Between the duties of my job at the University of Dayton School of Law and the demands of my home life, I fancy myself a fairly busy guy. Regarding the former, I am responsible for assisting roughly 450 law students with career-related matters at any given moment, and must field a regular bombardment of requests from Deans, faculty members, alumni, representatives of law firms or organizations, and media outlets. As for the latter, well, that’s the really tough job.
Still, because I’m able to multi-task (for instance, I can chew gum and walk at the same time) and have a poor sense of priorities, I perform a speedy perusal of dozens of internet websites each morning as I mainline some coffee. (This reminds me of Homer Simpson proclaiming, “It’s not easy to juggle a pregnant wife and a troubled child, but somehow I managed to fit in eight hours of TV a day.”) Once in a while my rapid-fire review is rewarded by provocative headlines like “Brazil Car Washer Turns Up Alive at Own Wake”or “Fox Steals Handbag; Cannot Handle the Guilt”. Serendipity kissed me gently on the cheek a few months ago and handed me a story entitled “Arguing Kids Could Have Benefits”. A penitent vulpine is fascinating, true, but a piece on the benefits accompanying arguing kids? I HAD to read that one.
The AP story began, “Though parents have been teaching their children not to argue with adults for generations, new research from the University of Virginia shows that young teenagers who are taught to argue effectively are more likely to resist peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol later in adolescence.” Sigh. This opening was more than a little disappointing. For starters, I was hoping to learn there might be benefits to me, the longsuffering patriarch to three extremely accomplished, pre-teen barristers who’ve demonstrated a highly precocious ability to argue about anything, anywhere, at any time. Currently, Luke is the “Arguer Laureate” of our home, willing and able to take the opposing view of any statement I make no matter how incontrovertible. He’d happily conjure an opposition to the debating proposition, “Resolved: the earth is round and revolves around the sun once every 365 ¼ days.” Lately I’ve been tempted to direct him outside to take up the dispute de jour with the red, octagonal, four-lettered sign at the corner of our lot. I doubt it would slow him down. In any case, all three amigos are pretty skilled at this and depending on how the circumstances match up with their desires they’re equally effective acting as either a prosecutor or defense counsel. I’ve seen them seamlessly switch roles within the same interaction—leaving me to stammer “hey…wait a minute…what?” The more disappointing element of the AP story was that sneaky adverb “effectively”. What if we’ve been teaching them merely to argue (or worse, to argue ineffectively)? My mood dropped a little further when I read, “Teenagers who displayed confidence and used reason to back up their statements were more likely to have refused drugs or alcohol when polled by researchers three years later….” Daniel could use a little more confidence, perhaps, but Luke and Abby?!? Ummm, no. Not a problem. As far as Luke’s concerned, a nice infusion of humility would serve him well.
What about employing reason? Abby, the oldest, is quickly developing the ability to use it to her advantage, in knowing which causes to advance (and how) and which ones to give up (and when). Bravo and thank God. As for her younger brothers, let’s just say this skill is not yet a forte. To his credit, Daniel at least knows when to beat a hasty retreat from an obviously doomed cause. Luke, on the other hand, is significantly more headstrong than wise. His intense desire to get what he wants outpaces reason and prudence nearly every time. I could tell him that a bomb next to the television was set to detonate in five seconds and he’d retort, “yeah, but I’ve never seen this ‘Regular Show’ episode. I don’t want to miss it. It’s really awesome.”
The story concluded, “Parents of teenagers should teach by example and model good discussion practices for their children….” Gulp. That twinge I was feeling was a conscience awakening to the fact that my “discussion practices” have often been something considerably less than “good”. Dolt that I am, I’m still smart enough to know that yelling, whining, or slamming doors is no way to teach my kids how to appropriately convey thoughts and feelings. Perhaps if I put that knowledge into more consistent practice we’ll all reap a few benefits.
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.