Oh, man. Dylan is so amazing - I am so proud of him for always voicing his mind and speaking up for the animals. He's steadfast in his beliefs, has genuine information to back them up, and truly believes that everyone should be vegan. He is a great influence on his friends; most of them have become vegetarian or vegan (at least for a day!). But the time has come to teach him the appropriate vs. the inappropriate way to advocate.
Kids are amazing. They are so unlike adults in that they listen to information, rather than become defensive. They are curious out of pure curiosity. One of my favorite times of explaining veganism was to my daughters Kindergarten class. I picked her up from school one day, and one of the little girls said "Kayla says she can't eat pizza. Why not?" So, I explained that in our family, we chose not to eat animals of any foods that come from animals. And then endured twenty minutes of "well, can you eat string cheese? What about a snow cone? Can you eat hotdogs?" And trying the whole time not to laugh, I answered each question they asked.
In first grade, the questions were a little different; the kids were figuring out the difference between an animal and a vegetable. Kayla once got punched in the arm by a little girl for telling her her chicken nugget was dead (the girl called her a liar). I'm not one of those call-the-other-parent moms, so I didn't. I talked to Kayla about why she thought the other girl had reacted that way. Kayla decided that maybe she didn't know it was dead and felt bad (I agreed). She was more confused as to how this little girl didn't know "Mommy, they call them CHICKEN nuggets!"
In 3rd grade, after working with me on the Prop 2 campaign, Dylan decided that he would not be friends with anyone who ate meat or dairy. Man did I get some phone calls! But I was shocked when none of the parents were angry - they were calling for recipes!I think for most of them, the veg eating was short lived, and thankfully, so was his decision to only be friends with vegans. I am always proud when we expose people to a different kind of eating. Any decrease in meat consumption is a win in my book!
And now, Dylan is in 4th grade, coming home pissed off because his friends don't have the same knowledge he does. Knowing Dylan as I do, I asked him how the subject had come up. His reply? "He was drinking milk in front of me. I asked him to please not consume pus and blood in front of me". (Yes, that's verbatim!) Using all the counseling skills I possess, I asked "Hmmm.... how did he respond to that?"
Obviously, it didn't go well. So, we talked about how we could (gently) get the information across. So we looked up the info on some non-veg websites, to see if this info was right. We found out that milk generally does have blood and pus in it, but as the finished product is usually pasteurized, and does not contain this grossness. He was surprised by this, as was I - a lot of vegan propaganda is misleading in this info. But it was good to learn, and an even better example of why we have to be careful where we get our info!
But Dylan still wanted to make his friend understand that drinking milk is gross. We talked about how it's unnatural to drink milk from another species, and the pain and suffering many milk cows endure. He was very upset that his friend though that the animals die naturally before being eaten, so we talked a lot about how this couldn't be the case because of disease, age, money, etc. We read a few of the PETA magazines we have, and we discussed how we can educate other kids without making them feel badly (and how not to be rude). The ground rules we came up with:
1. Don't be mean or rude.
2. Don't say anything while the person is eating/drinking.
3. Remember that we are trying to teach people, not change them.
4. Make sure we have true information that backs up what we say.
Armed with these laws, he went back to school to talk to him friend. Dylan was able to get the information across this time, but his friend is still disbelieving and thinks he is 'crazy'.
I was so concerned; was it a really serious argument? Would they still be friends?
"Mom", he said. "You're nuts. Of course we'll be friends! I like him, and if we're not friends, how am I going to keep teaching him?"
Man, I love that kid.