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How to help your teen think critically in a confusing world

A new newsletter to help spark conversation with the teens and tweens in your life.

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Teenagers are making a lot of decisions. All the typical tween issues, like puberty and discovering one’s identity on many levels, are present. But there’s more: Our middle and high school students participated in school primarily online over the past few years, segregated behind computer screens. Even while going back to school has been a tremendous step forward, students must now deal with learning loss, years of lost socialization, and conflicting advice on how to deal with the new Covid reality. It’s difficult, especially with the constant and ominous news of school shootings, the war in Ukraine, and families suffering with inflation. This generation is maturing in a divided, perplexing, and downright unsettling society.

Our youth are being shaped by this time period in both visible and hidden ways. The New York Times recently published a series that explained why all of the aforementioned factors have made this generation the most solitary in recent memory. Teenagers are forced to deal with previously unheard-of mental health issues, which has alarmingly high rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide.

I’m Liz. I am the head of the audio team at Vox (shout out to our incredible podcasts) and the mother of a kid who just turned 12 and is dealing with these issues along with the majority of his peers. My kid, like the majority of his peers, is vulnerable to both serious consequences like depression, self-harm, and suicide as well as more subtle consequences like apathy, numbness, unkindness, and disconnecting. When a tween is at the age where they naturally begin to distance themselves from parents and other authority figures, it may be quite difficult to persuade them to open up. And as a parent, it can be challenging to recognize when genuine concern for a child’s mental health should begin and where typical pre-teen attitude stops.

I’m going to take that synthesis and publish it in a new weekly newsletter for you to read: Extra Courses. I’ll present a selection of content every Thursday to help you consider how to approach parenting and education, as well as content you can share with your adolescent human. This content may include videos, podcasts, essays, documentaries, TV episodes, and books (s). There may occasionally be a theme or an interview. Sometimes the content will be motivated by the excitement of learning. And occasionally, we could ask you to share what recently inspired your child or classmates or what has been effective for you in overcoming adolescent defenses and establishing genuine connection.

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For the moment, what I’ve done with my child is working. I started noticing a difference as follows:

We got to work exploring the variety of videos on Vox’s YouTube account. We watch one or two quick movies about a variety of subjects every night, such as an explanation of cluster bombs used in the Ukraine War (his pick), or the origins of the famous Cesca chair (my choice). And something is taking place. We genuinely discuss the outside world and how he’s beginning to integrate his perspective on things.

The breakthrough here is not just that we were able to debate the war or design in a lot more informed manner, or that he was beginning to practice critical thinking and find enjoyment in learning, but also that we had a topic to discuss that my son was interested in. I learned that he’s making progress, but I’m also delighted that we’re chatting since it allows him to try out his emerging worldview on me. He has many questions that this new connection has allowed us to explore together, as well as many opinions and ideas that he simply wasn’t going to share when asked directly how he thinks about something. He was prepared to take into account accurately provided material and engage in debate about it.

Anyway, I hope you’ll subscribe and come along on our summertime exploration and connection journey.

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I should state that I am not a psychologist or educator. I’m a mom who draws on my extensive background in journalism to understand how to successfully raise a child. For the summer, we’ll give this a shot and see how it goes. You can get in touch with me at liz@vox.com if you have any comments or inquiries.

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