5 ways to help tweens and teens be independent learners

How can you help teens and tweens learn to be critical thinkers? How can they get better at doing and learning things on their own? Here are some strategies you can try at home.

Challenge your child to question things.

Help your child build the confidence to think critically. You can ask your child to find out if a quote that’s being passed around on social media is real or fake. Ask, “Can you help me figure out if that person really said that?”

Or ask about something they’re studying in class. Maybe it’s a poem. Share your opinion about it, then encourage your child to challenge it. This shows kids that their opinion matters. And it gives them a chance to dig deep and share the knowledge they have.

Tell stories.

After school, ask your child how the school day went. Keep in mind that general questions (“How was school?”) often don’t encourage conversation. Instead, be more specific. Ask a question like, “Who did you sit next to at lunch?” or “Is your English teacher still showing up 10 minutes late to class?” Questions like these might get your child to open up and tell a story.

Tell your own stories, too — even embarrassing ones. Kids who learn and think differently might be nervous about sharing things that could be viewed as negative. If you lead by example, your child might start to understand that a bad day at school doesn’t have to mean a silent dinner table. It also reminds them that everyone struggles with something.

Help your child manage time.

Kids don’t like to be micromanaged by their parents. But sometimes they need a little push when it comes to homework or applying for college or jobs. When they get home from school, briefly go over what needs to get done before bed. Then check in before your child hits the sack.

Teens could even set a reminder to send you a text to say what they got done. This way you avoid nagging. And if they procrastinate and watch TV all night, they’ll have to own it when they report back to you. 

Let your child know about your deadlines and responsibilities, too. When you go over what your child has to do on a given night, say what you have to do as well. You can encourage each other to get things done and then have a reward, like watching a show together.

Talk about current events.

Kids who learn and think differently might feel demoralized if they’re not up to speed on what's happening in the world. It can make it hard to join conversations and connect events to what they learn in school.

If you see an interesting article in the news, send your child the link. Make sure it’s not too long and that it’s written in a way your child can understand. (You can send a video, too.) Then ask your child to share thoughts about it the next time you’re together. Try to stay on topic. (You can share a different article another day.)

Doing this helps kids feel up to date. Rather than retreat into their shell when the topic comes up at school, they might flex their knowledge instead. Their curiosity will only grow from there. 

Games can help kids build critical-thinking skills, too. Check out board games and video games your child might like.


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