Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids

Psychology Today

Tween’ brains are simply too immature to use social media wisely.

This guest post is by Melanie Hempe, RN, founder of Families Managing Media

Source: interstid/Shutterstock

I really love middle school kids. I have two of them! If you have been through middle-school parenting, you may have noticed what I see: Strange things seem to happen to a tween’s brain the first day they walk into middle school.

One might sum up their main goals in life this way:

  • To be funny at all costs. (Hence, the silly bathroom jokes, talking at inappropriate times in class, and the “anything it takes to be popular” attitude.)
  • To focus on SELF — their clothes, their nose, their body, and their hair.
  • To try new things. They are playing “dress up” with their identity, trying on things to see what fits. They are impulsive and scattered, they are up and they are down, and it even seems that they have regressed in their development on their quest for independence.

As the parent, you are changing, too, as you enter the stage of parenting when you quickly depart from the naïve platform of “My child would never…” to the realization that, “I’m sure my child did that. I’m sorry, and please excuse his behavior, he is going through a phase.”

Your list of daily parenting instruction may include statements like:

  • “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!”
  • “How many times do I have to tell you not the use that word?”
  • “Stop flipping that bottle!”
  • “Stop burping the ABC’s!”
  • “You’re acting like a two-year-old.”
  • “What were you thinking?”

Then it happens: Maybe because we are exhausted from their constant begging for a phone, or because we think that all their friends have one, or because we want to upgrade ours to the latest model…we cave. We act on impulse. Our brain seems to regress like theirs, and we give them our old smartphone.

And with that one little decision comes the world of social media access—something we haven’t thought about and something none of us is prepared for. Because the midbrain is reorganizing itself and risk-taking is high and impulse control is low, I can’t imagine a worse time in a child’s life to have access to social media than middle school. Here are just a few reasons why:

  1. Social media was not designed for them. A tween’s underdeveloped frontal cortex can’t manage the distraction nor the temptations that come with social media use. While you start teaching responsible use of tech now, know that you will not be able to teach the maturity that social media requires. Like trying to make clothes fit that are way too big, they will use social media inappropriately until they are older and it fits them better.
  2. Social media is an entertainment technology. It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job; nor is it necessary for healthy social development. It is pure entertainment attached to a marketing platform extracting bits and pieces of personal information and preferences from your child every time they use it, not to mention hours of their time and attention.
  3. A tween’s “more is better” mentality is a dangerous match for social media. Do they really have 1,456 friends? Do they really need to be on it nine hours a day? Social media allows (and encourages) them to overdo their friend connections like they tend to overdo other things in their lives.
  4. Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment. And, like video game addiction, early use can set up future addiction patterns and habits.
  5. Social media replaces learning the hard social “work” of dealing face-to-face with peers, a skill that they will need to practice to be successful in real life.
  6. Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family and instead view “friends” as their foundation. Since the cognitive brain is still being formed, the need for your teen to be attached to your family is just as important now as when they were younger. Make sure that attachment is strong. While they need attachments to their friends, they need healthy family attachment more.
  7. Social media use represents lost potential for teens. While one can argue that there are certain benefits of social media for teens, the costs are very high during the teen years when their brain development is operating at peak performance for learning new things. It is easy for teens to waste too much of their time and too much of their brain in a digital world. We know from many studies that it is nearly impossible for them to balance it all.

How Can Kids Slow Down?

First, we need to slow down and rethink what we are allowing our kids to do. We need to understand the world of social media and how teens use it differently from adults. Here are a few tips that work well for many parents.

