Series – Talking to Your Youth (Part 4)

Insight 3. Encourage Critical Thinking

No matter how long you have had children, or no matter how long you have worked with youth, one thing is absolutely clear: We are not with these youth 24/7!

We are not there for every waking hour. We are not there for every life event. We are not there at every party. We just aren't! And that's ok!

I have worked with so many adults who want to be there for every waking hour, but we're not talking the supportive type of "being there" for our youth. We're talking "Helicopter Parents." I'm not here to tell you how to parent or how to work with youth. Your youth are not my youth. But there is a striking fact that will eventually become a reality, and that is that we are not there with our youth for their entire lives. Eventually, they will have to make their own decisions, use their own thinking skills, and use their own knowledge to form the best life for them.

I have a hope as an educator—and maybe you share the same hope. That hope is when I work with my youth, I want to create an empowered and independent individual who is able to brainstorm the pros and cons of different choices, make the best choice possible for their life, learn from their actions after the decision is made, and to encourage self-love even if the decision doesn’t go as planned (perseverance). The only way my hope will become reality is for me to model critical thinking: being able to brainstorm all possible outcomes, to think about the possible consequences of each actions, and to follow through with what I believe is the best course of action for my life. If you are working with your child or a youth who may not have refined critical thinking skills, we can provide opportunities for them to practice this with us present. This—critical thinking—is what I believe to be one of the most important lessons we can provide youth.

  1. Brainstorm - Let them talk to you about the possible options and possible consequences of each action.
  2. OFFER Alternatives - Offer your suggestions, but do not force them onto your youth. It's as if you are putting yourself in their situation and offering paths that they might not see.
  3. Separate Your Preferred Action From Their Preferred Action - Given a certain situation, we (as adults) would take one course of action. This does not automatically mean that our youth will take the same course OR that they should. They are in a different mindset, and it is my opinion and experience that you cannot (should not) force a course of action onto your youth.
  4. No Matter What: Support - Nothing is scarier than actually experiencing negative consequences of our actions. Statements such as, "I told you that you shouldn't have done that," or, "See what happens?" do not encourage youth to take positives away from their experience. Support their decision, and then provide support if they experience unwanted or unplanned consequences. Be loving and understanding.