Children are at a precarious stage of their life with regards to understanding the importance and necessity of rules. Children who are more precocious or rebellious often do not quickly take to obeying the rules as children who are more inclined to be obedient or respectful of authority figures. The key problem here is that children or even teenagers sometimes have not reached a developmental point where they can predict the long-term consequences of actions and then relate those outcomes to a system of rules.
In fact, a number of studies point to the fact that decision-making skills are significantly linked to the developmental status of the frontal lobe of your brain, which does not finish until the early 20s for most people. Interestingly, this research surrounding frontal lobe development for teenagers - along with a string of very public drunk driving accidents related to teens in the 1970s - was part of the impetus behind the change in the legal age to drink alcohol to 21 in the United States.
So, answering exactly how to communicate the importance of safety to kids requires a degree of nuance in its approach because the last idea that children or teens want to accept is the idea that they have to follow a set of rules because their brains are not developed fully yet.
In order to communicate the value of safety to children, you will need to try to get into their shoes and level with them. To fully convince a child or teen about the importance of safety involves relating to them on a more personal level. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can accomplish communicating these important values successfully.
Try to Avoid Negative Approaches
As obvious as it sounds, convincing children or teens of something they’re not interested involves the same ideas as convincing anyone in general: you don’t want to start off by antagonizing them or getting on their nerves in any way if it’s possible. Now, negative approaches is a rather vague term. But, it’s very easy to imagine a number of common ones like methods that involve yelling, moralizing, lecturing, and so forth.
Keeping emotion out of the exchange and discussing the issue without attacking are at the top of the list in a Scientific American article by Michael Shermer on the how to convince someone when stating the facts fail. It is crucial that when you are trying to convince someone that you realize that only the person you are dealing with can choose to change their minds. You can influence and point them in a certain direction, but the final decision lies with them. As the old saying goes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
Empathy arguably exists as one of the most important tools in your arsenal when you are trying to persuade children on the importance of safety. Children really do not want to hear about why you believe safety should be important from your point of view, so you will have very little success in convincing them if you don’t first try to walk a few steps in their shoes. Put another way, explaining the actual, explicit reasons for the existence of rules and safety is expecting a child to emphasize with your viewpoint. Of course, such an expectation is completely unrealistic.
So as absurd as it may sound, in order to convince children that safety is important you will need to first approach the issue of safety from the perspective of that child. You will need to think about why safety fits into their specific set of self-interests and then make an appeal in that direction with the hope that they can relate to it.
In a space where the intention is to keep a rational, objective atmosphere, empathy has been described as counterproductive. This notion arises from the fact that engaging in empathy means focusing on an individual and attempting to step into their perspective. That sort of exercise is inherently subjective and carries a number of risks.
However, in the situation where you are trying to bridge a gap in communication that doesn’t exist because of disagreements over objective facts, empathy is a powerful tool to employ. The use of empathy to bridge a connection between yourself and a child just so happens to fall under this category as one of those ideal cases.
By reducing the chances of failure by controlling for factors that are likely to lead to mishaps in persuasion like negative approaches and priming yourself in a relatable way through empathy, you will have a better shot at relaying important values like safety to a child in a manner meaningful to that child.