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Question Authority, Not Me

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Beth Falkenstein: My husband and my 11-year-old got into quite an argument recently. They were in the car, and she wanted to listen to a radio station that she and her friends had just called. He asked her which station.

girl and mom arguing

"Seventy-eight point something," she answered.

My husband -- who has requested that I describe him as "ruggedly handsome" -- asked if maybe she was looking for an AM station. When she said no, he tried to explain to her that the FM stations started in the eighties. (For the purposes of this posting, I will pretend that I also knew that.) But she was having none of it. She was as certain she was right as he was. The only problem was that one of them was operating out of a knowledge of the facts, while the other was operating out of a sense of unchecked self-confidence.

In order to make our daughter see the light, my husband had to chip away a little at that self-confidence. (Since it had been a rough day, he pulled out a jackhammer for the job, unfortunately. But that's a topic for another day.)

But the dilemma was a bit more complicated than a simple, "I'm right, you're wrong." We've always taught our children that grownups don't know everything, and that they shouldn't always doubt themselves when they disagree with an authority figure. I guess we needed to fine-tune that instruction a bit. We needed to point out that 1) sometimes the authority figure is actually right, 2) sometimes you are actually wrong, and 3) never contradict your father when he is tired and hungry. Even if he is ruggedly handsome.

The distinction between self-doubt and humility is a fine line to navigate, especially for a preteen. Fortunately, in this instance, the lesson was learned without a lecture in broadcast-radio wavelengths from my husband (or, me ... because, you know, I understand all that stuff, too). Our daughter called a friend and discovered that, indeed, she had gotten the station numbers wrong.

In a demonstration of admirable emotional maturity, she admitted that she was wrong and apologized to her ruggedly handsome father. But when I suggested that she remember this moment so that, should a similar situation arise in the future, she might hesitate before arguing, she resisted.

"Now you guys are always going to remind me about this time when you need me to believe I'm wrong," she fretted.

I hugged her and told her that she was absolutely right.

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Brian May 4, 2010, 11:48 AM

I NEVER Taught that to my Children. Thank God too. In 4th grade a teacher was wanting to rub my Daughters back and stuff and she knew exactly what to do. 4th grade mind you, got all her class mates (female) together and went right to the Principles Office and turned his azz in. Got all the girls to open up about what this guy had done and was trying to do to her. No charges were filed to spare the children from having to go to court. BS Swept under the rug and he was told to leave town and they would not prossacute him. Respect Authority YES BUT NO WAY THAT ALL ADULTS ARE GOOD PEOPLE !!!

tennmom May 4, 2010, 2:14 PM

My daughters (and husband) know I will never insist I am right unless I absolutely know I am.
I commend the daughter of the first commenter. I’ve also taught my daughters to respect authority but that doesn’t mean to sit by when the children know what the authority figure is doing is wrong.

Ten Tees January 8, 2011, 6:12 PM

Great info. Good reading. There’s a small point to offer about funny t-shirts.

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