In this country, we are free to openly believe whatever we see fit: that there is a God, or there isn’t; that aliens are out there, or they aren’t. We have freedom to believe in tarot, or witchcraft, or that we are all living in the Matrix. We can believe anything we choose to, regardless of it not being supported, or even being disproved, by evidence. And quite right, too. We also have license to hold whatever opinions we wish to, on everything from euthanasia to Prince Charles, from Syria to the X-Factor. And again, so we should. Furthermore, we have the right to teach our beliefs and opinions to our children in our own homes however we see fit. And yet again, I believe that this is as it should be.
However, I strongly believe that with this right must come a great deal of responsibility. You have the right to teach your child that the coalition government has put monsters under their bed, or that immigrants are responsible for all ill, or that everyone with different religious views to you is inherently evil. You could teach them your beliefs and opinions as rock-hard solid facts. Of course, as they go out into the world, and are educated by school and the media and experience, they will probably start to question these fallacies, but nevertheless you might succeed in planting ideas in your child’s head so deep-rooted that they are almost inextricable from the bedrock of their personal identity.
But refusing to present your views honestly for what they really are – opinions and beliefs – is doing your child a serious injustice. Right and wrong are undeniably not black and white, and to pretend otherwise to your child will do them no favours. Children have to work hard enough to make sense of the world as it is, without being lied to – and that is exactly what presenting an opinion as a fact is: lying.
We must bring our children up to think about issues critically and to hear both sides of an argument; to decide for themselves what they believe based on an unbiased assessment of proven facts and the beliefs of others, and to form opinions from educated standpoints. To function as a member of the electorate and as a human being, this is absolutely vital. We must not lead them to be easily manipulated, blindly accepting the views of others as concrete and following, sheep-like, anyone who seems to know what they’re talking about; or to be intransigent and stubborn, desperate to cling to unfounded and perhaps even damaging beliefs despite all evidence and sense.
It is absolutely fine to talk to your children about your beliefs and opinions, and explain why it is that you hold them, and why they are important to you. What is not fine is to abuse their trust and respect for you by falsely claiming that these beliefs and opinions are facts.