Would you explain cloning/synthetic biology to a 4-year-old?

I only started this thread because I absolutely cannot solve this easily. Mods, if this counts as a thread on the same topic feel free to lock it.

(See this thread for some details although some of those have changed since the thread was started.)

So I have a protagonist: a 4 year-old boy (at this point) who’s a clone of Che Guevara and a child soldier. He’s not only a clone but a synthetic clone. What this means is that Che’s genome was sequenced in a lab, recreated using artificial genes and copied in an artifical gamete which was then placed inside an artificial womb. He’s raised by a clone of Fidel who leads a group of local bandits* in the part of the Sierra Maestra located in Guantanamo with his girlfriend, a local woman called Celia.

The story is actually set when he’s 14 but I was planning for him to learn some things (about the fact that he’s a clone and how he was created). I already have a good idea on when he’s going to know it and why they are going to tell him, but not how they are going to tell him. Because it’s really cheap and kind of lazy to have this “So wait— I’m a clone, you’re also a clone and neither of you told me?!” moment for angst.

So on that note, how would Dopers here explain what exactly cloning and synthetic biology are to a four year old, assuming the kid wanted to know for whatever reason? Would anyone just not tell them? How would you explain?

How much pop culture has this kid been exposed to? Y’know, cartoons, movies, comics, etc.? There’s a good chance at least one of those would have brought up the concept, at least in passing, especially if this is a world where human cloning is a regular fact of life.

And are they going to tell him he’s a clone of Guevara, or just that he’s a clone?

Oh yeah, forgot about that :o quite a bit. But most of the clones in the stuff he watches and reads are psychotic and evil, and/or unfailingly good and he mightn’t make the connection between them and real clones.

And they would tell him he’s a clone of Guevara.

When do you tell a kid he’s adopted? Do it then.

I think kids get more sophisticated as our culture progresses technologically, so they’d be able to pick things up a bit easier if cloning is a common enough part of life in this future society you’ve set up.

From what I’ve read on telling kids they’re adopted (mostly on the net) parents are advised to tell their kids from when they can understand.

Well, I have bright kids, but my current 4 year old, despite watching every episode of powerpuff girls multiple times, I don’t think understands anything about the difference between how she was made and how the powerpuff girls were made (they weren’t cloned, but were synthetic)

She does however now want multiple copies of something when she draws it (one for each family member). So she does understand the difference between drawing a picture, and photocopying it. That would be my best way to explain cloning.

Tell him in terms of Star Wars and the Clone Wars. Show him all the T-shirts and posters that already have his picture on them.

That and Sam I Am’s answer make a lot of good sense.

Oh don’t forget thebillboards!

EDIT to my reply to GuanoLad’s post:

I don’t really think telling your kid they’re adopted really works as an analogy to telling your kid they’re a clone. A better analogy is telling your kid they were concieved through donor conception or born through a surrogate mother or conceived through egg donation.

I don’t understand the question. Is this a novel or something? I have no idea what you are asking.

Not to sound rude, but look at the OP again. It explains what I’m asking pretty well (I think).

Seriously, yes it is a story. :slight_smile: And I really thought I’d explained everything clearly in the OP.

EDIT: Seems that I haven’t and the OP isn’t as clear as I would like. So OK, here’s the question in a nutshell. Imagine a four-year-old asks you what human cloning is. How would you explain it to them?
Consider this another late edit to the OP.

“It’s like an identical twin, but not born at the same time.”

He’s gonna be bummed about the royalties.

Thanks for that great answer, GB!

BTW just as a thought, would any posters actually explain the cloning/gene synthesis process to the kid in this situation?

I was four years old sixteen years ago and I remember that I was the kind of kid who kept on annoying adults because I talked too much and asked a lot of questions (including some that I already knew the answers too). If what I was like as a four year-old girl is anything to go by, a four-year-old boy would possibly be curious about everything, ask more questions once he got an answer to his first one, and keep on asking until he knew what he wanted to know, whatever that was. (And then they could tell him the rest later when he was older).

@Penfeather: LOL

EDIT: Not to mention that I was and still am obsessed with getting a straightforward answer to certain types of questions…

Last edit: especially when my parents said “Because I said so” when I asked why I had to do something I didn’t want to do.

No, I would not explain the process itself unless he specifically asks. Even then, I would offer the information in “layers” instead of explaining it all in detail from the start.

What you may not remember is that you were probably satisfied with a lot of answers that you got, at least at the moment. You may have come back with more questions later, but that would generally indicate that you were ready for more detailed information. A bright four year old boy might indeed be curious about everything, but once he gets a satisfactory answer to one thing, he just moves on to the next.

Adults often forget that things that are complicated are sometimes also very simple.* Overexplaining will usually confuse and bore a child. It’s hard to know what exactly the right level of detail you should give, but I can guarantee you that a 4 year old is nowhere near ready to understand the cloning process. His response to my suggested explanation above will probably be “what’s an identical twin?”

If you feel it’s important for him to know that he was grown in an artificial womb at that point, maybe you could look into how people talk to kids that age about adoption. This is a similar situation except that the “other mommy” is a machine. He won’t care about how exactly that works at that point, but he will certainly get curious about it later. Will the use of artificial wombs be common at that point, or will they still be an underground technology? The answer to that will affect how Fidel II will explain it.

Regarding “because I said so:” sometimes parents resort to that because they have already explained to the kid 7 or 8 times why they have to brush their teeth before bed, and they really just want them to brush their damn teeth and go to bed, and they just keep arguing, negotiating, and rules-lawyering because they don’t like the answer they’re getting. And sometimes they do it because they’re at the end of their patience for reasons that may not have anything to do with the kid and they know that if they kid keeps pestering them they’re going to blow up at the kid who absolutely does not deserve it at that moment, so saying “because I said so” is the lesser of two evils. I’ve certainly been there, and hated myself a little bit for resorting to it, but it was better than the alternative. And some parents are just authoritarian jerks, too, but by your description of your own behavior, I suspect you drove 'em to it a time or two. :wink: Having Fidel II drop that line at some point will lend a nice bit of verisimilitude to your story.

  • I’ll give you an example that makes me laugh every time I hear someone say “how can we possibly explain homosexuality to the children???” Well, my son explained it to me when he was about 4. He ran up to me saying “Mommy mommy mommy mommy!!! You know how men and women sometimes like to go out together?” I said yes. He said “Did you KNOW that sometimes men like to go out with men and women like to go out with women?” I said that yes, I did know that. He said okay and went on his merry way. He just thought it was interesting information and wanted to make sure I knew about it. I really can’t think of a better way to explain homosexuality to a little kid.

That’s the reason for the revolution.

The revolution will not be monetised.

Hand grenades and bullets cost money.