How to broaden your kids’ perspective — and, in the process, your own

Photo by W. Garth Dowling

There are a lot of things in common with being a parent and being a Scout leader. Among them: the importance of understanding the perspectives of the younger generation.

Jennifer L.W. Fink, author of The First-Time Mom’s Guide to Raising Boys (Rockridge Press, 2021), shares a story that demonstrates how parents and kids can have radically different perspectives about the world, all of which can contain elements of truth.

For Fink, it was an emotional moment when Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first female vice president in January, but her teenage sons, used to seeing female classmates take on leadership roles for years and largely unaware of glass ceilings, didn’t understand their mother’s emotional response to the moment.

“If we just parent based on what we experienced 20 or 30 years ago, we are going to come across as very out of touch to our kids,” she says. “They’re not going to pay attention to what we’re saying, because they know it doesn’t apply in their current world.”

Listen first

Author Jennifer L.W. Fink

Fortunately, she says, you can still share your perspective with your kids. You just have to be willing to listen to (and learn from) theirs.

“You have to listen to them first; you have to give them a chance to share their perspective,” Fink says. “When we grownups jump in right away with, ‘Well, you don’t understand; this is how it used to be,’ it shuts them down. We have to listen with an open mind first and try to understand where they are coming from before we add any additional facts or information or context.”

Listening can also help you determine what additional context to share. Fink gives the example of a child who’s worried about the potential for school violence. Through active and empathetic listening, you might discover that his biggest fear is not being able to reach you in an emergency.

“As a parent, you know that is a possibility, but talk about the lines of communication that do exist,” she says.

Don’t assume

For example, you could talk about his school’s emergency-alert system, something he might not be aware of.

“Because our generation of children are so informed, I think sometimes we assume they know a lot more than they do,” she says. “If you have a teen who’s prone to not wanting to hear things from you, you can phrase it like, ‘Hey, you probably already know this, but I just want to make sure.’ ”

Speaking of teens, Fink acknowledges that their perspective may never align with yours.

“Kids questioning our values, our thoughts, our perceptions — that is part of the process of how they mature, how they grow, how they come to an adult understanding of the world,” she says.