1. Family Discussions are an important part of learning.
If you can not explain what you just saw or read, did you really learn? This method is called narration in education circles, and is successfully used to determine how well a student comprehended a lesson. Think of it as an informal oral exam–but a lot more fun. As parents, we know our children’s ability to pay attention and learn is critical.
2. Family Discussions are also an important component of critical thinking.
We all have opinions, but when pressed to explain why we think the way we do, sometimes we find that our reasons are shallow, that they aren’t logical, or that we didn’t think our way through all of the ramifications and/or consequences. Family discussions help us to solidify our thinking and explain it–even to ourselves.
3. Discussion helps us to learn from other people and helps us to see other viewpoints.
When someone disagrees with us–that’s great! We learn to listen, see things from different angles, practice empathy and might even reconsider our own position because of an opposing argument. Additionally,, family discussions are a great time to teach how to respect others while disagreeing–a great social skill to develop at any time in life.
4. Most importantly, discussion helps form relationships.
As we share thoughts, ideas and feelings, we become vulnerable. We let people into our world, and they let us into theirs. That is how relationships are made and how they continue to grow and strengthen. The only thing that is different from a stranger and a friend, is how well we know them, how well they know us, and the trust between us.. Sadly, family members can sometimes be strangers to each other! Family discussions on common experiences–activities, books, movies, etc, can draw a family closer together, create a family culture and a common memory.
I can hear some people ask, “Ok, this all sounds great. But HOW do I do it? How do I get people (especially non-responsive teenagers) to actually participate and not just stare at the window with a blank expression? I’ve totally been there, and to be honest, sometimes that still happens. But here are some ideas that have helped us:
1. Do it the easy way!
Start the practice of having discussions on a topic they are passionate about. Sports, music, whatever. Having a discussion can be hard–for you and for them. Make it easy by talking about their favorite movie, for example. Ask them what their favorite part is. Pick resources from this website that are most likely to resonate with them. Then once you have established a pattern of discussions and it feels more comfortable, branch out to more unknown or difficult topics.
2. Ask them what they hated about it.
Weird, but this is actually a really great ice breaker. Sometimes kids (especially teens) are more passionate about what they hated than about what they liked.
3. Allow for honest and diverse opinions and feelings.
Don’t “steer” them to think a certain way. They usually already know what you think about a topic. Often when parents try to hold “discussions” it’s really just a disguised lecture. (I am guilty of this waaay too often.) As my husband says, “Don’t lecture the crap out of them! Listen.” Be respectful and thoughtfully consider their ideas–they might just surprise you. When you do talk, share as an equal.
4. Keep it short and sweet.
If you carry on too long–even if it is really good stuff, you can burn people out and they will be more resistant to doing it next time. ‘Nuff said.