"What? Teach my kid to debate?" one parent asked me after a debate presentation for 4,000 Minnesota home educators. "My kid debates too much as it is!"

Good point. I have two teenagers at home who know how to turn an argument on a dime. If I say, "Be home by 9," they ask, "Why not 10?" "Clean your room" is countered with, "It isn't messy." "Don't argue with me" is answered with the rebuttal, "I'm not arguing!"

Rather than waste all this natural talent, I had my kids enter the sport of academic debate. The skills my kids have acquired have helped them cultivate public speaking and witnessing skills, resist peer pressure, and has given them a better understanding of a logical argument. While adolescence is often characterized as a time to let their emotions loose, debaters are more apt to reason their way through problems and conflicts.

Healthy debate teaches these much-needed communication skills. It does not, however, produce divisiveness or rudeness. This misconception usually stems from a misunderstanding of what an argument is. Some view an argument as nothing more than a fight and debate as a manipulative means for getting one's own way. But an argument is also a logical process, and debate a productive method for getting to the truth of a matter. Many of the Bible’s heroes were great debaters: the prophets (Ezekiel 3:11; Isaiah 43:26; Proverbs 27:5), the apostles (1 Peter 1:13-15; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Colossians 4:5-6) and Christ himself (Matthew 28:19; Luke 11:33-26; John 15:26-27). Examples of debate are plentiful throughout Scripture.

In fact, God's Word shows that ignoring and avoiding debate is harmful. Many of the foolish kings of Israel were noted for their unwillingness to listen to the prophets’ reasoning.

Remember how the chief priests and elders questioned Jesus on his authority to heal in Matthew 21:23-27? Jesus responded with a good debate question: whether John’s baptism came from heaven or from men. The priests and elders refused to answer because they knew it was a loaded question. Another example was Pilate, who asked, “What is truth?” when questioning Jesus (John 18:38). Pilate never waited around for an answer, nor did he really want one.

Debate is a stimulating and healthy exercise for the mind, and if we want our children to be good debaters, we will want them to hone this skill. But how can we teach proper argumentation and debate in the home? By taking advantage of simple conflicts that arise within every family.

Start with something simple. In the following scenario, Timmy, 12, and Sarah, 14, usually share in clearing the table and loading the dishwasher every night after supper.

However, Timmy has been working hard lately on an exciting fort in the backyard, and written all over his face is the desire to snap on the tool belt and head back out to his project. Dad wants to encourage Timmy to get back to work on something he enjoys, but he knows Sarah would resent the favoritism, so he takes off his watch and says:

Dad: Timmy, I know you don’t want to do dishes because the fort you’re building out back is calling you. You have one minute to plead your case as to why you should get out of the dishes. Ready? (Dad starts his watch.) Go!

Timmy: Well, uh, let’s see. You all know how I have been using the old lumber in the shed to build my fort. Mom herself said it was an educational project. Just last week Sarah was cramming for her tests and I had to do all the dishes. You know how rain can wipe out an entire week’s worth of fort building, and this weather — 75 degrees and not a cloud in the sky — is ideal, and I need to take advantage of it. Besides, I did the dishes at lunch — a chore Sarah usually has to do — but I did it out of the kindness of my own heart. The least she can do is help me out in my education by doing the few dishes here. And one more thing. . .