I remember the day my high school age son insisted that he already knew what I was talking about when I was telling him about the risks of riding in a vehicle when the driver has been drinking alcohol. It wasn’t the first time we had an exchange like this between us. As is the case with most high school age kids, he claimed to know “everything” about the subject, as well as most every other subject we talked about.
I also remember the frustration I felt that day with my son. In his mind, he knew what he needed to know and wasn’t interested in what I had to say. He shut me down and shut me up. It seemed like a losing battle and a battle he won.
As parents and educators, we can teach and teach and teach our kids what we think they need to know to become well-adjusted, healthy and successful individuals. But many times, it can feel like our teaching falls on “deaf ears”, especially as kids move through middle and high school. During this time, the tables can turn and they believe they know more than you. Roles reverse and now you become the student and they are the teacher.
It might seem easy to accept this role reversal and avoid the frustration of beating your head against the wall with your kids. But, in the short and long-term, it’s not the most effective way of dealing with the situation.
The day my son said to me once again, “Mom, I know that already!”, I had an instantaneous “Ah Ha!” moment. I turned to him and said, “I know that you know this already. But, what I am most interested in is what you are going to do with what you know. That’s what I care about.”
His lack of a response back to me is something I also remember about that day. I threw him a curve ball. The way this exchange had gone between us in the past was different this time.
It was different because I sent him two new messages in the exchange. First, I acknowledged that he knew something. I avoided the battle of who knew more than the other. Instead, I let him know that I believed he did know something (just not everything!). This acknowledgment kept the conversation open between the two of us.
The second thing I did that was different was I turned the focus from “knowing” to “applying”. Research shows that you can know a lot or “everything” about something, but how you apply it to yourself and to your life is very different. Simply “knowing” does not mean “doing.” Turning knowledge into personal application is a process that takes time. So, be persistent and patient.
At some point, we need to pivot our interactions with kids in the direction of application. Asking things like, “What does the information you have or know mean for you?”, or “How are you taking what you know and applying it to yourself?” are questions you can ask your kids to transition the conversation to an application level.
Pivoting our conversations in this way is especially important when it comes to preventing risky behaviors. Information-only programs or approaches are important, but it can’t be the only approach when kids move through the middle and high school years. This is when we need to transition to an approach that challenges kids to take what they already know or are still learning and begin applying it to themselves and their future. When done effectively, an approach like this can feel very personal to kids and create a sense of mutual respect and care between you and them and create an even stronger outcome at the end.
When I pivoted the conversation with my son that day to one of application, it resulted in being one of many positive conversations I had with him over time. It ended the battle of “who knows more than the other” and turned his response of, “Mom! I know this already!”, into open conversations that resulted in both of us learning from each other.