  1. Delay access. The longer parents delay access, the more time a child will have to mature so that he or she can use technology more wisely as a young adult. Delaying access also places a greater importance on developing personal authentic relationships first.
  2. Follow their accounts. Social media privacy is a lie: Nothing is private in the digital world, and so it should not be private to parents. Make sure privacy settings are in place but know that those settings can give you a false sense of security. Encourage your teen to have private conversations in person or via a verbal phone call instead if they don’t want you to read it on social media.
  3. Create family accounts. Create family accounts instead of individual teen accounts. This allows kids to keep up with friends in a safer social media environment.
  4. Allow social media only on large screens. Allow your teens to only use their social media accounts on home computers or laptops in plain view, this way they will use it less. When it is used on a small private phone screen they can put in their pocket there are more potential problems with reckless use.  The more secret the access, the more potential for bad choices.
  5. Keep a sharp eye on the clock; they will not. Do you know how much time your child spends on social media a day? Be aware of this, and reduce the amount of time your child is on social media across all platforms. The average teen spends nine hours a day connected to social media. Instead, set one time each day for three days a week for your child to check their social media. Do they benefit from more time than that?
  6. Plan face-to-face time with their friends. Remember that they don’t need 842 friends; four-to-six close friends are enough for healthy social development. Help them learn how to plan real, in-person, social get-togethers such as a leave-phones-at-the-door party, a home movie night, bowling, board games, cooking pizza, or hosting a bonfire. They crave these social gatherings so encourage them to invite friends over and help them (as needed) to organize the event.
  7. Spend more real non-tech time together. Teens who are strongly attached to their parents and family show more overall happiness and success in life. They still need us now more than ever. It is easy to detach from them: Teens can be annoying! But attaching to family allows them to detach from the social media drama. Your child needs to feel like they can come home and leave the drama of their social world behind for a few hours. They want you to help them say no to social media and yes to more time with the family. They are craving those moments to disconnect, so make plans and encourage this at home.

Don’t give that smartphone all the power in your home; help tweens choose healthier forms of entertainment. They have the rest of their life to be entertained by social media, but only a limited time with you.

For more tools to help balance social media use from Families Managing Media, click here

To learn how to reverse the dysregulating effects of screen-time on your child’s mood, focus, and behavior, see Reset Your Child’s Brain.  

Advertisements

Student Contest | Our Fourth Annual 15-Second Vocabulary Video Challenge

A winner of our 2016 contest Killjoy, by Erika Kluge

We’ve been publishing a Word of the Day every school day since 2009, and in 2013, just as we were about to hit 1,000 words, we worked with Vocabulary.com and together announced our first Vocabulary Video Contest.

We liked the results so much that we’ve brought it back every year since.

So, for the fourth year in a row, we invite you to create a short video that defines or teaches any of the words in our collection, which is now over 1,600 words strong.

You have until Feb. 28 at 7 a.m. Eastern time to enter. All the rules and regulations, as well as some inspiration from past winners, are below.

As we like to remind you each year: Tenacity + a desire to edify + an enterprising nature – sloth = a beguiling result.

A winner of our 2013 contest Serendipity, by Nina T.

Q. I’m in! What are the rules and guidelines?

A. All words must come from our Word of the Day feature.

— Each word must be pronounced and defined, and the part of speech must be given. Please don’t forget: every year we have to disqualify many who fail to heed this rule.

— All definitions must come from either the Word of the Day or Vocabulary.com. If there are several definitions, you may use just the first one if you like.

— You must be 13 to 19 years old, but can be from anywhere in the world.

— Your video should be no more than 15 seconds, but can be shorter.

— You can work alone, with a partner or in a group, but only one submission per student, please, whether you’re working alone or with others.

— Use your imagination. You can act the word out, animate it, use puppets, draw, sing a song, create a dance, incorporate photographs, create a Claymation, or anything else that will help viewers understand and learn your word.

— Post a link to the video in our comments section with the name or names of everyone who worked on the video. We will watch the videos first to make sure they are appropriate before we approve your comment, so don’t worry if you don’t see your link for a day or two.

— Please make sure your video is public so that we can see it without a password.

— The contest ends on Feb. 28 at 7 a.m. Eastern time.

Here is a PDF of all 1,631 words we have published through Jan. 11, 2017.

Q. So we only post a link to our video on your blog. Where do we post the videos themselves?

A. Anywhere that you, your teachers and your parents or guardians are comfortable with, but please make sure we don’t need a password to access it.

Video hosting sites students have used in the past include YouTube, Vimeo, WeVideo, Magisto, Musical.ly, GoAnimate, PowToon and Google Docs. Make sure your video is shared with the public so our judges can watch it — especially if you are using Google Docs.

