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I was watching a show about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement on the History Channel, and I told my 9-year-old daughter to watch it as well. She’s on vacation, but I want her mind to stay sharp, and she’s actually interested in the program. My father had me watch a similar show at about her age. My significant other said, “You shouldn’t force that on her. Wait until she wants to learn it.” I responded, “What do you think school is? She doesn’t have to feel like it, this is stuff she needs to know.” Who’s right?
With some caveats, you are right. Some children love to learn. But a lot of them won’t learn anything other than how to reach the next level of their video game without prodding. As a parent, you have a responsibility to ensure that your child learns what she needs to know to survive and thrive.
Whether a documentary on the civil-rights movement is a “must-know” for a 9-year-old – given that she will certainly learn about it in school as well – is debatable. But if you want her to learn about these issues, by all means, encourage your daughter to watch the show with you. Follow up by asking open-ended questions and sparking a discussion of the key topics. Many of our most important lessons are not taught in the classroom.
That said, your friend has at least part of a point. The human mind needs rest. Yes, you want to keep your daughter’s mind active during vacations. But all of us benefit from an occasional respite from our responsibilities. On vacation, don’t push the girl too hard. In this case, since she became interested in the show on her own, your actions made sense. But if she really didn’t want to watch the documentary, forcing her to sit through it would probably have made all three of you angry, and none of you would have gotten as much out of the material.
About a week ago my son had his first play date. We met up with some girls I knew in high school whose children are about the same age. When we were leaving, I helped one of the moms carry out some stuff to her car. The straps of her car seat were falling off her son’s shoulders, way too loose. I said “You may want to tighten up those straps so that they stay on his shoulders.” She gave me a weird look, so I backed off and didn’t say anything else. Then she left. Usually I’m all about people minding their own business, but in this case I chose to speak up. Was I out of line?
Not at all. You weren’t criticizing the woman’s ability to match her boy’s shirt and pants or commenting on the kind of peanut butter she serves. Many parenting issues are subjective. And when you experience such differences of opinion, you’re better of holding your tongue unless you have a good relationship with the parent. However, in the case of the car-seat straps, you were dealing in fact, not opinion.
There are limits as to how far you should go in an effort to correct the behavior of another parent. However, you can rest assured you did not overstep your bounds. Given the importance of car-seat safety, a further explanation of the safety risks would not have been inappropriate, even after receiving a “weird look” from the mother.
If a woman you haven’t seen in years thinks less of you for trying to prevent her from putting her child in harm’s way, you have lost nothing of value. And next time you see someone keep their car-seat straps too loose, feel free (using your most polite and kindly voice) to speak up.
Thank you for reading today’s Q&A. Check back here tomorrow for another installment of the Ask The Dad advice column. If you’d like to submit an Ask The Dad question, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org .