Growing up the most commonly asked questions by adults outside my family were,
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Where do you want to go to college?”.
The first question was easy to answer (actress or teacher), the second one not so much. So, I started just coming up with responses that I thought would be appropriate.
Fast forward and these are still the “go-to” questions. In an effort to add a few new ones to the mix, I recently put an ask out on instagram -
“Teens - what do you wish adults would ask you?”
A week or so later I received a lengthy email from Isaac, a WIT teen entrepreneur, who had a lot to share on this topic -
Hello Miss H,
I have really thought about your question. Here are my thoughts about questions that I think adults should be asking teenagers.
The number one thing that I wish adults would ask teens more often is, “How are you feeling?” One of the least validating things that an adult can say to a teen is, “That’s not how you feel” or worse, “This is how you should feel.” Oftentimes teens are testing out their independence, both practically and emotionally, as we are growing into adulthood. It is so important, then, to get the recognition that our feelings really do matter, that we own them, and to have someone ask how we are doing is so much better than simply being told what to do, or worse, how to feel. We would prefer to get the emotional support that is actually supportive and not another overwhelming thing to have to try and work through. Having some kind of control over our lives is something we really need in order to feel confident. This simple act of asking, rather than assuming, creates a much stronger support system for us in the long run.
Isaac - I am with you 100%. The question “How are you feeling?” is so much more powerful and informative than “How are you doing?”. It invites a completely different response and opens up the opportunity for dialogue and empathy.
Another question Isaac wishes more adults would ask is -
“How can I help you?”
Self-advocacy is something that many teens struggle with. Personally, I have had a lot of issues with this growing up, and to this day I am still not the best at asking for help. Sometimes this is because adults do not always support teens learning for themselves how to do things. Instead, they take over with lectures, admonishments, rules, or extended advice. It is important that adults recognize that teens do want help with problem-solving, but not to have an adult take over. Truly, the best support is helping teens help themselves.
I got other responses to my instagram post, but they were all a different version of the same two questions -
How are you feeling?
How can I help?
Could it really be that simple? Is that really all teens want us to ask?
Yup, it is.
Oh, teens - spoiler alert: your parents, teachers, other adults, wouldn’t mind if you asked them these same two questions, too.
We’re all in this together.