Of course, please follow the Terms of Service for whatever platform you use.

A winner of our 2016 contest Finesse, by Eric Seeliger

Q. Where can I look for inspiration?

A. Your first stop should be the posts featuring our 2016, 2014 and 2013 winners.

But if you’d like to learn more about developing vocabulary through multimodal expression, you might read some of the work of Prof. Bridget Dalton. In this article for Literacy Beat, she describes the step-by-step process she went through with her graduate students to have them create short videos.

Q. How can I choose a word, then learn enough about it to make a video?

A. To choose your word, you can scroll through our Word of the Day feature. Or, you can scan this lengthy PDF list of all 1,631 words we published through Jan. 11, 2017. (Teachers, you might choose the specific words from that list that you would like your students to use.)

Next, look up the word by putting it, along with the phrase “Word of the Day,” into our search, which you can find if you scroll down past the band that features our Lesson Plan subject areas. Read the entry to learn its definition, see how it has been used in The Times, and take a quick quiz to ensure you understand it.

You might next head to the Vocabulary.com dictionary, where you’ll find a friendly explanation and a rich supply of authentic usage examples from both current and classic sources.

Take a look at the entries for gnarled and disenfranchise— both from the Word of the Day — as examples. Once you have a handle on the word’s meaning and how it is commonly used, you can start to think about the most effective way to teach that word in a 15-second video.

A winner of our 2016 contest Disheartened, by ackstackful

Thank you for participating. Post the link to your video, along with the name or names of all those who worked on it, in the comments field.

You can also post your questions there, and we’ll answer them as soon as we can.

And if you want to know what other challenges we’ll be featuring on our site this year, check our contest calendar.

What Do Teenagers Want? Potted Plant Parents

Photo

CreditKim Murton

Many parents feel that their adolescents hardly need them anymore. Teenagers often come and go on their own schedules, sometimes rebuff our friendly questions about their days, and can give the impression that interacting with the family is an imposition that comes at the cost of connecting, digitally or otherwise, with friends.

So here’s a complaint one might not expect to hear from teenagers: They wish their parents were around more often.

I spend part of my time as a consultant to schools, where I see teenagers as they go about their regular days. On several occasions over the years students have explained to me that their parents are rarely home. Sometimes, they tell me why — a single mother works long hours, the parents have saturated social lives, a sibling is in crisis — and sometimes they don’t.

Regardless of the surrounding circumstances, the teenagers who say they are longing for more time with their folks invariably seem self-sufficient and independent. Knowing this, I often suspect that the same adolescent who laments her parents’ absence might only faintly acknowledge their presence when they are in fact home.

A new study from Australia confirms the importance of a parent’s physical presence on adolescent health. Researchers from the University of Western Australia studied 3,000 middle- and high school students, including 618 adolescents with one parent who lived away from home for long stretches because of work, like a job on an offshore oil rig or a distant construction site. The researchers wanted to know how the extended absences of these “fly-in, fly-out” parents might affect the emotional and behavioral health of their children.

Overall, most adolescents felt their parents were present in their lives regardless of their work hours. However, a slightly higher percentage of teenagers who experienced the long work absence of a parent had emotional or behavioral problems compared with those whose parents worked more traditional hours.

This echoes research finding high rates of emotional distress in teenagers who routinely returned to an empty house after school or whose parents were rarely at dinner.

Notably, research also shows that Australian “fly-in, fly-out” parents often stay connected during their long absences by regularly checking in by social media, texts and FaceTime — letting their kids know that even though they were away, they were still watching.

And findings also suggest that parents don’t have to be home all the time to be present in their children’s lives, but it helped to be home at certain times. A classic study connected the total time at least one parent was home before and after school, at dinner and at bedtime to improved psychological health in adolescents. Importantly, the studies of parental presence indicate that sheer proximity confers a benefit over and above feelings of closeness or connectedness between parent and child.

In other words, it’s great if you and your adolescent get along well with each other, but even if you don’t, your uneasy presence is better for your teenager than your physical absence.

