Ep 1: Success and Getting What You Want in Life

Bill Deresiewicz, bestselling author of Excellent Sheep, talks about the conversations he had with students that really had an impact when he was teaching at Yale and Columbia. His advice for how to do this with your own teen involves being non-judgmental.

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Full show notes

Welcome to the Podcast

Hello! Welcome to the first episode of our podcast, Talking to Teens. I’m your host, Andy Earle, and I am so excited for you to come on this journey with us! My job is to explore what it means to be a teenager and to help parents like you find the perfect solution to ANY teenage struggle.

It’s natural for teenagers to encounter hardship as they live in a transitional period between childhood and adulthood. All this change can be overwhelming and difficult for even the most stalwart teen. However, with careful assistance we can guide teens to grow and flourish in the world.

The age-old battle between strict parents and rebellious teenagers has influenced our preconceived notions of parenthood. In so many coming-of-age stories, teens are depicted as wanting to explore their newfound independence recklessly, going against the will of their well-meaning parents. So how do this common movie and book archetype play out in real life?

On this episode of Talking to Teens, we discuss how to navigate the treacherous waters of parent-teen communication in the context of newfound independence with special guest, Bill Deresiewicz!

Bill lends his thoughtful approach to struggling parents by breaking down ideas of success and budding adulthood. Formerly a professor at Yale and Columbia, Bill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. From this interview you’ll learn one thing for sure: talking to teens is an art form of its own. Thanks to Bill’s years of experience as a mentor to teenagers and young adults, he can unearth knowledge about fostering discussions and supporting teens’ journeys to independence

Independence Can Invite Conflict

As a parent, you want to see your children grow up to be independent, make good choices, and live a happy and fulfilling life. However, conflict can arise when parents and their children have opposite opinions on what that future might look like. Without proper conflict management, families might run into heightened resistance, which often leads to a breakdown in communication. Easy objectives like talking to teens have suddenly become loathsome chores as frustration turns into anger and quick chats become heated arguments.

It is important to note that if you resort to commanding your teens to do what you think is right, your teen feels left out of the conversation. Parental control over teenage decision-making disenfranchises their voice and furthers their struggle to find their own identity. Inclusion in conversation is paramount to the well-being of an adolescent.

According to Bill, teenagers aren’t commonly included in parental decision-making—which can be problematic. The inability for parents and teens to talk about the transition to adulthood stifles growth. This is one of the many complex obstacles that parents face when talking to teens.

Mastering the Discussion

Bill has a solution to avoid communication breakdowns when talking to teens. He explains how sometimes the best way to assist your teen to be more hands-off. That doesn’t mean letting your teen run wild unsupervised, that won’t help at all. What does help, is assisting your teen’s journey to independence by creating the environments where your teen can succeed.

This might look like allowing your teen to choose an academic schedule, explore their own career ideas, or try out a new hobby without parental judgment. This way, you don’t have to instruct their teen to do “what’s best.” Instead, a growing adolescent can make more of their own choices and share their journey with you, conflict-free.

Talking to teens about their plans might be a little unfamiliar to some parents, because up until now, parenting was much more hands-on. Younger children need to have parents around to navigate the world around them. It would be foolish to let a 5-year-old determine what they want to focus on in school because they might choose to skip school altogether and play videogames all day!

Teenagers, on the other hand, are much more capable decision-makers and they should be treated as such. If you ask your teen what they would like to spend extra hour doing each day, it is more than possible that they can articulate what they really enjoy. If it’s caring for the family pet, you might have a conversation about ways your teen can volunteer at animal shelters, explore veterinary schools, and so much more!

The Mentor’s Approach

Bill’s approach when mentoring his students centered around asking his students questions about their past and their current trajectory. It gave students an environment to talk about themselves, away from preconceived notions of what others wanted for them. Bill found that this helped students express themselves and their own ideas freely.

It is great that Bill created this environment for his students, but how does a parent go about creating a space for this discussion? What sort of questions should parents look to ask when talking to teens about the future? Bill told me that “every question I asked that really helped students… was some version of, ‘What do I want?’”

It might appear incredibly simple to talk to your teen about what they want. The truth is, talking to teens about this in a meaningful manner is quite difficult. There is a vast ocean of possibility that lies beyond this question, ranging from what they want for dinner to the type of education they desire at college. And finding a way to sort through the chaos of a teen’s life to get these answers won’t happen overnight.

If you want to build trust in your teen’s ability to determine their own future, it is beneficial to practice having conversations that encourage this. There are so many ways to ask teens questions about the future. But when doing so, it is crucial for parents to recognize that they should listen more than they talk. Turning the discussion in the direction of personal interests will give space for teens to openly explore their untapped potential. Hobbies and personal interests, along with subjects they enjoy in school, can all be areas where teens can find long-term interests that may influence what they pursue in the future.

Ideally, parents want to advocate their teens to pursue the genuine interests they have without restricting opportunities. It is so easy for external ideas and influences to affect the path to a teen’s self-discovery. Plus it is impossible for a teen to know exactly what they want to do when they’re just starting to find their place in this world. When parents take a step back and actively listen to their teen’s hopes and dreams, they can make a huge difference in encouraging long-term success and growth of a teenager into an adult.

There’s a lot more in store on the full episode! Bill and I discuss:
  • Creating non-judgmental environments

  • Common conflict traps for parents

  • No-conflict parenting

  • The biggest mistake when talking to teens
I’m so thankful you were able to tune in to our first episode of the Talking to Teens podcast! Thank you to Bill Deresiewicz’s incredible thoughts about parental roles, mentorship, and teen independence. I hope this episode helps make talking to teens about their future easier for parents and teens!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Ep 1: Success and Getting What You Want in Life
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