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How to Engage Young People in Conversation

A slight change in a common question can really open up the conversation with young people.

Matt Levinson, Head of School

I had the opportunity to hear Julie Lythcott-Haims speak recently.She is the author of How to Raise an Adult and Real American. A former undergraduate dean at Stanford, her books traverse themes of identity, belonging, community, and parenting. I most appreciated her advice about how to engage young people in conversation, particularly related to school. Instead of the oft used, “How was your day?” she instead encourages parents and guardians to start with “What was good about your day?” During her tours of schools across the country as part of her research, she would often stop students in the hallways and ask them that simple question. It opened up floodgates of responses, filled with honesty, humor, and poignancy.

I reflected on why that question yields so much depth in response from young people. It forces them to pause for a moment and think about what is positive and it is immediate. In the hustle and bustle of a school day, compounded by life online, students need to celebrate the small moments when things go well-- the small victories in a day. This could come in the form of a deeper connection they made with a friend, or a moment of appreciation about a particular class activity, or some really good food they ate at lunch. Students can be so hard on themselves and the question of what is good in a day makes them step aside and look at their daily life in a positive light. Sometimes, the goodness can be the simple mundane things and sometimes the goodness can be larger and wider. And, on some days, students might have to search a bit harder, and that is okay too.

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