If you spend any time with educators and curriculum, you will hear a multitude of words and phrases that never seem to leave the conversation. One of these phrases is “critical thinking.” Critical thinking involves garnering information through observation and experience, analyzing the information, applying it to a new concept and using the information to guide actions and thoughts. In a time where it seems children are finding their need for collective individualism earlier, it is essential we equip our children with the power to critically think both inside and outside of the classroom.
I recall a time when asking my father for something was a dreadful event. Not because he harbored a mean streak or because he would say no, but because I knew that any request outside of the norm would surely be met with one simple reply: Why? This harmless three-letter word thwarted many a party and sparked many family debates. However, it also taught me a lesson that is still relevant today as 25-year-old graduate student. That lesson being: If I am going to do something or believe in something, then I better be able to understand and explain why.
In a time when technology allows us to “be ourselves” while simultaneously belonging to a worldwide network of like-minded individuals, it is easier for children to lose themselves in a group mindset while they are still attempting to figure out who it is they want to be. For instance, when pop star Justin Bieber named his fans “Belibers,” thousands of people, young and seasoned alike, began to express their unwavering fandom for the singer and pledged allegiance to the fan base. While this allowed them to express their individual music preferences, they also became a part of a larger collective that moved as a whole unit rather than as individuals interested in the same cause. Similarly, the infamous “Bey-hive,” Beyonce’s super fans, move as a whole to protect the singer from internet trolls and media speculation.
Belonging to a group of like-minded people isn’t inherently bad. We place ourselves in groups filled with people like ourselves for safety and comfort all the time. However, according to Erik Erikson, our friend groups and identity become especially important during the ages of 5-19. So when our children begin to have wants and desires, ask them: Why? Not to stifle their dreams but to encourage them to be reflective. Why do you want to go to that party? Why do you want to join the band? After doing this for a while, you will begin to see what your child is experiencing, how they are processing these experiences, what’s important to them and others around them, and what wisdom they are internalizing. Communicating about it not only forces them to really critically think about who they are and what they want, it will also provide key snap shots of your child’s development.
Anay Pope is a Penn State graduate student in the College of Education.