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A lesson in internet debate from my 7-year-old

“WHY?” His voice was angry, his body taut. “Why are you taking it away for so long?”

I said nothing. Kept driving through the misty rained last-night streets towards school. Two of the three of my kids missed their school buses. One of them forgot a band instrument. I was still in gym clothes, though I hadn’t worked out yet. The day was screwed from the start.

“Where is it?”

He huffed. “In my backpack but…”

“Take it out and put it here.” I pointed to the table between the front seats of the van.

“Nooooooo!” More huffing and angry shifting from the boy in the back seat.

I sighed. This was going to be a long ride.

“Please. Give me another chance. I only missed the bus once. Why haven’t you ever taken my brother’s iPods when he misses the bus? Why?”

“Put the iPod here.” I pointed again.

Round and round he went. Repeating himself louder and more urgent each time. Demanding answers, a shortened consequence, mercy.

I just drove, silent. And I thought to myself, “why aren’t you answering? Articulate it.”

…”he doesn’t want to know why. He wants to debate me.”

This happens online and in person all the time. Someone asks you a question, not to understand, but to argue. They are looking for weaknesses and misspoken words to exploit.

I am trying to make a personal rule not to argue with or debate my child. He needs to grasp that some things are nonnegotiable.

Most of the time with him, he demands that I answer to him for my decisions. He demands answers because he is trying to find a hole to exploit.

This is why I rarely argue a woman’s place in church anymore. It’s why many won’t respond to questions about race or gender or sexuality. The way you ask if, or the timing of when you ask it, tells them you aren’t listening. Your mind is made up and you want a fight.

Next time someone doesn’t respond well to your question, ask yourself, “Am I asking to learn and understand? Or am I asking to argue and debate?” If the latter, don’t act so surprised when others shut you down. Drop it. Walk (or click) away. Come back when you are ready to listen and learn.

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