How to Debate with Your Family

By Claire Buran

November 2, 2020

These are especially charged political times. Election day is rapidly approaching and things are quickly coming to a head the 1st week of November. Opinions and temperatures are rising fast as we approach a high stakes election by all accounts. This heated political season has seeped into our homes and onto our dinner table.  We are seeing nightly heated discussions in family homes across the country and within our own community. Doors are slamming,  food is being left unfinished on plates. 

So, what are kids supposed to do when current politics seem to rely on lies and bully tactics?  Where has the science that we learn every day gone, only ignored in current decision making?  How do we remain calm when our leaders fail to take any direct action to fix the existential crisis of climate change?  It’s enough to give a kid a headache.

Traditionally, young people living at home tend to align with their parents beliefs regarding political views until we have a chance to experience life and develop our views. But in our current world full of easy access to information through social media and online news sources online, it is a lot easier to follow the issues and understand different points of view. In this new world, political divisions are showing up even before we’ve left for college. 

We have all likely heard the same claims that we are “just” kids and our opinions tend to be viewed as  naive, inexperienced, lacking real world exposure.  How are we supposed to find our voices at the dinner table? How are we supposed to state our views and opinions effectively without being disregarded or setting off an argument? 

Senior Kira Smit says, “While we can usually have calm discussions, there have been a few that haven’t been, it’s just frustrating sometimes because my dad  is much more informed than me and so it’s sometimes difficult for me to articulate my points. He counters my points with his own, since he has more information. He usually ends up dominating the conversation since he seems to be more knowledgeable.” 

Junior Juliana Simpson says, “occasionally there are calm conversations but sometimes there are certain topics that you cannot stay calm while discussing them.”

So here is a compiled list of suggestions to help avoid the heated discussions, avoid major family divisions and ensure you get to finish eating your dinner in harmony. 

Avoid all political discussion.  While that is a guaranteed way to avoid political arguments, it seems extreme and misses the point of talking around the family dinner table.  In other words, the point of having discussions is to listen, consider, reconsider or convince others.  You will never change someone’s mind if you can’t find effective ways to express your own thoughts and this is a great chance to learn these communication skills required for the adult future ahead.   As students, we need to learn to express our opinions, support our core beliefs effectively in the adult world. So this solution is just temporary. 

Know your facts and source of your information.  In order to be persuasive it is critical to state facts.  While the absence of common facts is a new phenomenon later, there should always be a common core set of information or result that form the basis for the discussions.  We might all disagree with the steps needed to fix a problem but it helps to at least agree there is a problem.  Effective discussions with parents, requires knowing your facts and where you read it or base your statement. For adults to take you seriously, you have to prove yourself which means if you have to cite your sources even. 

Use direct follow-up questions.  Feel free to call out your parents if they are just repeating their own assumptions and not using facts.  Those follow-up questions can poke holes in their seemingly super amount of information or experience.  You can avoid conversations turning into lectures by questioning the basis of someone’s facts effectively which levels the playing field a lot.  Examples like “What is the basis of your opinion that Covid -19 is going away? What statistics are you using to claim that we are rounding the corner?  What specific study says that masks are harmful in any way?  Which scientific research paper supports the idea that climate change is not occurring?  Which 

Stay calm.  Do you best to stay calm. No matter how frustrated you get,  if you get upset it will only reinforce that you are just an emotional teen. To stay calm in the face of unsupported arguments, or condescending parental attitudes, try considering that our parents are in a different stage of life and prioritize different things than you. They grew up in a different world and there are rapid and substantial changes that affect every generation as they age.  Remember that change is disruptive and harder to accept as we all age.  We are still forming our own opinion and have a lot less investing in our “political” identities.  Imagine how scary it is to be wrong after 50 plus years of learning and experience.

Avoid personal attacks. Don’t call them “old, ignorant or afraid”. Try to keep an open mind and remember that at the end of the day, they pay the bills and find a way to support us on our paths of learning and growth and we love them.

Image by Isabella Howe

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