Teachable moment: Teen son blasted on social media over ideas

Carolyn Hax, Advice Columnist

Updated: Tuesday, October 3, 2017, 3:01 AM

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: 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 connected only with family.

He recently posted his thoughts on why he supports the ideals in communism and has 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 supersensitive and now feels ashamed for stating his thoughts.

Answer: 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 that he's a champ for what he did and that you hope he'll keep exploring ideas with the same courage. Include a social-media warning here, too, as 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 teachers rather than as critics.

If they agree, find a way to get them together (in your home if possible, on video-chat if not) in a more hospitable way.

Question: 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?

Answer: You and me both.

Set limits - X minutes per day, then no more; or take a news vacation every weekend; or [your dosage here]; 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 urge you and everyone to stick to news reported from more than one source, verifiably, and to avoid the intellectual laziness of bias-confirmation - as a matter of public health.

Comment: Also, do not read the news within an hour of bedtime. Allow yourself to decompress from the day.

Reply: Amen.

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Carolyn Hax, Advice Columnist

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