A guide for parents to help their children better understand the world around them by helping them think through the questions they face regarding honesty, friendship, sensitivity, fairness, dedication, individuality and 103 other character-building issuesMany families and almost all schools spend a great deal of time developing children academically, but studies show tht scholastic achievement is not the only key to future success. Developing non-cognitive skills, which children often learn from their parents, is equally relevant.Talk with Your Kids prompts thoughtful and effective discussion between parents and children by posing 109 open-ended questions. Many of the questions reflect situations immediately relevant to kids, such as cyber-bullying, cheating in school or in sports, accepting differences, illegal music downloads, what defines lying, and making choices about drugs and sex.Other questions ask kids to consider larger dilemmas, such as medical ethics and medical testing, declaring war, crime and punishment, eating meat, and more. Parker also offers suggestions to parents on how to keep the conversations going and encourage kids to think more deeply about an issue. Throughout the book are questions based on the theories of famous ethicists and philosophers, including John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean Jacques Rousseau.Best-selling parenting books such as How Children Succeed and Nurtureshock emphasize the importance of strong values in a child. The conversations in Talk with Your Kids help parents achieve this goal.
|Publisher:||Running Press Book Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Michael Parker is the author of seven works of fiction, most recently the critically acclaimed novel The Watery Part of the World. His work has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and many other magazines. He is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, an O. Henry Award, a Pushcart Prize, and three lifetime achievement awards, including the North Carolina Award for Literature. He teaches in the MFA writing program at UNC–Greensboro and lives in North Carolina and Texas.
Read an Excerpt
talk with your kids
109 CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ETHICS AND THINGS THAT REALLY MATTER
By MICHAEL PARKER
Black Dog & Leventhal PublishersCopyright © 2012 Michael Parker
All rights reserved.
WHY THIS BOOK?
Your child may be smart but is he or she good?
Many families and almost all schools spend a great deal of time academically developing their children. This is a good thing. Yet I think it is at least as important for us to all think consciously about how we ethically develop the next generation to be decent members of society. This development already bubbles under the surface in homes and schools, but we can make this development break through the surface and become explicit. This can be done with lots of complex problems, lots of the wisdom of the ages, and lots of independent thinking—all of which this book serves up.
WHERE DO CHILDREN GET THEIR VALUES?
Of course, I must start with the observation that if you don't own this book, your children are not necessarily destined to become unethical brutes. Children learn their ethics from all parts of the world around them: sometimes from school, their friends, their church, their sports team, or their ballet class. Children don't learn ethics by getting it in a handbook.
The main place that a child learns his or her system of ethics is from the home (no pressure, Mom and Dad.) This should come as no great surprise to anyone—home is where a child spends most of his or her formative years.
Children will learn consideration from how considerate their parents are. They will learn empathy from how much their parents care. They will learn generosity from watching how generous their parents are to others. It has always been so. In addition, basic ethics are still delivered by parents in everyday interactions. "Share that toy with your sister," "Wait your turn" are all ethical instructions, taught in an unremarkable way in most homes a dozen times a day.
Ethically strong parents still can have children who cheat, lie, and push old ladies over in the street—after all parents are not a child's only source of instruction. However, the positive example of parenting is invaluable.
While this basic, practical, moral education has remained the same, what has changed in the last generation or two is the way in which ethics has been transmitted explicitly. Several major shifts have occurred.
Firstly, outside organizations such as churches often no longer play such a strong role in a child's life. Many religions in particular preach about how to live and the ethical statements they make are fundamental, involving charity, generosity, care, and purposefulness, for example "do unto others as you would have done unto yourself." However, the ethical teachings of religion as a moral compass are something that many children don't get anymore. You don't have to subscribe to any of the major religion's theistic beliefs to appreciate the value of many of the moral statements they taught.
Secondly, some parents now feel they have lost their authority to "push" ethical concepts on their children. Expecting or imposing firm ethical standards can make you feel like an old fashioned authoritarian; not merely "copying" your own parents, but copying your great great grandparents. And this hardly gives you street cred with your child or their friends. For example, insisting that "responsibilities are as fundamental as rights in a functioning society (e.g. this house)" may sound like nineteenth century twaddle. However, insisting that "the responsibility to do some housework is the flip side of the right to live in a house that is not a cesspit" is important.
Also, saying that "all opinions are equally valid" is often a cheap way of getting parents and teachers off the hook when the ethical questions get tough. This started several decades ago when, in some quarters, whatever values the child developed were acceptable. For example a child might say "My values are to look after only number one and trample whoever else is down," and for authority figures to intervene in this would be indoctrination. However, I think it is clear that not all ethical positions are equally good and that some values are better than others. Again, to use an example, when a small new boy turns up at your daughter's school without food it is NOT ethically equivalent for your daughter to share her lunch or punch him in the face. One is kind and the other is mean. Very little your child may reason to the contrary will change this fact. How to deal with this in a nuanced way in conversations is something I raise later, under "conversations with the ethically challenged child."
SO WHAT VALUES ARE WORTHWHILE?
