5. Social Critique and Belonging
From the age of 12 to 13, in order for children to be able to articulate their disagreements with the status quo, they must develop their critical reasoning skills. As adults, we must, again, engage with these critiques if they are well-founded. This shows children that rejecting their endeavors is not the automatic response. This makes them feel valued and capable of exercising autonomous thought which can, moreover, influence adults.
In this way, critical thinking also—perhaps unexpectedly—makes it easier for children to accept at least a part of the cultural heritage that is offered to or imposed on them by language, upbringing, and custom.
Allowing a teenager to convince others through argument and logical inference makes them feel more able to become an individual without breaking away from the group—a rebellion-free evolution. If they are allowed to articulate their dissent, they may even find school or home life less stifling than social life in a peer group where they are constantly pressured to conform. Encouraging this kind of critical thinking also protects them from negative influences (cults, crime, etc.), since their critical toolkit allows them to stay lucid when faced with wild, dangerous speech and behavior (alcohol, drugs, etc.).
From as early an age as possible, learning how to argue and reason critically using one’s capacities for inference allows for a balance in adolescence between individualization and an acceptance of heritage.
Indeed, the need to distinguish oneself and to proclaim one’s individuality is always met by membership in a group—now often with the help of social media. This need is only met if these groups are not as prescriptive and stifling as the society from which the child is trying to escape and if they do not cause harm.
Part of critical reasoning is the development of the capacity to question environmental, familial, and social norms and prescriptions. But this requires competence in a universal language made up of inferential logic and the art of arguing, which comes from the critiqued society. Critical reasoning itself thus serves as lasting proof that one remains a part of that society. In the very act of distinguishing themselves from the pack, teenagers show they belong.
Cultural heritage—including language, law, food, art, manners and customs, traditions, and scientific knowledge—represents an incredible resource that is at once imposed and offered. Teaching children critical thinking and reasoning means that they will not simply dismiss this priceless treasure in its entirety even though they will partially free themselves from it. Critical reasoning makes the process of individualization less violent and painful for both children and parents, thanks to the balance between the assimilation of culture and a healthy questioning of it.
In other words, critical reasoning—expressed through argumentative and logical know-how and rooted in self-esteem and love—anchors children in reality, allowing them to achieve individuality in their own unique way. Cognitive faculties participate, in this way, in the psychological make-up of children. Critical reasoning has a twofold power: it is both integrator and liberator. It alerts us to the ways our culture forms us and helps us partly to overcome it. It is a fundamental pillar of our citizenship, on a national and global scale.
Critical reasoning serves as proof to children that they are listened to and that they are the primary drivers of their own destinies. Subsequently, they are predisposed to put their faith in the future and in others. They become psychologically and intellectually equipped to imagine a future with other people, in which they undertake communal projects and attain important goals.