Tuesday 18 June 2019

The best way to talk to young children about the abortion referendum, according to an Irish psychotherapist

Stella O'Malley
Stella O'Malley

Psychotherapist Stella O’Malley feels that Irish parents of children under-12 should feel comfortable to discuss the abortion referendum with their children on some level.

Ms O’Malley, author “Cotton Wool Kids”, says most of all, the time leading up to the abortion referendum on May 25, is an opportunity for Irish parents to help their children foster their critical thinking.

“This is a huge opportunity for critical thinking to be fostered between the seven- and twelve-year-olds of Ireland.”

It’s also an opportunity to “encourage the child to think for themselves, and also encourage the child to think that there are inappropriate images all over the place. They’re going to be faced with inappropriate images online many, many times over the next ten years, and you could say as a parent ‘you know the way I’m always bleating on about parental controls… it’s because I don’t want you to see certain images that maybe you’ve already just recently seen’.”

“It gives them a context to what this famous word ‘inappropriate’ is, and it gives them a way to realise ‘oh I see what she’s talking about. It’s not necessarily funny or anything, it’s actually not very nice.”

“It also gives your children an opportunity to get an insight into extremism, into politics, into the way people will use scare tactics to try to convince you over to their side. And to how it’s their job to hold their own, and listen to points, and not necessarily go on one side or the other. So you can really, really empower your children with this. So long as you say, if you’re scared, you’ve got a choice to look away just like you will have online.”

Ms O’Malley told Newstalk presenter Ciara Kelly yesterday that children under 7 or 8 years of age will be happy with a simplistic conversation around the abortion referendum.

“It’s different for different ages. Up until the ages of 7 or 8 really it’s quite a simplistic conversation where you talk about maybe mammy had a pregnancy, a person had a pregnancy, and they didn’t want it to continue, and so they went to the doctor and the doctor fixed it up.”

The conversation can become more complex for children between the ages of seven and 13, Ms O’Malley advises.

“Yeah, a lot of parents strongly believe that there hand has been forced into conversations that they didn’t want.”

But she added: “The referendum is coming. I think you’re doing these children a favour by bringing it on and having the conversations, saying ‘do you know there’s a referendum coming up? Do you know what a referendum is?’”

“I think this very strongly, that between the ages of 7 and 13, they’re learning hopefully how to think for themselves, and you’ve an opportunity as a parent to give your child the gift of thinking for themselves… and not to indoctrinate them.”

Parents, Ms O’Malley suggests, should tell their children: “’[A referendum is] when nobody can agree and they need to ask everyone in the country’. So you’re talking about politics there, you’re opening it up [to your children].”

“You might say that ‘people are so polarised that they go from one very, very stark truth to a complete opposite. And these people can be angry, and sometimes they might put up inappropriate pictures to convince people their way. That can upset children and it can upset people, what do you think of that?’ [So] you’re actually talking [to the children] about politics and fundamentalism.”

“It’s a very interesting conversation for children to hear that there’s such a thing as polarised opposites, and there’s such a thing as the middle ground where there’s a whole wealth of people who you won’t hear about, who won’t be on the radio, who don’t get their voice heard as much.”

“You’re bringing in conversations in quite a nice way where they’re thinking about the world, they’re thinking about politics, they’re thinking about how to conduct yourself in the political world. And then you’re coming to the issue of abortion. Rather than going straight in (here’s abortion, this is my view and this is what you should think.”

Irish parents should feel confident to offer their children a spectrum of views around the abortion referendum, and to ask them what they themselves think.

“The good news is there’s a wealth of ways to go at this. There isn’t only one way,” Ms O’Malley told Newstalk.

“You could say some people believe this is all about the woman’s body and it’s all about the right for a woman to make decisions of her own, and bodily autonomy is what that’s called.”

“However, other people say ‘well if the Mommy is carrying a baby, that might infringe on that woman’s rights. And that’s a huge thing, and that’s why people get into politics because they’re interested in these subjects.”

“Questions are more interesting for children than answers, so you could say, one of the big aspects of this abortion referendum is when does life begin. ‘When do you think life begins?’ you could ask the child, ‘because some people think life begins when, as it were, you were the sparkle in daddy’s eye, or was it when the egg fertilised, or was it further on? And that’s a huge, huge issue in the abortion referendum, because I would say for most children that’s news for them. When does life begin is a big question.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘and this is what I think’. I’d say: ‘I’m not going to tell you, because if I say this, you’ll think that’”

She added: “I would give them a spectrum of views because I think it’s very interesting for the child to know that there’s an argument going on, there’s a lot of different people who really disagree, there are a lot of fundamentalist views, and on some level, the child will need on some level to have thoughts that there isn’t just one truth on this, there isn’t just one answer, and that it’s perfectly OK for an eight-year-old or a 12-year-old not to be sure where they are.”

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