One question I get asked quite often in various forms is – if we simplify ideas for children, are we not giving them enough credit for how much they understand? In other words, are we talking down to them?
In my experience, there are two reasons people ask this question:
1) They would genuinely like to challenge children, present them with new ideas and help them learn and grow.
2) They don’t want to put in all the work it takes to actually find out just how different children are, how best to communicate ideas to kids and to learn just what is appropriate for their audience.
Now because you are here reading this, I’m going to guess you’re far more likely to ask this question for reason 1 and that’s a great reason to examine how you approach children’s content. But an overwhelming amount of people who have asked me this question actually do so for reason 2. That is a huge mistake. That is how work ends up self-indulgent, not age appropriate and risks children picking up all the wrong messages or being left plain baffled. That’s really not giving children credit for who they are – creative, curious, wonderful kids. Not little adults.
Should we talk down to children? No. But worse than that is talking right over their heads. Ignoring that they are actually children and just blabbing out whatever we think makes sense to us as adults.
Communicating to children through television, games, apps, anything is really not all that different to communicating to a child in person. You don’t talk over them. You don’t stand tall and talk down to them. The best way? You hunch down or get down on the ground so they can look you in the eye. You get down to their level, smile and speak softly. That’s direct communication.
When we take ourselves down to their level, truly try to understand their point of view and how they see the world and tailor our communication with all that in mind, we can present children with new ideas, new words and even some very tricky concepts in a context that children will appreciate, enjoy and really comprehend.
Kids aren’t stupid. And yes, most are very resilient. They’re still kids. It’s not about talking down to them. It’s about getting down to their level and seeing the world the way they do.