Confirmation Bias – How Guilty Are Parents Of This?

Confirmation bias is one of those things we’re all guilty of, especially as parents.  However do we realise just how far we go to prove our point or to reinforce what we really believe?

Sometimes of course it can be completely unrecognisable that we’re even being biased at times, because as parents we can be having so many different conversations with different people or we have that much information going on in our minds that we do become selective on the information we remember.

Because of this selectivity when we look to confirm our beliefs further via search engines or even social media, we simply look for what we can remember to support our original belief!

Of course I’m a firm believer that not too much thought goes into confirmation bias and that the majority of the time we are doing this subconsciously.

For example we search online through our social media accounts of our friend’s children to see if they’re also indeed wearing the latest branded “must have” school shoes.  You’re not looking for anything else just those children wearing the shoes you’ve spent an obscene amount of money on for your child, because you don’t want them to feel like the odd one out!  Of course everywhere you look, (you’ve subconsciously created the search and you’re only looking for a certain thing) everyone is wearing these new branded shoes, so you’ve reinforced to yourself that the decision you made was of course the right one.

Or what about when your child comes in asking for a strange part of their body pierced or a tattoo?  Depending on your pre-existing belief depends on what you then go on to talk to your child about.  For example do you find a number of news reports about children being admitted to hospital with infections from dodgy piercings or non-sterilised needles?  Take them to the nearest nursing home to find the eldest person with tattoos to show them what it looks like when you get old?  Or do you show them social media sites of great, stylish tattoos?  Or safe piercing companies in your area?

It is these types of conversations which are probably done without giving too much thought to what we’re doing. In our own minds, we’re simply showing them the information which we believe to be true without accepting that their might be an alternative point of view.

One-sided argument

I think for parents confirmation bias occurs more because we don’t always want to be seen as ‘wrong’ in front of our children and of course with the ease of technology and finding out information, we don’t want to be proven and shown we are wrong.

So on occasion we do have a tendency to only show one side of the argument and hence the bias grows and deepens.

For example, you might believe that left handed-people are more creative than right-handed people.  A belief that has probably been passed down from your parents.  What happens is when you then meet a left-handed person or you know a left-handed person you seek out evidence to confirm your point.  You look up information and research that will only confirm your point.  Your children are then told this and because you’ve justified it with clear examples and online proof, they too believe it.  Why should they question it and look at alternative answers?!

Look and you shall find

There’s the saying “we only listen to people who tell us what we already believe”.  Nothing can be truer then when it comes to having a conversation with our children.

Child:  I’m going to play out with my friends.

You: No, we’re off to visit Grandma today and then you have homework to finish.

Child: Cool, then when we get back I can play outside.

You:  No we won’t be back until late and you still have to finish your homework.

Child: Cool, we’re off to Grandmas, then I’ll do my homework before playing outside with my friends.

You:  Irritated now – NO, YOU ARE NOT PLAYING OUT AT ALL TODAY, WE HAVE A FULL DAY OF PLANS, A FULL DAY.

Of course I’m being harsh when I comment that it is only children who only listen to people who tell us what we already believe.  As parents we’re also guilty of this.

We’re presented with so much information online through news sites, social media feeds etc. that we can’t actually make a decision.  We listen to, too many people, all with different views and opinions. Then we search online after hearing the latest viewpoint and only seek out information about this particular view, until we find something else which catches our eye and we start the process again!

Pros and cons

Confirmation bias has a number of ups and downs.  We have to be careful as parents to not just look out for the confirmation of certain things and miss out on other valuable opportunities to notice when our kids are performing well or doing something positive.

To help avoid some of the pitfalls of confirmation bias we need to look to be more curious.  If there is something you’re not 100% on then check it out.  Don’t simply search and look for things to support your viewpoint.  Which leads on to being willing to consider other people’s point of view.  You might not agree with them but getting all of the facts and information from both sides will help you to make a more informed decision.

Again, as parents it can take a huge amount of courage almost to delve deeper into our own beliefs and values and to some extent question them.  You don’t have to change them but when talking to your children it’s important to give them all viewpoints so they can make up their own minds and make their own decision and choices.

Important to note is the use of “always” and “never” and to be mindful of how we use these.  Everything and everyone has the capacity to change, for example, “James is always naughty” – does he then live up to this because all we see is his bad behaviour, when really the positives are being overlooked?

No one likes to have their beliefs and values challenged and we especially don’t like being challenged by our children.  But in order to help them to grow and develop we need to be open-minded about where and what information we seek to find.

Taken from the November 2017 issue of Geek Parenting, out now!

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