I used to teach freshman English at McDaniel, and in those classes I taught students how to take a position on a topic — to research, find evidence, build an argument and successfully debate. At the beginning of the semester we’d talk about what current politics were at the time. Most students had pretty clear positions, and when I dug in a little, asking about why they felt that way and what the sources were for their arguments, it almost always came down to “because that’s what my parents say.” So don’t be fooled by teenagers who pretend they are not paying attention.

My kids are now teenagers. I remember when they were babies and I couldn’t wait until they could talk. Then when they could talk, I couldn’t wait until they could have their own individual thoughts and opinions. And here we are. I love them, but sometimes I wish they would go back to being adorable little kids who know I’m right about everything and only want to talk about Elmo and sing the alphabet.

My son and I don’t see eye to eye on everything, sometimes I’m alarmed by his positions on current events. I have to constantly remind myself that I want him to have opinions, that I want him to think critically, that I want him ask questions. I do not want him to just be a sponge absorbing whatever those around him are espousing … and I have to include myself in that.

I realize that my role as a parent is to make sure we continue the conversation, that we engage in dialogue again and again and again over the years. I do have a role in helping him figure out what reliable sources look like, and to share my relevant life experiences with him, as he continues to build his own. And maybe most importantly, I have to listen. I have to hear him and try to understand his thought processes. I know he has to feel heard in order for him to ever understand the importance of hearing others. And I think that is the hardest part: listening to opposing points of view, trying to understand the other side(s) and doing all of this not to eventually be “right” — but simply to learn and understand.

I know I’m not alone. I know folks across the nation are right now trying to navigate difficult conversations with family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors — it seems like we are more polarized than ever. But maybe we’re not.

Local experts weigh in on an article on page 34 suggesting that we may not be as divided as it seems. The article also suggests things to keep in mind when engaging in discourse. We could probably all use an occasional reminder to be patient, to listen, to strive for understanding as opposed to winning. I know I owe my son all of these things, and hopefully working through that process is something he will actually absorb.


Kym Byrnes