censorship, courtesy, gatekeeping

(A question came up about kids repeating things they've heard on youtube and whether to, therefore, limit youtube.)

Kids repeating things they hear is one of those things that freaks parents out because we get hung up on ideas about modeling and fear that our kids are learning all the wrong things from a bad example. But learning of any kind – even modeling – isn't a simple case of pouring something in and getting something out. Learning is an interactive process. That's important.

When kids are learning about language and social issues they're always starting with parts of a whole. A phrase in one context doesn't always work in another context. Same with facial expressions, tone of voice, social cues. But to figure that out, kids aren't going to go look up a file on grammar or etiquette, they're going to experiment – they're going to play with words and phrases and cues as a way of figuring out the bigger picture.

That's really important to keep in mind, especially when kids are playing with things like “tone” and “attitude” - they're often not meaning what you think they're meaning. They're playing with a set of neat tricks. And because they're kids they don't always realize that something they think is fun or funny is understood the same way by other people. So when they get a response they don't expect, they're set up to do more figuring-out. Which means repeating the whole thing over again in yet another context to see what happens.

Feedback is important – it's part of how kids learn. Actions have an effect on the world, and kids want to know what those effects are so they can make better choices. Sometimes you can explain things like that to kids – tell them how you feel, blah blah blah, but learning often doesn't work through explanations. Sometimes it helps a lot to ask questions and try to get a sense of what your kid is trying to figure out. Do they think they're being funny or playful? Are they playing with the feeling of being powerful? Maybe there's a way for you to play along that also gives them some more, useful information. Rather than just saying “don't” give your kid a “do” - offer them other ways to express themselves, ways to have fun that are fun for everyone.
Also, a lot of times when kids are exploring in ways that are uncomfortable to us, we forget the value of Positive feedback – letting kids know that we appreciate their kindness, their thoughtfulness, their gentleness. When we forget to notice that, our kids don't have as much reason to value those cues, that tone, that kind of language. For kids, a lack of attention means something's unimportant. Bring more attention to the good stuff.

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