Recently I’ve begun working on a book for parents and other adults about ways to inspire conversations about philosophy with young people. As part of this work, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which all of the philosophy discussions I’ve had over the years with my three children have contributed to creating an open and inquiring give-and-take with them, which really comes in handy (along with a sense of humor) now that they’re teenagers (well, the youngest is 12, but he’s really a young teenager!).

From the time they were pretty young (four or five), we’ve explored together questions like the meaning of life, dreams, knowledge, the nature of thinking, whether something can come from nothing, friendship and time. Much of the time when the boys were young we began talking about these issues as a result of stories we read together, though as they’ve gotten older the conversations more often than not begin in the car on the way to some activity in which they are involved.

One thing I’ve observed is how comfortable the kids are raising any kind of question, from “How do you think the first word came to be? to “Can a fiction book be true?” I always try to pay attention to when a question is aimed at a larger philosophical issue, and to help it along with some questions of my own. It seems to me that as a result of years of doing this together, the boys are able to talk with my husband Ron and me about issues that come up with teenagers (drugs and alcohol, curfews, driving, college preparation, etc.) in a more calm and thoughtful way (well, at least some of the time!) than would have happened otherwise.

There is an easiness about our conversations that, I think, is in part due to the environment created by being attentive to exploring larger philosophical questions with them. These philosophical questions are unlikely ever to be settled in any final way, and I believe that having talked about them so often has helped us to communicate more straightforwardly about the almost equally difficult issues that arise in the teenage years.