In discussing the questions in this book with your children, you are no doubt hoping that they come to hold a "good" set of values. Sometimes though it can be tough to put your finger on exactly what some of those values might be. I have listed some values that you would probably want your children to keep developing as they get older (they also appear in Conversation 75).
It's unrealistic to expect someone to have all of these values. And you don't want to go over the top with some of them either—too much "assertiveness" for example can be a bad thing. Nonetheless it is a handy list to keep in mind.
THE VALUE OF DISCUSSION
Ethics and values should be spoken about regularly in homes. Often they already are. Every time your child comes home with an example of something "unfair" that happened at school, this is an opportunity to speak about ethics. When an issue comes up on television or in films, this is an opportunity to speak about ethics.
I am not suggesting a return to the "good old days" when children were simply told how to behave and be respectful. Indeed, I am almost suggesting the reverse. I am suggesting that ethical issues are discussed and pulled apart by the whole family in conversation and that your children are a central part in these conversations. However, this is not permissive "values clarification" either. Instead, the important thing here is a belief that certain values are generally better—that courage is better than cowardice, that generosity is better than selfishness—and the rightness of these values is exposed by conversation and free thinking.
For example, you can tell a child "You have to be tolerant of other people" and he or she will hear "parent static" and probably filter you out. But if you use situations and examples to discuss tolerance and guide them to their own conclusions, your child will probably come to the view that tolerance is preferable to intolerance. The difference is that your child will have articulated the view themselves. The opinion will be his or hers and s/he will own it. So, in short, the better way to make a child tolerant is not to tell them to be, but to make him or her think it themselves. Of course, better than each of these is to get them to practice tolerance—but this book can't engineer that.
In having thoughtful, ethical discussions with your children (instead of ramming ideas down their throat or letting them get away with any view at all) you are becoming a small part of the great enlightened tradition that has been going on for hundreds of years. It is the same tradition that bought you democracy, freedom of speech, the emancipation of slaves, and Monty Python. For centuries being enlightened means valuing the received wisdom of the ages. It has been proud of producing in people the ability to think critically. And it has been proud of allowing people to form their own well-grounded views by combining these other two elements. It charts the middle way between authoritarianism and permissiveness. Being open-minded is a rare and precious triumph of the human species that I think we are obliged to hand on to our children. In using this book, with all of its ethical thinking skills, philosophies, and dilemmas, you are doing exactly that.
On the one hand the conversations in this book might be a little awkward at the start. Lets not pretend that they are the same type of conversation as "How was your day?" or "Didn't the Giants crush the Patriots?" Yet consistently discussing ethics with your children is one of the most important things you can do. And look at it this way—millions of parents are out there at the moment drilling their children in extra comprehension, grammar and math questions that come from joyless workbooks. I doubt that these are producing engaged, quality discussions between parents and children. As an educational project, this book and the conversations it promotes are a whole lot more interesting and worthwhile.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
This book works the way you want it to work. You may choose to have a program of sitting at the dinner table one particular night every week and working from conversation to conversation. More likely you will dip in and out of conversations as they take your interest. You might choose a set time, or pull the book out occasionally. You may simply hand it to your children and say, "Which ones take your interest?" You may put it in the glove compartment of your car and pull it out when the road gets too long. You may keep this book in the background (in a drawer or by the bedside) and bring up the various dilemmas from memory when the times suit. You may take the ideas from the book and simply make up your own ethical dilemmas each time your child comes home from school with an issue. It is up to you.
Having said that, I do think it is important that your children get exposure to each of the three categories of conversations in the book.
Category 1—the ethical dilemmas and questions.
Category 2—the thinking-skills questions (10 of the conversations are like this: the ones ending in "0" i.e. 10, 20, 30).
Category 3—what famous ethicists and philosophers have thought in the past (11 of the conversations are like this: the ones ending in "5" i.e. 15, 25, 35).
The most important skill for parents to learn is how to fan the flames of the conversation so that the discussions catch fire instead of go out. There are many ways to do this and I have listed a few here.
ASK MORE QUESTIONS
Once your child has put forward a point of view, you can ask them why they believe this or you can ask them to give an example. You can ask them to give reasons for their opinion. You can ask how it links with other ideas they have had. You can ask them how it is different from something their brother or sister has just said. Just keep asking questions. By doing this, you are shepherding them along and getting them to think about their own thinking. (By the way, the single word "Why?" is more likely to fan the flames of a discussion than anything else.)
Asking more questions can be harder than it sounds. You might want to jump in with your own opinion, which could well be a conversation killer. Sometimes you will have to bite your tongue and use questions to explore the point of view with your children. The more they get to speak, the more they will feel that their point of view is being valued and the more they will be willing to speak.
Some specific questions:
"What would the world look like if everyone did that?"
"Can you think of an opposite example?"
"How would you feel if you were on the other side of that?"
"Have you got another reason for that?"
"Who gets advantaged by that? Who gets disadvantaged? Is that fair?"
"What do you think your football coach/priest/teacher/rabbi/ school principal would think about that?"
"What harm does this decision create? Is it worth it?"
