Parents: The Power of Asking Rather Than Telling
I came across this post and it perfectly summed up an idea I have had about parenting in a way I could never quite put my finger on. Frankly, this quote makes me feel super powerless as a parent…but let’s explore it some more.
Think about it, thousands of years ago it made perfect sense to parent your offspring the same way you were parented, because not much had changed. There were stone tools that you needed to learn how to hunt and fight with, and generally the technology changed very little over the generations.
Today, technology changes at warp speed (pun intended) which means that the values our parents were raised with are applied in a drastically different way today. If we generally parent how we were parented, but in a very new world, then we are kind of always chasing our tail as it were. The world we were prepared for in our formative years looks very different today and I think it’s safe to say that the world we are preparing our children for may change just as rapidly.
Therefore, the most helpful way we can parent our children today is by helping them learn to adapt to change and think critically for themselves.
This is a much higher level of brain functioning than we have been used to handing down to our kiddos at such an early age, especially given that executive functioning skills are developed in the late teens to mid-twenties. If you think I’m full of it, I highly suggest listening to some podcasts or looking into some articles about the future of jobs and applying that information to what type of skills our young people will need to have in their generation. Below is a graphic that explains what executive functioning skills are:
In the future, creativity will have a much higher place among the skills required in social situations and employment opportunities than in the past. I believe the reason for this is the rapidly changing technology and our fascination with discovering the newest, most efficient technology for the future. Our children will need to learn to think outside the box and “dream big” in order to bring to their employer the next “new thing.”
What got me thinking though is how can we really ever fully prepare our children for what is to come when it is changing all so fast? And the only answer I can seem to come up with is that our children often know what’s best for them better than we do at times. They have power and information in a way that we just simply do not. I’ve always been a fan of young people because honestly, their capacity for flexibility (in mind and body) greatly surpasses an adult’s. Their creativity and solution finding skills are at an all time high because their brain is still developing connections at a rapid pace, whereas ours has slowed dramatically by the time we reach our 30’s.
My suggestion is to formulate a partnership with your child as best you can while keeping an open mind and asking more questions rather than giving direction. This not only balances the power differential, but also encourages critical thinking and executive functioning.
For example, my teen comes home the other night complaining about an argument she and a friend got into. I let her spill and ask her “How can I support you right now?” This question is meant to get her to pause, check in with herself and her emotions, and think about what she might need from this interaction. She then says to me, “I just want you to tell me what I should do.” Now, this is a tempting trap. I mean, who doesn’t like having all the answers right? AND its been solicited by my young teen! What a grand moment for my ego! However, I do not know the whole situation, I only know what she has told me, and I am also not her…so what I would do that feels really natural, might be a stretch for her. So instead I ask, “Well, how would you like to handle the situation?” She says, “I just need a break from her right now, I can’t talk to her anymore about it tonight.” I say, “Ok so how do you tell her that? Or do you? What can you handle and what is considerate to your friend?” She answered, “I will text her and tell her that I’m going to bed and we can talk about it tomorrow.” I reply, “That sounds fair, and look, you figured this out all on your own!”
My point is, rather than “lazy parenting” and telling them what you think they should do, or lecturing them while their eyes glaze over, or getting burned out by repeating yourself over and over again…why not ask more questions? Make them do the work of THINKING about it! They will not only be using THEIR energy, rather than burning up YOURS, but they will also be finding a solution that is right for them (which they are more likely to do anyway).
This is certainly a practice. If you have not been in the habit of asking questions rather than directing orders then it will take some time to get your mind used to approaching your kid that way. You may also feel this overwhelming urge to fall back into old patterns and “just do it” for them because its “quicker,” “easier,” and it will release the urge. DON’T! THAT’S LAZY PARENTING! In the end, you will struggle with a clueless, helpless teen and young adult who has a hard time thinking things through. They will NOT do it right every time. They WILL mess up. It WILL be hard to watch. BUT LET THEM DO IT!