Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My son is 14 and interested in politics. He is particularly interested in learning about socialism and communism. He also just started on social media and is only connected with family.
He recently posted his thoughts on why he supports the ideals in communism and has basically been attacked by relatives who had family members in the Soviet Union.
How can I ask them to allow him to express himself freely while acknowledging it is a painful topic for them? He’s super-sensitive and now feels ashamed for stating his thoughts.
DEAR FAMILY: Such a great opportunity, squandered.
You can get it back, though, I think: Your son is thinking about big, conceptual things, and has family members who have lived (or heard firsthand accounts of) the reality those concepts brought forth. How great would it be to get the people with the institutional memory of the Soviet Union to discuss with your son — civilly — how what seemed like good ideas in theory created some painful realities for the people living in these systems?
That would require two people-wrangling missions for you: First, assure your son he has no cause for shame. He’s learning, and it takes guts to think out loud the way he did. That’s what it takes for us to develop in-depth knowledge: to have the courage to ask questions, to open our thoughts to the critical eyes of others, to incorporate any feedback into our understanding. Tell him he’s a champ for what he did and you hope he'll keep exploring ideas with the same courage. Include a social-media warning here, too, since it’s not a fact-gathering or idea-sharing forum for the sensitive; with your help, maybe he can find a more forgiving way to explore his interests.
Second, talk to the relatives. Remind them (ahem) they’re talking not to an adult with an agenda, but a kid with ideas and questions and an appetite for understanding the world. Ask them if they’d be willing to share their thoughts, discuss his ideas, tell their stories — whatever — as his teachers vs. his critics.
If they agree, then find a way to get them together (in your home if possible, on video-chat if not) in a more hospitable way.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am on overload with all the drama in the political landscape. I don’t want to hear it, but then I don’t want to be ill-informed — or worse, complacent by not paying attention. How to balance?
DEAR FATIGUED: You and me both.
Set limits — x minutes per day, then no more; or take a news vacation every weekend; or identify the most distressing sources and cut them out, and rely on a trusted few. Among TV, radio, print, social media, left-leaning, right-leaning, centrist, American, foreign, long-form, data-driven, fact-checking, satire/comedy, etc., there are enough delivery systems to give us a lot of control over our news feeds. I beg only, of not just you but everyone, to stick to news reported from more than one source, verifiably, and avoid the intellectual laziness of bias-confirmation — as a matter of public health.
RE: NEWS FATIGUE: Also: Do NOT read the news within an hour of bedtime. Allow yourself to decompress from the day.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Amen.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.