"Even if no harm has been created, could it still be wrong?"
PLAY "DEVIL'S ADVOCATE"
This means coming up with the opposite opinion (e.g. if everyone in the family quickly decides that it is okay to tell a white lie to your granny who has knitted you a horrible sweater, then you can be the person to say that granny would rather know the truth so that she stopped wasting her time knitting more sweaters that no one likes). However, it is vitally important that your children know you are playing devil's advocate to keep the discussion going, instead of just disagreeing with them. Flat out disagreements may throw water on the fire of the conversation instead of keeping it going.
Excerpted from talk with your kids by MICHAEL PARKER. Copyright © 2012 Michael Parker. Excerpted by permission of Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Music Downloads and Stealing 22
2 Stealing??? 24
3 Stuck On A Lifeboat 26
4 Is Stealing Ever Okay? 28
5 Ethical Thinker-Plato 30
6 What Is Cheating At School? 32
7 Sports 34
8 Killing A Madman 36
9 (G-Rated) Parties 38
10 Being Reciprocal 40
11 Gender Relations 42
12 World of Liars 44
13 What Makes a Lie? 46
14 Is It Ever Okay to Lie? 48
15 Ethical Thinker-Aristotle 50
16 More Lies!! 52
17 Money, Money, Money, and Inheritance 54
18 Alcohol 56
19 Smoking 58
20 Using Criteria 60
21 Death and Taxes 61
22 Rank the Criminals 63
23 Our Grandchildren and the Planet 66
24 Rights of Animals 68
25 Ethical Thinkers-Hobbes And Locke 70
26 Should We Eat Meat? 72
27 Should We Use Animal Products? 74
28 Killing Animals 76
29 Should We Cage Animals? 78
30 What Is a Fact? What Is an Opinion? 80
31 Should We Accept Asylum Seekers? 82
32 Bad Consequences, Right Act? 84
33 What Is Torture? 86
34 Is Torture Ever Okay? 88
35 Ethical Thinkers-Rousseau and Hobbes 90
36 Torture Continued 93
37 Donating to Earthquake Relief 95
38 Prejudice 97
39 Looting After Disasters 100
40 Ethical Potholes at Dudgeon High 102
41 Saving Survivors and Reconstructing After An Earthquake 112
42 Fate-Are People Morally Responsible? 114
43 Free Will and Life Factors 116
44 Is The Old Man Evil? 118
45 Ethical Thinker-Immanuel Kant 120
46 Friendship (Part One) 122
47 Killing People On a Railway Line 124
48 Accepting Differences 126
49 What Is Bullying? 128
50 Generalizations 130
51 Bullying Continued 133
52 What Should Be Done to Bullies? 134
53 Make Up Your Own School Rules 135
54 What Is Cyberbullying? 137
55 Ethical Thinker- Jeremy Bentham 139
56 Why Cyberbullying is Bad 141
57 Capital Punishment (The Death Penalty) 143
58 Making Promises 145
59 Medical Ethics And the Government 147
60 Being Consistent 149
61 Medical Ethics-Testing Drugs on Prisoners 151
62 Medical Ethics and Kidney Transplants 152
63 Discrimination 154
64 The Good Life Pie 156
65 Ethical Thinker-John Stuart Mill 157
66 Duty 159
67 The Cure For AIDS 161
68 Sex 162
69 Relationships, Social Standing, and Body Image 164
70 Twelve Lousy Arguments 167
71 Parents, Children, and Rules 178
72 Declaring War on Canada 180
73 Acting Ethically In The Middle of a War 183
74 Who Are We Responsible To for Climate Change? 184
75 Ethical Thinker-Elizabeth Anscombe (and Aristotle) 185
76 What To Do About Climate Change 187
77 Changing Lanes on the Road 189
78 Justice at the Cafeteria 191
79 How To Treat Your Brothers and Sisters 193
80 Being Comprehensive 195
81 Road Ethics: Letting People In 196
82 Speed Limits on the Road 197
83 Drugs 199
84 Health, Drugs, and Young People 201
85 Ethical Thinker-John Rawls and the Mind Game 203
86 A Teenager's Car 206
87 When Is A 'New Life' a Human? 208
88 Online Etiquette and Age Restrictions 210
89 Housework 211
90 Universalizing 213
91 The Terrorist Attack 215
92 Euthanasia 216
93 Ethics In Business-Zen Bracelets 219
94 Business Ethics-Competition 221
95 Ethical Thinker-Lawrence Kohlberg and Heinz's Dilemma 223
96 Business Ethics-Staff 228
97 Secrets 230
98 Fighting 232
99 Sharing 234
100 Friendship (Part Two) 236
101 How To Spread Stuff Around (Part One) 237
102 How To Spread Stuff Around (Part Two) 238
103 Pets (Part One) 240
104 Pets (Part Two) 241
105 Martin Luther King. Jr. and Non-Violence 242
106 Rights and Responsibilities 246
107 Violent Computer Games 248
108 Designer Babies (Part One) 249
109 Designer Babies (Part Two) 251