How to Tell Your Children That When You Look at Earth from Space, It Doesn’t Have Lines Like Maps Do

One of the most difficult parenting challenges is deciding when, and how, to break the news to your child that border lines don’t exist on satellite views of the earth.

Tell him too soon, and he’ll spoil maps for all the kids at school. Wait too long, and she’ll be a 14-year-old freaking out on an airplane.

While you’ll have to feel out the right moment to reveal the truth to your child, these tips will help you navigate the conversation.

  1. Pick the right place.

Five minutes before boarding a plane is not the right time to say, “Everything hanging on the wall in Miss Beebee’s room is a lie, except the alphabet written in cursive, classroom rules, cutesy poster explaining the branches of government, and basically everything but the map.” It’s easy to put off the conversation and hope that your child figures it out on her own, says Janet Jackson, a psychologist specializing in childhood development, no relation to the pop star. “But the more you plan for it, the more control you have over how well it goes.”

Choose a quiet afternoon when your child is basking in the last fleeting rays of the innocence of adolescence and say something like, “Hey Walter? Come into the living room for a sec — your dad and I want to talk to you about something.” (Note: if your child’s name isn’t Walter, substitute his/her name instead.)

2. Don’t use euphemistic language.

Sure, it’s easy to say something like, “You know how when Ashley drops a piece of cheese on the ground, we tell her it went to cheese heaven because that’s easier for her to understand?” But when you look back on your metaphor later, you’ll likely realize it made very little sense, and also was not pertinent to the conversation at hand. Metaphors are hard; that’s why people pay $60,000 for the rice cake of graduate degrees: an MFA in fiction.

Use simple and direct language instead, like, “In a few hours, we’re going to drive over the Canadian border, and you’re going to see that borders are more of a geopolitical construct, and less like that kind of grass spray painty thing they use on soccer fields.”

3. Keep the dialogue open.

Make sure your child knows you’re there to answer any questions she might have as she grapples with this new and confusing Google Earth satellite view. “Reassure your kid that if he has any questions, he should feel absolutely free to use your family data plan to Google them,” Jackson says.

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