Remember this story from a few weeks back, when Erin (13) overheard another girl being gently grilled by a couple of peers about her atheism? It’s apparently ongoing. Fortunately the tone is much more inquisitive than Inquisitive. Here’s a bit from the middle school cafeteria earlier this week:
BOY: So what’s it like to be an atheist?
GIRL: What do you mean? It’s just regular.
BOY: But — what do atheists do?
GIRL: What do we do? We do regular stuff.
BOY: I mean like what do you do on Sunday?
GIRL: Probably about what you do on Saturday. But I get two.
(Who IS this kid? Somewhere in 1976, my 13-year-old self just wet himself in shame.)
BOY, after a thoughtful pause: So you can do anything you want then because you don’t have to obey God’s law.
ERIN, interjects: Well…you still have to obey THE law, you know.
Oh how I love these things. I think this kind of low-impact conversation between peers has incredible power to rock preconceptions and give kids permission to think independently. It’s also about 30 times more bloody friggin’ interesting than most of what gets itself talked about, no matter what your age.
Kids vary in their desire to do this, which is fine. As I’ve said before, Connor (16) has no interest at all, while Delaney (9) has done it continuously since she was four. Erin is just beginning to toe-dip and finding out how cool it can be.
I know this can be dicier in some areas and situations. But I also know that we often falsely assume that’s the case. We’re in a pretty conservative area here, both religiously and politically, and still (the occasional brief freakout aside) the conversations my kids have had across belief lines have gone really well. I’ve heard the same from score of parents in places you’d think would go the other way. It almost always goes better than you think it will.
I suggest raising kids who love to engage ideas and know how to do so in a way that respects the people who hold those ideas — then let them decide whether and how to have these conversations.