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Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014

Helping kids master what matters: Emotions, relationships and a good dose of skepticism

By Lois M. Collins, Deseret News National Edition

Published: Tue, July 29 12:00 a.m. MDT

(Shutterstock)

I’ve interviewed a lot of experts this year about families, across a big variety of topics, from caring for the elderly to helping kids avoid domestic violence. What I find striking is how much of the advice on that spectrum of topics has come back to the concept of what we should be teaching our children — and learning ourselves if we have not already done so.

In at least a third of the interviews, I’ve heard these words: “I wish schools taught a class on … .” You can fill in the blank, but the suggestions are all to some degree interconnected.

They’re not talking about math or science or history. They are talking about fundamental skills to help children navigate relationships, not just while they are children but as they move through all the stages of their lives.

Conflict resolution.

Emotional intelligence.

Media literacy.

Skepticism.

One expert said every child should spend time developing a “relationship IQ.” I have to agree.

The overlap is impressive. For example, one of the things I most wish my girls to learn — and something I’ve tried to help them embrace — is skepticism. We live in a world where it’s not uncommon to hear outright lies broadly circulated as truth, usually driven by either political agenda or the urge to sell a product. Often, you must have some media literacy to debunk the message, but that involves learning to analyze, since it’s no more intuitive than looking at a column of numbers and figuring out how to add them up if no one has ever explained basic arithmetic to you.

Parents should be working on this skill set with their kids just as they help them learn other basic tasks. They are all topics you both live and discuss, with impromptu demonstrations as situations arise, I think.

My parents did not always approach the conflict resolution piece in the same way. My dad might tell us to knock it off when my siblings and I started to fight. If we didn’t obey, he’d offer a consequence. My mother would let us argue and eventually work things out among ourselves, but we’d have to “take it outside” so she didn’t have to hear it. My own tendency is probably not the best for getting my teenagers to resolve their conflicts. I often rather ineffectually just tell them to “cut each other some slack” or “just stop.” I want peace, but getting there my way doesn’t necessarily build anyone’s reasoning or negotiating skills.

I’ve tried hard to tackle the media literacy piece because I think it’s pervasive and kids can get a really warped sense of what’s real. We’ve talked a lot about how some movies, TV shows, ads and music videos present girls and women as body parts — which makes it easier to overly sexualize or victimize in ways that would not occur were those same people viewed as a complete person. We often chat about what’s being sold, whether it’s a message or a makeup kit.

All of those skills contribute to a really big one, which is emotional intelligence. Kendra Cherry, author of “Everything Psychology,” defines emotional intelligence as the “ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.” People who have it — and there’s a fair amount of discussion about how much is natural ability and how much is learned — can not only express, understand and control their own emotions, but can pick up the cues to what other people are feeling. They can relate to others in an appropriate and healthy fashion, which is probably a much greater key to overall life success and happiness than whether you have money or a dream job.

I’m not sure how, exactly, schools would go about teaching all these things. I do know that it’s a great place to practice them.

The pursuit of mastery should start early and be lifelong.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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1. ordinaryfolks
seattle, WA,
July 29, 2014

Be careful about kids learning skepticism. It might lead to a reduction in the faith accorded one's religious leaders.

Of course, this may not be such a bad thing. History is replete with so-called ministers, apostles, priests or gurus who peddle their own superiority along with a healthy dose of greed and criminality.

True faith comes from your heart, not from the pulpit. Of course, that generally flies in the face of orthodoxy from any faith tradition and generally comes from good, healthy does of skepticism.

2. Jamescmeyer
Midwest City, USA, OK,
July 29, 2014

Skepticism doesn't mean rejecting things out of hand, it means to critically consider them. When presented with the information that we have prophets on the earth today, for instance, a skeptic doesn't simply dismiss it out of hand-such is no skeptic, but a cynic and a fool. A skeptic seeks to know whether or not such a claim is really true, and it may well be.

When told that "it's all a crock" and that one best achieves happiness by indulging in their every immediate carnal whim without restraint, it would be a skeptic's duty to carefully analyze such a claim, looking at the results and the lives of those who embody it.

3. Irony Guy
Bountiful, Utah,
July 29, 2014

Any student who pays attention in school learns skepticism. It's the natural consequence of a solid understanding of history, literature, and science.

4. ThinksIThink
SEATTLE, WA,
July 31, 2014

@Iron Guy,

I agree completely. If a kid is exposed to science and allowed to conduct her own daily inquiry into the world, she will be equipped to skeptically address unsubstantiated truth claims.

5. skeptic
Phoenix, AZ,
Aug. 1, 2014

All man kind should drop the blind fold or religion and become free thinkers, and learn and experience the truth of nature and the world for themselves.