That there’s value in simply being around should come as a source of comfort for parents raising adolescents. With younger children, we have plenty of opportunities to put our parenting muscles to work. We can read stories together, make up knock-knock jokes, build towers, or go to the museum. Our youngsters still like to join us for a trip to a grocery store and they usually come to us first with their questions or problems.

But with teenagers, it’s not always easy to know how to connect. By their nature, adolescents aren’t always on board with our plans for making the most of family time and they aren’t always in the mood to chat. Happily, the quality parenting of a teenager may sometimes take the form of blending into the background like a potted plant.

Many parents of adolescents instinctively know this to be true and find ways to be present without advancing an agenda. One friend of mine quietly folds laundry each evening in the den where her teenagers watch TV. They enjoy one another’s company without any pressure to make conversation.

Another routinely accepts his daughter’s invitation to work or read nearby while she sits and does her homework. Of course, sharing the same space sets the stage for the possibility of actively interacting, and we have plenty of research attesting to the benefit of talking with or advising our teenagers.

We don’t really know why our mere company would have such value for teenagers, but decades of research on parent-child attachment suggests an explanation. Ideally, children use their parents as a safe and dependable base from which to explore the world and exert their autonomy. Indeed, studies tell us that securely attached toddlers quietly track their parents’ movements from room to room, even while carrying on with their own activities.

While normally developing teenagers seek new levels of emotional and physical distance from their parents perhaps they, like toddlers, feel most at ease when their folks balance active engagement with detached availability.

The giving season is at hand and the holidays hold the promise of families having more time to spend together. Our hopes for joyful engagement with our teenagers shouldn’t keep us from embracing the benefits of simply playing the role of a potted plant. In the swirl that can come at this time of year, we might offer our teenagers a gift we know they can use: Our quiet and steady presence.

How to Raise a Good Human in a Digital World

Sierra Filucci Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two 

How to Raise a Good Human in a Digital World

As parents, we have many hopes for our kids. We want them to grow up to live happy, successful lives. We hope they’ll find love, maybe have kids of their own, and pursue their dreams. But at the bottom of all these wishes is the hope that our kid turns into a decent human being — someone who is kind, respectful, and honest.

How do you bolster these strengths as well as teach key skills such as teamwork, communication, and perseverance? For the most part, kids will learn these things by following your example and through experience gained at school and in their communities. But media is another entry point. Since movies, TV shows, books, video games, and social media are such a huge part of kids’ lives, it makes sense that kids can learn important lessons about character through media.

Here are some specific things you can do or say to reinforce character:

Watch sports.
Not only can watching sports with kids be a really fun way to bond over a favorite team or player, it can be a perfect opportunity to point out character strengths from teamwork to perseverance. After cheering over a big touchdown or basket, point out how important the linebackers or passers were to the score: Even though they don’t get all the attention, the team wouldn’t be successful without the admirable work of supporting players.

Share social media.
From Facebook and Instagram to YouTube, social media is ripe with character lessons. If you notice a post, photo, or video of something especially touching or beautiful, share it with your kid and comment on how much courage it took for the poster to share their story or creative expression. Discuss the risks involved with putting yourself out there and how important it is to take (reasonable) risks to be true to yourself, even though you might face criticism.

Expand your horizons.
Watching documentaries or movies about people who live very different lives can trigger empathy,compassion, and humility. During a family movie night, choose something out of the ordinary — a story about someone of a different race or religion, or about a community that’s less fortunate than yours, or a subculture with different values or beliefs than yours — and encourage discussion afterward.

Play video games together.
Gaming as a family offers the chance to practice teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and perseverance, while also having fun. Choose multiplayer games where gamers are required to work together to win. Model positive, respectful communication during the game (try “I need help over here” instead of “you idiot!”). If kids are trying over and over again to achieve a game goal, you can recognize their effort as well as their success.

Take a time-out.
Most households are abuzz as various mobile devices alert us to text messages or Instagram posts. But we can help teach our kids self-control by resisting the urge to respond immediately. Next time you hear a text message alert (and you know it’s nothing urgent), say out loud, “I don’t need to check that right now.” This lesson can work on social media, too. If you’re a Twitter or Facebook user and you see something that makes you mad, talk through with your kid why you don’t want to respond right away (“I might say something I regret because I’m upset” or “I’d rather tell my friend that this bothers me privately instead of publicly on Twitter”).

