I was picking up my son from school and I could tell something was up by the way he pulled open the back door and jumped in. With all my children/teens I can always tell when something is up by the look in their eyes, but there are times when I’m not quite sure if it is good…or bad. Will this be a moment of confession before the teacher walks to the car, or is this just excitement that he traded for the “most awesome baseball card ever” during recess?

The teacher wasn’t making a bee line to my driver side window, so the first option was out for now. Still not sure of the direction this was going, I reached up and shifted the car into drive. I didn’t have to wait long before he answered my unasked question. He had a theory, and he wanted me to know about it. Here’s how it went down.

J:     Dad, I don’t have to study any more.

Me: Oh really. Why is that?

J:     She gave the spelling tests back and I got 85% on it.

Me:  It really sounds like you need to study more and not less. Help me understand what you are saying. 

J:     Well…I really studied this week and got 85%, but last week I didn’t study at all and got 100%. When I study, I don’t do as good. So I shouldn’t have to study any more.

How do you argue with that?

When you look at this conversation his logic is not the problem, because his conclusion actually matches his experience. The problem is that it is based on too little information. This. Happens. All. The. Time. Children and teens experience something once or twice and it is accepted as fact in their eyes. It is easy to look at this as foolishness on their part. I mean, who would actually make a conclusion based on such limited information (well….we adults do this all the time, but I’ll save that for another post).

In this moment of faulty thinking, it would have been easier for me to poke holes in his logic, articulating how inaccurate it was (because it was) and to eloquently list all the reasons why he WILL be studying for each and every test (DISCLAIMER: he is child #three of four so I will not be held to this unrealistic standard of parenting perfection). Or I could have just shut him down with a “You’re crazy” and left it at that. Instead, I just listened and asked a few questions to make sure I understood what he was saying.

There are times we need to flip the script to see what is right instead of what is wrong before we jump into the correction part of parenting. In every choice a child makes, even the bad ones, there is a demonstration of their strengths and giftedness. Those are moments when everything that is right about them is pointed in the opposite direction. I have learned that I address their errors with much greater success when I am able to see the entire picture. Here’s a peek into the other side of the equation I saw in this misguided kid trying to avoid studying.

1.) He was using his head. In an age where technology and media consumes everyone to the point that the only intentional thoughts are “where is the iPad?” I was encouraged to see him wrestling with what was happening in the parts of the world that he can control and attempting to apply meaning to them. He was logical within his limited set of experiences. If I would have shot him down immediately, then his takeaway could have been that his ideas are dumb instead of him recognizing that thinking through things is a good thing.

2.) He invited me to peek into his world. I know you may be thinking “Yeah, but he’s not a teenager yet. You just wait.” Communication patterns change as our children get older, and we actually want this to happen because we are trying to develop independent thinkers (that will live on their own one day)! However, independence DOES NOT equal isolation. I wonder if the shutting down of the lines of communication with our teens is more strongly influenced by how we handled the conversations they wanted to have in the early years more so than just becoming a teen?  You can not go wrong with listening. Remember, just because you are listening doesn’t mean you are agreeing.

3.) I know what “faulty” thinking to address at the right time. Just because I didn’t drop the hammer of truth in the school pick-up line, it doesn’t mean I am taking correction out of the equation. I am just allowing it to happen at the right time for the best results. If you are angry and spewing out “what they need to hear“, the most probable outcome is only you feeling better for the moment (maybe). These conversations typically result in minimal positive change on long term choice-making. At best, the choices will change temporarily…at worst, they will just hide what they are doing from you next go around to avoid your wrath. So please address what needs to be fixed. Just do it when they are ready to listen and you are thinking rationally.

PS. He studied for his spelling test last week, got an A….and I didn’t say “I told you so.” :)