2009

    Replying to JJ’s “I have issues with this question. It shouldn’t be the parents ‘decision’ how their matured child thinks ideologically. If anything, one would assume forcing the subject would just make a kid run the other way.”

    It was just that question of how to avoid forcing the subject that I was asking Greg at the Con. I think most parents understand that emphasizing one thing or another carries the risk of tiddlywinking the child off in the wrong direction. I’m always hoping to hear tips from skeptical/atheist/liberal parents (like me) on guiding our children in what we feel is the right direction. Not pushing, not forcing, but gently leading perhaps? As a mom to a 4 year old, I was interested and encouraged to hear that Greg’s 12 year old is a critical thinker. It’s one of the outcomes I’m interested in for my kiddo.

    I’m also interested in the topic of how even adults can be turn from a skeptical, possibly atheist, viewpoint into followers of a faith or a woohead.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2009

    But obsessing on what political orientation your child will take, shouldn’t be such a big deal.

    No, that’s really important, especially since we live in a country where everyone in one of the two major political parties is almost always wrong almost all the time, and the people in the other major political party are close to right half the time. Big difference! But as you say, and I agree with this, individuals transcend this all the time.

    In fact, just last night my friend Kammy, who was the original inspiration for this post, and me were amazing our radical leftist mutual friends by backing up Jesse Ventura on several points.

    Oh, Hi Kammy!

    And right… what we came to in that discussion which is still ongoing is that pushing is bad. Also, modeling from certain perspectives is bad. I know someone who had aspirations in a particular sport as a kid, but those aspirations did not work out. But, she ‘encouraged’ (mostly in a healthy and appropriate way) her child to try that sport out. The encouragement was just fine, but the idea that success would lead to a vicarious reckoning on the part of the mother ended up being a lot like pushing. And as a result, this particular young person is not going to be a championship swimmer.

    The main point here is that this is all very scary.

  9. #9 Kammy
    July 7, 2009

    *waves*

    Parenting is scary. It’s scary because of our desire for our children to grow and develop as whole human beings. They’re born innocent little blobs of flesh, and soon become recognizable as human beings. Totally inexperienced human beings with fertile brains that we parents have the responsibility to cultivate. I’ll not be happy if my son turns out to be a religious conservative, but I’ll accept it as long as he’s a critical thinker.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2009

    But Kammy, as a mother, don’t you feel like you have the built in instinct to know exactly what to do? … :(

  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    July 7, 2009

    Parenting is about as scary as it gets. Yes.

    We missed one of the unassailable positions for shutting down discussion, by the way. (For everyone who wasn’t at that panel, these are positions in which disagreement is labeled as attack.) We got the religious and the parents, but we missed the victims.

  12. #12 Kammy
    July 7, 2009

    It’s a very sad story really. I did get in line for a serving of Mommy Instinct (MI). Unfortunately, there was a really loud mouthed blonde ahead of me who bogarted it all. I got the last laugh though by getting to the booth for How to Keep Wrestlemania and I Made Out With Jenna Jamison Off Your Resume ahead of her. :P

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2009

    In the case of Rebecca’s discussion, it would seem that under some conditions, not yelling is a form of attack.

  14. #14 Stephanie Z
    July 7, 2009

    When not agreeing loudly enough can be a form of attack (or even just agreeing while privileged), this is not a big surprise.

  15. #15 omar
    July 9, 2009

    Kammy: “I’m also interested in the topic of how even adults can be turn from a skeptical, possibly atheist, viewpoint into followers of a faith or a woohead.”

    I think this often happens when people get sick.

  16. #16 Stephanie Z
    July 9, 2009

    I think this happens when people don’t have the resources they need in order to cope with pretty much anything stressful, not just being sick. Leaning on the people who give you easy answers and promise to take care of you, whether they can or no, gets very tempting at that point.

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