by Mel Dikert
Most parents would prefer to take their disagreements and conflicts, petty or not, behind closed doors where their children cannot see them so they may appear united. Most parents teach their children that holding their tongues when they disagree with someone is better than challenging that person because it is the more polite thing to do. However, studies have shown that allowing children to see their parents disagree and encouraging children to argue actually turns them into more independent thinkers.
Kids learn to think for themselves when they see their parents disagree with each other, because “They discover that no authority has a monopoly on the truth,” the New York Times says. Children thus learn to “rely on their own independent judgment.”
Not only do kids become more independent when viewing healthy arguments, but they become more creative, as well. Psychologist Robert Albert says, “the creative person-to-be comes from a family that is anything but harmonious, one with a ‘wobble.’” Families full of tension tend to produce some of the most creative adults. For example, the New York Times elaborates that “when highly creative architects and scientists were compared with their technically skilled but less original peers, the innovators often had more friction in their families.”
Rarely or never witnessing any arguments and never participating in them only teaches people to stray from the threat of conflict. On the contrary, witnessing and participating in arguments “helps us grow a thicker skin,” reports the New York Times.
However, there is one very important aspect that cannot be overlooked: what matters most is not the amount of arguments parents have or that children witness, but how those arguments are handled. There is a big difference between “fistfights or personal insults” and “thoughtful disagreement.” As psychologist Robert Albert put it, the ideal creative environment for children to grow up in should be “tense but secure.” According to a recent study done on children ranging in age from five- to seven-years-old, “the ones whose parents argued constructively felt more emotionally safe.”
Brian Jones (‘21) agrees with the logic behind healthy disagreements improving children’s sense of independence and creativity saying, “A lot of people lack the actual skills of having a normal, healthy argument, so it’s good to teach them young.”
There are many examples to pull from. The Wright brothers, for instance, had a lot of arguments, and from those arguments, they were able to solve whatever issues they were facing, such as their disagreement over the design of the propeller of their plane. They were not alone, of course. The New York Times lists several examples, “The Beatles fought over instruments and lyrics and melodies. Elizabeth Cady and Susan B. Anthony clashed over the right way to win the right to vote. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak argued incessantly while designing the first Apple computer.” What’s similar about all of these people? They all flourished and succeeded, and it was because of the squabbles they had. When encouraged to criticize others, groups tend to come up with more ideas.
Parents are thus encouraged to allow their disagreements to be viewed by their children and to encourage their children to criticize without insulting. After all, there is no better time to learn how to dish out and how to take what is dished to them than when they are kids. Don’t knock them over, though. Just teach them how to wobble.