5 Ways To Raise Nice Kids

Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind

By Amy Joyce July 18, 2014
5 strategies to raise moral, kind children

Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, and the Making Caring Common Project have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. (The Washington Post)
Earlier this year, I wrote about teaching empathy, and whether you are a parent who does so. The idea behind it is from Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, who runs the Making Caring Common project, aimed to help teach kids to be kind.

I know, you’d think they are or that parents are teaching that themselves, right? Not so, according to a new study released by the group. (Chat with Weissbourd here.)

About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Weissbourd and his cohorts have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. Why is this important? Because if we want our children to be moral people, we have to, well, raise them that way.

“Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood,” the researchers write.

The five strategies to raise moral, caring children, according to Making Caring Common:

1. Make caring for others a priority

Why? Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied.
How? Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy. For example, before kids quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, we should ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend and encourage them to work out problems before quitting.
Try this
• Instead of saying to your kids: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.”
• Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry.
• Emphasize caring when you interact with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.
2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude
Why? It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.
How? Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job—make caring second nature and develop and hone youth’s caregiving capacities. Learning gratitude similarly involves regularly practicing it.
Try this
• Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbors and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
• Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.
• Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.

3. Expand your child’s circle of concern.
Why? Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country.
How? Children need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. They also need to consider how their
decisions, such as quitting a sports team or a band, can ripple out and harm various members of their communities. Especially in our more global world, children need to develop concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own.
Try this
• Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.
• Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the “caring and courage zone,” like comforting a classmate who was teased.
• Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.

4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor.
Why? Children learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect. They also learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?”
How? Being a moral role model and mentor means that we need to practice honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For our children to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We also need to respect children’s thinking and listen
to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.
Try this:
• Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child.
• Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.

5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings
Why? Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.
How? We need to teach children that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.
Try this
Here’s a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them with her. After a while she’ll start to do it on her own so that she can express her feelings in a helpful and appropriate way.

Gossip: The Best Gift Your Teenager Can Give You

NY Times Motherlode Blog

Photo

CreditIllustration by Allison Steen

“Hey Mom, you know Josh, the junior I played basketball with last summer? He’s selling Adderall to ninth graders.”

The sudden appearance of controversial “news” mid-conversation is standard teenage behavior. You can substitute the revelation of any number of transgressions, from dangerous drinking to precocious sexual behavior, for the drug sales, but the result is the same: one speechless parent, one teenager waiting for a reaction. Get it right, and what started off as a dropped bombshell becomes an opportunity.

Option one: Hit the ceiling.

This would be the knee-jerk reaction for many of us. Understandably, because the news and its delivery signal at least two problems. First, we’ve learned that a local teenager is trafficking in a controlled substance. Second, we’re getting the impression that our own teenager thinks this is no big deal. A forceful response – launching into a lecture, threatening to call the cops or at least Josh’s parents – might serve to hammer home the message that the sale of drugs, prescription or otherwise, actually is a huge deal.

But here’s the problem. Most healthy teens have knee-jerk reactions of their own when a parent voices a strong opinion: they feel compelled to take up the opposing side. In fact, I’ve had teens in my practice explain to me that they will refuse to do something they were about to do, such as put away a backpack or take the dog for a walk, if a parent tells them to do it. Blowing a gasket all but invites a teen to retort that “lots of kids take Adderall, why are you freaking out?” even when the teen has his own doubts about Josh’s behavior.

Option two: Let it slide.

Your teen is actually talking to you and telling you about what’s going on at school. A tirade will certainly ruin the moment and might shut down the possibility of valuable future communiqués. Perhaps it’s best to follow your teen’s lead; be cool and leave the line open should other concerns arise, especially ones closer to home.

