Don’t talk down to kids

I was raised in a very conservative, old-school home. There was a lot of shame in my life, as a child, and no power over my own life. No matter what the situation or argument, I had three strikes against me from the start. I was a child, girl, and a bastard. (All of my cousins, and most of my church friends were born in wedlock.) This meant I was not to be taken seriously, ever. No wonder I had such self-esteem issues as a young adult. I was taught very early that I didn’t know what was good for me, and that I should just listen to the figures in authority like a good girl. When that person in authority was no longer my mother, it became my ex.

Obviously now, I’m a grown woman who has made a point of being the boss of my own damn life. I try not to do the same things to my children that were done to me. It’s hard sometimes because that’s what I was taught to treat children like. I was taught that respect was a thing I owed adults, rather than something that was earned. I teach my children that they owe people common courtesy, not respect.

These days, the world has dramatically shifted from when I was a child. We’ve gone from expecting children to respect adults to expecting adults to cater to children. I’m not big on that. I think that kids are a lot smarter than we’re giving them credit for.

As parents, I think we tend to talk down to our kids. We don’t tell them when the family is having money troubles, or when someone in the family is ill. Instead of teaching them how an adult handles hard times or explaining to them why you might have to say no to certain things, we make up excuses. We lie. We insult a child’s intelligence by not even lying well. We don’t let them watch the news, preferring to shield them from the terrors of the world. What we should do instead is explain hard situations to them at an age-appropriate level.

As writers, we need to be especially careful of this if we want to write for children or young adults. I write new adult fiction, and even that’s hard. I never think we should shy away from explaining difficult topics to kids and young adults, though. They can get it if we as the adults take the time to explain things in an age-appropriate way.

Look, kids want more than cuddly animals and glitter in a book. Young adults can handle more than a slash and dash adventure story. We can tell real stories with real people, and we shouldn’t be afraid to.

Finally, I want to talk about the young women and men who survived the Parkland Florida school shooting. They’ve been the powerhouse behind a movement for stronger gun control. They’re fighting a battle that many of us have been weary of for quite some time. And they deserve to be heard, even if you don’t agree with what they have to say.

Whether you’re a parent, children’s author, or just a citizen of the world, please stop underestimating our kids. They’re worth more.

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