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Teach Kids About Value of Debates

Updated on December 30, 2016

Abusive Parents

Social workers and other kids’ advocates have observed that if children grow up in a house of raised voices and fists, they are likely to do the same when they have their own families.

One of the contributing factors is the inability to talk things over, or compromise over a particular issue or stand. Nobody wants to back down.

A good debate is the art of putting your point across convincingly, without slamming the door on your way out, shouting, slapping somebody or drawing a gun.

Kids like playing, and moving chairs around the house and debating on reducing their pocket money, will be great fun.  Debates teach them that there are two sides to every story.
Kids like playing, and moving chairs around the house and debating on reducing their pocket money, will be great fun. Debates teach them that there are two sides to every story. | Source
Book about the Munk Debates on Gender held in Toronto Canada in November 2013
Book about the Munk Debates on Gender held in Toronto Canada in November 2013 | Source

Debate and not Debase

I recently read Are Men Obsolete, a book which recorded a debate that took place in Toronto Canada on November 15, 2013. The live debate was organised by the Munk Debates, which are held twice a year.

Peter and Melanie Munk came up with the idea in 2006, under the banner of the Aurora Foundation, to discuss law, politics, economics, gender and other world issues of the day.

Introducing Debates to Kids

Debate, at a very elementary level is talking and listening. Unfortunately, listening is in short supply. Debate is not just talking. It is saying something and supporting it. It is not enough to say I’m bored or Mum is boring. Give reasons.

There is always a topic for debate. Ask your kids. What are we going to talk about today darlings? For example, they had a topic in the book we mentioned a minute ago.

Chosen topic: Are Men Obsolete?

Pro: Someone who agrees to that. In this case it was Hanna Rosin and Maureen Dowd.

Con: Someone who disagrees that men are obsolete. In this case, it was Caitlin Moran and Camille Paglia.

The Munk Debates invite very high profile people from all walks of life, but you do not have to be Dambisa Moyo or Amos Yadlin to know how to debate effectively.

Your kids might be too young to know what obsolete means, but their minds are nice and warm and ready for any seeds you might plant. Just give them the bare minimum of what a debate is. Somebody says something. There are people who agree and those who disagree.

The answer to the question why is the central pillar of debating.

Home-based Debating Societies

The kids are always fighting about this and that, leading to parents as mediators.

“Don’t call your sister stupid.”

“Don’t hit your brother.”

Encourage Kids to Think Before Saying Something

  • Encourage your kids to try to support what they say very early in life. Coal is black, but your daughter says it is white. Let her support that. The sky is blue, but your son says it is pink. Why do you say that?

  • Parents sometimes go mad when they give instructions and kids say why? I once heard a mother at the mall asking her daughter, ‘why do you always say why?’

  • The answer to that question is the cornerstone of debate. You cannot say, 2015 is the end of the world and not substantiate it.

  • Also lead by example. Tell your kids that there you cannot go on vacation this year because you have less income that in previous years. Explain that mummy was laid off from her job at the magazine, so the family’s monthly income is now $10,000 less.

  • Parenting can be very stressful. That is why some parents resort to: “Because I say so.” That is not very helpful if you are trying to mold human beings who will be judged on how they deliver their lines in school, in the boardroom, computer room or sports locker room.

  • Instill in your kids very early that it is the manner in which they present their point of view that matters. It is not pointing fingers or pushing and shoving.

  • They will not be lobbyists like in the movie The Distinguished Gentleman starring Eddie Murphy, but they want good grades in college or promotion at work.

  • There are many cases that appear before Labor Courts where people are by-passed for promotion even when they are more senior. It might be their presentation skills, the way they interact with workers and management.

Debates between Mum and Dad

Charity begins at home and kids love playing adult. Younger kids love playing with their parents like riding on their backs, making the poor parents horses.

Kids will think it is fun, to act adult and be in charge of debates between mum and dad.

  • Use theatre to induce kids to play debate.

  • Start them young with debates that affect them.

  • Tell them mum and dad cannot agree on when kids should go to bed.

  • Explain in a playful way what a debate is.

  • Sit around the table and give them pen and paper.

  • How long do you think each parent should speak, 10 minutes?

  • Write a script, “Today’s topic is: Should kids should go to bed at 18 hours?

  • Speaking for the topic is Sipho Langa. Yes make it formal. Don’t write dad.

  • Speaking against the topic is Lulu Langa. Not mum.

  • Kids feel good about acting adult, like introducing their parents

  • Tell them about the importance of time in debates

  • They will feel responsible about babysitting the clock to ensure that both speakers don’t speak more than they should.

Debates Event Planning

Universities like Cambridge, Oxford and Durham in the United Kingdom have a long standing debating tradition, so they have debating chambers and other halls that are set up to hold debates.

Your home can be a debating chamber. Move furniture around. Show the kids how to design signs in the computer and print them in the home office.

Divide the responsibilities. Your daughter can be the event planner for example.

  • She must find the moderator, her uncle or cousin.

  • The event planner must sit down with the moderator and decide on time allocation i.e. 5 minutes for opening remarks and 20 for presenting arguments.

  • Rearrange furniture in the living room.

  • Go to Goodwill or Value Village and find an old bell for the table.

  • Yes you can time the debate with your mobile phone but a bell is more drama, more fun.

  • The debate can take place at the kitchen or dining room table.

  • Bigger houses have steps where the audience can sit.

Progressive Debates

  • The kids start by playing referee or moderator between mum and dad.

  • As they grow older, it is parents’ vs the kids.

  • Next round could be cousins, with the family watching.

  • The bigger the debate, the more logistics.

  • Kids could set up tables in the garden.

  • Hire microphones for the two sides of the debate.

  • Order food for the family debate.

  • This play-and-learn will bear handsome dividends at school.

  • Next thing you know they are top debaters in high school.

  • They end up in the final round of university debates when they are at McGill University or the University of Manitoba.

Value of Debating Skills

There is a saying in the language isiZulu which says the mouth should settle disputes because it is the mouth that caused them in the first place.

The term disrespect is common in rap and hip hop videos. The disrespect comes from what rap artists say to each other in real life and is transferred to their songs.

Lovers fight about accusations and counter accusations. The art of debating or speaking well will not stop lovers’ tiffs and teenagers disrespecting each other, but it will enable your kids to get used to ‘think before you leap.’


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