By Alyssa Whitford
The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade has captured the nation’s attention.
For nearly 50 years, abortion has been protected as a Constitutional right. However, in June, 2022 the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, giving the power to allow or prohibit abortions to each individual state. This has sparked passionate responses across the nation with some states moving to ban abortion and others working to become safe havens for those seeking abortions. Both pro-choice and pro-life groups have led demonstrations as politicians across the spectrum have issued their reactions.
In the midst of ongoing policy changes and controversy, you may be wondering how to talk about the Supreme Court’s decision with your child (or children). You may even be wondering if you should have this conversation, especially with younger kids.
Discussing complex and even controversial topics with children can be intimidating, but these conversations play an important role in helping kids understand the world around them. Research shows that children are often exposed to social topics, especially those that are at the forefront of public attention, but might not have tools to make sense of these topics on their own. This can be confusing and even scary for children as they try to understand what is going on around them.
By discussing the overturning of Roe v. Wade, you can help your child make sense of information they may be receiving while also supporting their critical thinking skills.
Below are five steps for talking to children about Roe v. Wade.
Take Time to Prepare
Before beginning the conversation, it may be helpful to do some additional research. Although information about Roe v. Wade (and its overturning) has certainly been everywhere lately, it’s beneficial to know as much as you can about the topic before talking to your child. Kids will likely have questions about abortion itself along with what it means to have, or not have, the right to abortions. Although you can never anticipate every question a child might ask, a little extra research will help you be as ready as you can be.
You may also want to prepare by setting aside an uninterrupted time during which your child has the space to listen and ask questions in a safe environment. When discussing any sensitive topic with kids, it is important that they feel welcome to listen, ask questions, and share their views. Whether this takes place in a cozy area of your home or over a sunny summer walk, creating a space that feels comfortable to your child can set you up for success.
Listen and Clarify
To begin, ask your child what they already know. Children gather information from all kinds of sources both inside and outside of the home. They may be as likely to be considering what they’ve overheard on the news as they are what they have been told on the playground or at the park. Kids might even gain information from billboards or bumper stickers as they ride in the car. Because this information is coming from so many different sources, it might be incomplete, confusing, or even inaccurate. In this case, it is helpful to know what, if any, questions or misconceptions your child has so that you are not building on a faulty foundation.
Asking your child what they know also allows you to provide the right amount of information. Depending on their level of exposure to the topics of abortion and abortion rights, some children might know quite a bit, while others might need more background information. Discovering what information your child has already heard allows you to meet kids right where they are to start your conversation.
Abortion, and therefore abortion rights, can be a sensitive topic, and you may be wondering how to address this with your child in a way that is informational and age-appropriate. To accomplish this, begin with a factual approach that gives your child an overview of abortion and the new changes in abortion rights.
A few key points that can set a foundation for the discussion are:
- The legal definition of abortion is the intentional termination, or ending, of pregnancy.
- In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that abortion is a Constitutional right. This means that the federal government can make sure that abortion is legal in each state. This court case that led to this ruling is known as Roe v. Wade.
- In June 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade. This means they decided that abortion is not protected by the Constitution, and therefore each state can decide whether or not to allow abortion. Because of this decision, some states will continue to have legal abortions available, while others will ban abortions. In general, abortions will likely be less available across the country.
While explaining these points, it is important to use child-friendly language that is informative but not graphic. You should also avoid using images that might scare children. Instead, calmly explain both sides of the issue, reminding kids that they can ask questions any time.
Ultimately, you know your children best and can determine the amount of detail you provide based on their age and your comfort level. When talking with older children, you may (or may not) choose to offer more details about the process of abortion, why individuals might seek abortion, or the ongoing protests and changes in policy. You may also feel comfortable providing resources for them to do further research. It helps to determine the level of detail you feel is appropriate for your child before beginning the discussion so that you are not caught unaware by any questions your kids might ask.
Share Your Thoughts
You may have strong feelings on this topic might be wondering if it is okay to share your own thoughts, emotions, and even fears related to abortion rights. Once your child has had a chance to think the issue through, don’t be afraid to share your feelings and reactions. It may be challenging to wait until the end of the conversation, but allowing your child to explore the issue factually first can have great benefits for their critical thinking skills.
Take Action Together
It is important that children feel that they have a voice in social issues. Your child may develop strong feelings about abortion rights as they reflect on your conversation. If this is the case, you can offer your child options for making their voice heard and can even join in! Here are a few options for taking action:
- Write a letter your local or state government
- Find and join local, child-friendly marches or demonstrations
- Donate or otherwise contribute to organizations that align with your beliefs
- Raise awareness through making signs or other displays
Author: Alyssa Whitford is a former elementary teacher and current professor of education at Hope College in Holland, MI. She is also a parent to two kiddos of her own, both of whom have taught her a lot about discussions with young children!