Ask any parent what it’s like to live and raise a teenager, more often than not, their answer describes the hardest possible Sudoku puzzle or building a spaceship from scrap metal in a junkyard… it’s challenging (but not impossible). Teaching a teenager... fuh-get-about-it.
If you are currently raising, or have raised, a teenager, not only have you experienced your typical struggles but you have also experienced an uphill battle to develop your teens’ complex thinking and real life problem solving skills. Right? In reality, it doesn’t have to be such a pain.
So, how exactly do I encourage teens to tap in to complex thinking and support them through a journey of self-realization?
Here’s a little background:
My personal teaching style is all about empowering my students and encouraging them to take responsibility for their education, what they learn, and how long they learn about it. Since I am only with my students for a short period of time, our sessions cannot be completely self-directed, however we move more towards the idea of self-reliance with every session.
Every other week or so, I check in with my teenage students and ask them a series of questions related to the topics we cover. I always ask “which subjects do you think you need the most help in”, “why those subjects?” and “if we focus on ‘writing’ how do we want to practice it, by reading a book or by research?” just to name a few.
As time has gone on, we have typically focused on books. Reading them, discussing them, highlighting key character and plot traits, etc. During one of my recent check-ins, one of my teenagers communicated that he is tired of covering books and wanted to focus more on research.
This is where it gets interesting.
I responded with excitement and interest and we began listing a few topics that we could dive into.
As you can see, he really wanted to dive into spirits and paranormal activities. Rather than completely shutting him out and killing his creativity and energy by saying “No, that stuff isn’t real, we’re not doing that”, I gave him my opinion while still leaving the ideas open for exploration.
I told him that if he wanted to look more into those topics he definitely could and I would not mind discussing with him what he finds. However, I communicated to him that I am personally not comfortable exploring things like Ouija boards and calling spirits into my space and my reality. I also explained that although something bad most likely would not happen (i.e. us dying) I did not want to open the door to that possibility and negative energy.
He was slightly discouraged but we agreed he would look into some of the undergrad programs at his dream college, Duke University, and decide if any of those were worth researching. While he looked into those, I looked into topics that would quench his desire for “creepy stuff” and my level of comfortability.
Enter lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis!
Prior to disclosing our new research topic, he and I began to discuss consciousness, what it was like to be conscious, unconscious, and the difference between the two. We then determined if the conscious and unconscious was an area of interest for him.
Luckily for us, it was!
We then begin to read about lucid dreaming, what it is, how it feels to some people, and how we might initiate our own lucid dreams.
Needless to say, he was totally in.
If you are ever interested in venturing into the unknown and unconventional practices, lucid dreaming is definitely a topic to consider.
So, after he read more about lucid dreaming, he wanted to try it out. For two nights he attempted to initiate lucid dreams. To his dismay, he was unsuccessful. We discussed what he tried, he communicated extreme discouragement and was ready to stop our trials until… I asked more questions.
Turns out he experienced sleep paralysis, which scared him and made him associate our experiment with a negative emotion. Rather than accepting his feeling of being scared and allowing us to stop, we discussed what happened. I validated his experience by sharing with him a time where I felt scared after waking up in the middle of the night, we read about sleep paralysis, why it happens, and what we can do to prevent it.
After learning more about this experience he perceived as negative, I circled back and asked him “Do you still want to stop attempting lucid dreaming?” He said “No, I want to keep doing it!”
Two things from this snippet of learning:
First, encourage your children to learn about topics they are interested in. Be honest with them if you are not comfortable with a certain topic, and provide options for how they might move forward.
Second, remain neutral, non-judgmental, and open to different perspectives. We could have very well ended our study because of a negative experience. Had I not asked more questions using an unbiased, curious tone, he might have remained scared and insecure about his encounter with sleep paralysis.
I always fall back on honesty. In this case, with this teen, I also needed to keep an open mind. My goal is not to just teach him algebraic expressions and to be able to explain the archetypes within a novel, my ultimate goal is to increase his level of comfort and intellectual limitations.
Having open discussions about interests, unconventional topics, and how life events, no matter how big or small, impact our emotions, is crucial to developing and boosting higher level thinking.
When we ask the whys, hows, and whats, not only are we facilitating a deeper bond with our teen, but we are asking them to think beyond answer choice A, B, C, or D.
As our experiment continues, we will have the opportunity to carry on open discussions about our personal opinions that form through this project. By expanding your teen’s subject matter outside of their school curriculum, you are asking them to venture into uncharted territories that do not come with a syllabus.
I challenge you to ask your teen what they are interested in and then start a project together based on that interest. It will be no surprise that your teen has more emotional and intellectual depth than you think!
Drop us a comment below, how do you encourage higher level thinking with your teen?
Jasmine Habeeb is a certified special education teacher who graduated from The University of Texas - Austin with a degree in special education. She enjoys sharing her opinions, recommendations, and current events on all things education.