As a rebellious teenager in the 80s, "because I said so" was a phrase I heard all too often at home. I wasn't really a rebel. I just wanted to be heard and seen as a person starting to articulate their thoughts and emotions.
The feeling I had of not being heard or listened to led me to believe that it's important to raise kids who are not afraid to speak up, but who can also learn to adapt. Listening to them and collaborating with kids can also help them be creative and, eventually, allow them to be part of a successful organization.
How children interpret information
I didn't intentionally encourage open behaviors for my children, nor did I actively tell my kids to speak up. Nevertheless, on my eldest son's first day of kindergarten, we were called by his teacher. She told us that when she went over the rules of not fighting, pushing, and so on with the class, my kid had raised his hand to tell her that his parents allowed him to dispute and debate all the time.
It was true. I let my boys express themselves and be heard. But my kid's words surprised me. Only then did I realize that while I'd been doing something right, the fact is that how my kids act shouldn't just be a reaction to the way we educate them. Nor should we leave it up to them to pick things from second-hand context. That day was a game changer for me, and practicing an open culture officially and proactively entered our home.
Open for growth
When I was young, parents and elders were the knowledgeable ones.
As a kid, it was not always easy to get information. While I was encouraged to express an opinion, it was only up to the point where it was a normative and "easy to digest" one. Today, parents and teachers and kids all have the same means to access data. What you do with it is entirely up to you.
For example, when playing Scattergories in Hebrew, the word "virus" is normally the only animal starting with "V" that most people play. To gain more points, we decided to find additional animal names that qualified. In no time, we found not one but three new animals (my kid's teacher argued that a "wallaby" (spelled with a "V" in Hebrew) was not a real thing, but that's another story).
I teach my kids to read between the lines and never to accept things presented to them as "facts" without question. This allows them to practice critical thinking. It also allows them to question me, which leads us to open and transparent discussions.
Are these discussions easy? No. Do I always have the energy to conduct them? Absolutely not.
However, to help them practice the learn-to-listen "muscle," these conversations are a must.
Occasionally, we have to force ourselves to find time to focus our attention on our family. It takes time to build a robust and open culture, and as people change so does your family culture. You have to adapt and work to keep it alive. As leader of the pack, I have to provide my kids with a safe place, a place where they can openly share their ideas, a place where they feel belonging.
In a family, you have to collaborate and solve problems together. Listening to the different ideas and approaches to solving issues allows you to come up with creative (and yet not always to everyone's liking) solutions.
One issue in my home was the noise in the house when playing computer games. This happens mostly late at night and on the weekends. We sat down together and came up with an agreed-upon timeslot for noisy games. From then on, those who wanted to play knew when they could play, and those seeking some quiet time also knew when those times would happen. As kids grow up, the nature of the decisions and discussions change.
Does it mean that all decisions are shared with the kids? No. Does it mean that it's all roses? Absolutely not.
Encouraging kids to connect may end up with a broken vase for which no one seems to be accountable. It may lead to "because I said so" to pop in for a visit. However, having challenging yet inclusive conversations, encouraging innovative thinking, and including kids in decisions are ways of preparing them for adulthood. Hopefully, it'll make them better people, too (so far, this is working well, in my humble opinion.)
Open family culture
Practicing open culture is not a one-time thing. It's a journey, and it's a mindset. I believe it provides both my kids and me the tools to be resilient, open-minded, tolerant, and inquisitive both inside the house and out. Start an open culture with those closest to you, and take it with you everywhere you go.