This isn’t good, either. In my experience, adolescents run other teenager’s behavior past their parents when they’re bothered by it. They usually know that their peer is out of bounds, and they’re confused by his or her apparent comfort with the misconduct, and maybe the fact that other teenagers seem to be too. So adolescents take a flat, even supportive, tone and float these scenarios by adults to gauge their reaction. When parents don’t respond appropriately — when grown-ups don’t act like grown-ups — adolescents feel uneasy.

Option three: Unwrap your present.

Your teen just gave you an opening to have a valuable conversation. Go ahead and accept that gift. Imagine that you’re a journalist who has just been handed a scoop, and begin your evenhanded investigation.

Consider starting with a head tilt and a, “Huh, really?” or gently inquire, “What do you think about that?” (Your child will feel less uneasy already.) Or invite your teenager to join you on a fact-finding mission. Hop online together and research the dangers of taking un-prescribed stimulants, and the legal implications of selling them. If it becomes clear that someone needs to do something, engage your teenager in helping to decide who should do it, and how.

What if it’s too late? You’ve already gone through the roof or taken the alarming news in stride, and the moment has passed. This is still an opening. My favorite parent-teenager interaction is one where the adult finds an opportunity to apologize to the adolescent. It makes the parent more real and imbues the adolescent with dignity, two essential components of any effective parental relationship with a teenager.

Find the moment to say: “It wasn’t helpful when I freaked out. We got distracted from the serious risks that those ninth graders, or Josh, might face if he’s selling his Adderall.” Or “I wasn’t tuned in when you told me about Josh. I understand that you’re not involved in this situation, but there’s some stuff I want you to know.”

Even when they aren’t in the mood for a discussion, there’s value in treating teenagers as the thoughtful young people we want them to be. One longitudinal study asked parents of seventh graders to share their opinions on teenagers in general, then examined how the parents’ views linked to their children’s late-adolescent behavior. Parents who believed teenagers to be difficult, and immune to adult influence, went on to have twelfth graders who were involved in more troubling behavior than those whose parents held a generally positive view of adolescence. In short, teenagers live both up, and down, to expectations.

When we engage earnestly with adolescents around provocative hearsay we are allowed to have critical conversations, communicate high standards and make it clear that we’re available to offer help when needed. Sometimes with teenagers, the best moments start off in the worst way.

30 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR KID INSTEAD OF “HOW WAS YOUR DAY?”

When I picked my son up from his first day of 4th grade, my usual (enthusiastically delivered) question of “how was your day?” was met with his usual (indifferently delivered) “fine.”

Come on! It’s the first day, for crying out loud! Give me something to work with, would you, kid?

The second day, my same question was answered, “well, no one was a jerk.”

That’s good…I guess.

I suppose the problem is my own. That question actually sucks. Far from a conversation starter, it’s uninspired, overwhelmingly open ended, and frankly, completely boring. So as an alternative, I’ve compiled a list of questions that my kid will answer with more than a single word or grunt. In fact, he debated his response to question 8 for at least half an hour over the weekend. The jury’s out until he can organize a foot race.

Questions a kid will answer at the end of a long school day:

  1. What did you eat for lunch?
  2. Did you catch anyone picking their nose?
  3. What games did you play at recess?
  4. What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  5. Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
  6. What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
  7. Who made you smile today?
  8. Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse? Why?
  9. What new fact did you learn today?
  10. Who brought the best food in their lunch today? What was it?
  11. What challenged you today?
  12. If school were a ride at the fair, which ride would it be? Why?
  13. What would you rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?
  14. If one of your classmates could be the teacher for the day who would you want it to be? Why?
  15. If you had the chance to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?
  16. Did anyone push your buttons today?
  17. Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet? Why not?
  18. What is your teacher’s most important rule?
  19. What is the most popular thing to do at recess?
  20. Does your teacher remind you of anyone else you know? How?
  21. Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
  22. If aliens came to school and beamed up 3 kids, who do you wish they would take? Why?
  23. What is one thing you did today that was helpful?
  24. When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
  25. What rule was the hardest to follow today?
  26. What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
  27. Which person in your class is your exact opposite?
  28. Which area of your school is the most fun?
  29. Which playground skill do you plan to master this year?
  30. Does anyone in your class have a hard time following the rules?