We've heard about the SCOTUS decision. Changes to abortion laws are coming. Now it's time to discuss it with our kids. Here's how.
If you’re a parent like me, you know that kids pick up on current events. Depending on their ages, they either directly keep up with the news, or they pick up bits and pieces at home or elsewhere, like social media. I get a little whiplash every time I hear my 11-year-old son say, “I saw it on the news,” when I needle him for some background about where he got some nugget of information he decided to share at the dinner table.
“The news” to him though, is almost always a YouTube clip he stumbled upon, but once in a while it’s him overhearing a broadcast his mom or I was watching.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago, our son blurted out something about the war in Ukraine. After asking what he knew about it, it turns out he was under the impression that Ukraine was in a war with the U.S. because they wanted to take over other countries.
And at least weekly when Trump was in office, he’d overhear a news clip or hear something from his friends in school and we’d have to provide the larger context to help him understand what was happening, which was to be expected.
But it was a good signal to us as parents that we’d need to be vigilant and continue having conversations about newsworthy topics, so that when he was piecing together the chunks of data in his head and filling in the gaps himself, we could help provide that factual backdrop without inserting our own opinions. In fact, we make a concerted effort not to share our opinions during these conversations as to avoid persuading our kids. We’re advocates of encouraging critical thinking and allowing room for our kids to form their own opinions.
And I think that’s how we need to approach this SCOTUS decision about overturning Roe v. Wade as well. Keep in mind, I’m not a child psychologist or parenting expert, but rather, just a parent like most of you, who knows how important these conversations are, so I reached out to parents on social media and asked them how they would approach this with their kids.
Here are 5 helpful, crowdsourced suggestions about how to talk about the overturning of Roe v. Wade with your kids. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments as well. Let’s help each other through this one.
Ask your kids what they’ve heard
Find out what the starting point is. Have they heard anything? Nothing? All the incorrect things? Take time to sit down with them and understand their viewpoint and where it was sourced. Just listen. Then ask some clarifying questions to dig deeper if needed.
Focus on the facts
First, make sure you have them. How are abortions usually performed today? How early in the pregnancy do most occur? How common is late-term abortion? What percentage are done just with medication? These are great questions to look up while you’re preparing for this conversation.
After your child tells you what they “know” about the issue, fill in the gaps by talking about what Roe v. Wade is, what it means, and why people want it overturned or want to keep it. Talk about how different groups of people feel and what their perspectives are. Try to avoid saying things like “religious nutjobs want to control women’s bodies,” and go with “people who are very religious have been taught that ending a pregnancy is wrong and angers their god, so they don’t want anyone to do it, no matter what.” It may not be how you feel about it, and it may not express the anger you feel, but it’s an objective way to explain someone else’s perspective so your child can understand more easily.
Confirm their understanding
Ask them questions to confirm they get it. Ask them what they think and feel after hearing the truth about the decision. Ask them why they feel that way. Is it based on what you just talked about? Can they articulate it in a way that confirms they understand what you explained?
In all honesty, this is how I hope any parent is discussing any current topic with their kids. It’s my utopia. If we, as a society, had a focus on promoting critical thinking with our kids, we wouldn’t have half the issues we have today. Disinformation campaigns, fundamentalist religions, conspiracy theories, left and right-wing extremism, and more — obsolete. But here we are.
Ok, now for the tough stuff. These are the abortion-specific discussion areas, and may be the most difficult parts of the conversation, depending on how old your kids are and what their genders are.
Be prepared to answer the big question
“Have you (or your partner) ever had an abortion?”
That one… that’s your call. Different parents feel different ways about sharing this information with their kids, but just know the question may be asked. Make sure you know how you’re going to answer it before the topic comes up.
Discuss the future and what the options are
Especially if your child is a teenager, talk about what their options are if an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy were to occur and abortion was illegal in your state. Make sure they know you’re there to support them and can be a person to rely on. This is a great opportunity to talk about condoms, birth control, plan B, safe sex, or just sex in general. Be sure to validate and address any fears they may have about the future.
Take advantage of this time to be real and show your support. You may be angry, and I am too. But your child may also be terrified, so it’s your job to be a listening ear and a source of comfort during this crucial moment in time. Someone once told me that when all the dust has settled and your kids grow into adults, they don’t remember the pain they experienced as much as who was there to comfort them, or sadly, who wasn’t.