Today they walked but tonight we LISTEN.

Today your teen will have an opportunity to be heard.

As students across the country walk out of class, some students will have a deep purpose behind their steps. They may be well informed on the issues and the movement. They may feel strongly about gun violence, gun control, or student safety in schools. Their choice may be to show support for the #neveragain movement and to honor the lives of the students lost in school shootings. They may have a sign to carry with a pithy saying on it. Their voice may be loud. They may be angry. They might be sad. They may be scared.

Photo by GettyImages

Many of them, though, will leave the classroom simply because other students are walking out. They may be in the middle or the back of the crowds. They may be uncomfortable. They will be observing the most powerful influencers in their lives — their peers. They may agree. They may disagree. They may be wondering why they just don’t really give a shit…..

They may stay and not walk out at all.

Teenagers and adolescences CRAVE opportunities to be heard (this is a big FYI in case you didn’t know). All of them. Unequivocally. Without exception. (It’s a developmental brain thing*)

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When I taught 8th grade environmental science for 10 years I knew my REAL JOB was not to impart the chemistry content behind many of the issues we explored, but rather it was the opportunity given to me on a silver platter to engage with and to connect meaningfully with 13 and 14 year olds.

How?

I let them have opinions. I gave them time to have a voice. I reserved judgement and critique of their ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

I wanted them to provide evidence and support. I expected research and reason. I certainly demanded civility.

But they could always be heard.

This is one of those brilliant (and fleeting) moments to have a conversation with your kids that has nothing to do with grades, sports, friends, technology, homework, getting a JOB, hours wasted on Fortnight, short skirts and bare midriff tops, feeding the dog, taking out the trash…. sorry — lost myself there for a second.

How can we hear our kids tonight? Try parenting like a teacher.

  • Be circumferential.
  • Ask some questions.
  • Challenge.
  • LISTEN.

Stay on the fringe of the “debate” piece of this. If they want to know your opinion, they will ask. Oh, and don’t be offended when they don’t ask. (They probably won’t because you know they don’t really care what you think, right?) So remove emotion and judgement. They may say really, really out of line things. They may be spot on with their observations and opinions. They may be focused on the wrong aspects of the debate in your opinion. But today, right now, it is not about YOU. It is all about them. So stay on the fringe.

Engage with questions, but make the questions non-threatening. Don’t put them on the spot to explain and to justify their opinions and feelings. They don’t know anything. Really. They are feeling things, they are processing things, they are getting things right, and they are getting things wrong. Instead, try to ask questions that encourage them to keep on feeling, thinking and processing.

The only challenge in this conversation should be asking “what’s next”. If this is an issue they care about, ask them if they are willing to do something more. Would they make make sacrifices to do something about it? You can ask about what would mean enough to make a sacrifice in their lives.

Ok, I know by this point you are dying to say something. Or maybe you are so uncomfortable with the stuff coming out of their mouth that you just want to run away and suck your thumb for a bit. Either way it is all good….but KEEP biting your tongue when it comes to you. If you are still with me, try throwing out some general thoughts like …

nothing right in the world ever occurs without a fight — or at least without. some discomfort

the ritual of protest is a powerful agent of change

Or go all in with some quotes….

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
― Desmond Tutu

“The duty of youth is to challenge corruption.”
― Kurt Cobain

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
― William Faulkner

Too much? I get it. My kids are used to it… but you may want to ease in slowly.

More than anything I really hope you gear yourself up for this tonight. It matters, it really does. Have a glass of wine, get your yoga on, do what it takes to get in the right mindset tonight.

Today they walked but tonight we LISTEN.

*I am hosting an on-line Facebook book club in March/April. Our book is The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen, M.D. The more the merrier — please join us. https://www.facebook.com/empoweryourlearning/

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