Ep. 72: Know-It-All Teens

Ep. 72: Know-It-All Teens

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Episode Summary

Dr. Steven Sloman, co-author of The Knowledge Illusion and professor at Brown University, joins Andy for a conversation on knowledge, making deliberate decisions, and how to talk to your teen about the gaps in their knowledge around things like vaping.

Full Show Notes

Does your teen act like they know everything? When teens think they know everything, their actions can be doubly dangerous: they are already operating without a full-functioning pre-frontal cortex. Know-it-all teens are overconfident in their knowledge about the world, and as a result, they disregard advice from parents, teachers, and other adults who really do know better. Arrogant teens may be even more likely to jump into action without weighing the possible consequences.

Having a know-it-all teen can be hurtful, even scary, for parents as they find themselves stonewalled when attempting to impart advice and basic information. If there was only a way to show them how little they truly know about things like vaping, alcohol, sex, and how the world actually works!!

Dr. Steve Sloman, co-author of The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone and professor at Brown Universit, took time off from his sabbatical semester to speak with me about the knowledge illusion teens (and most adults!) live under.  I was fascinated to learn about the study that is making people more humble and decreasing their polarization on a wide range of topics.

Dr. Sloman’s book isn’t directly about parenting, however, his research and its implications offer novel understandings of how people—teens included—think and how parents can approach their teenagers to talk about issues that their teens may be overconfident in.

Perhaps surprising, the human mind is hardwired for specialization—nobody can know everything! We might feel we know how everyday objects and the world around us works, but we call plumbers for our sinks, chat with IT departments for our computers, and listen to economic strategists for updates on the NYSE. This shared expertise creates a community of knowledge, giving us a false understanding of what we, as individuals, really know on our own.

Teens don’t know everything, but they may often act and feel as if they do. This gives them a false sense of confidence when it comes to how they understand the world around them, and highly emotional teenagers will often act impulsively on this instinct, seriously impacting their future. Sloman believes the best way to make teens think about their choices is to ask them for in-depth explanations. Often, teens asked to explain “how things work” will be unable to, forcing them to make their own realizations about how little they truly know. This deeper understanding of human thought might be the key to helping your teen!

During my interview with Dr. Sloman, we cover a range of topics, including:

  • Why the Knowledge Illusion exists and what that means for people
  • How making your teen a ‘local expert’ may help them do better in math
  • Intuitive vs. deliberative thinking
  • How Assigned roles in teenage friend groups
  • A different way to look at ‘not measuring up’

It was a privilege to talk to Dr. Sloman, who called me all the way from France! I was just blown away by insights and found our discussion riveting! I hope you will too!

The 27-minute public version is free to listen to, and the 43-minute extended version, packed with extra goodies, is reserved for site members. Log in or start a free trial to access everything our site has to offer!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of WHAT to say to your teen

1. Break your teen’s “knowledge illusion” around vaping by getting curious about it:

“Hey I wanted to talk about vaping–I’m not mad about it, I just know it’s something kids are doing and I guess I don’t really understand that much about it and I wonder if you could tell me about it. How does it work? How do you do it and what’s even in there?” “

And then what happens next? How does it get into the lungs? How does it make you feel? and what receptors in the brain is it activating?”

-Andy Earle

Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1. Break Your Teen’s Know-It-All Attitude with Curiosity:

The evidence and methods used in Dr. Steven Sloman’s research, suggests that people reassess their proclaimed ‘expertise’ on a thing when they have to explain how such a thing actually works and operates. For example, someone may claim to be an expert on bicycles, but have them draw you one and they might reassess just how far their knowledge extends.

You can use this same principle on a know-it-all teen by getting curious. What is something your teen has been acting overconfident in? Perhaps they are overly sure that vaping is safe, or they are cocky in their driving abilities, or maybe they think they know all there is to know about ice cream.

Choose a thing your teen is a know-it-all about and write down five questions that would help you understand how the thing works. (What are the traditional ingredients in ice cream? What is in most ice creams on the shelves in grocery stores? How long does it takes from milking the cow to getting it into the store? Are there special types of cows milk that are better for ice cream? What other milks can people make ice cream with? How does an ice cream maker work?)  The key is to remain as genuinely curious as you can. Demanding to know will only make your teen defense and feel this is a personal attack!

2.  Make Your Teen a Local Expert:

(Members Only)

About Dr. Steven Sloman

Dr. Steven Sloman is the co-author of The Knowledge Illusion and professor and researcher at Brown University in New York. Dr. Sloman has studied the human mind and how we think for decades: his groundbreaking paper “The empirical case for two systems of reasoning” has been cited over 4500 times in peer-reviewed academic papers. His book, research, and academic work have been featured in major publications in print and online including The New York Times, Psychology Today, Scientific American, and The New Yorker. Currently Dr. Sloman is the Sorbonne University/INSEAD Distinguished Visiting Chair in Behavioral Sciences.

Dr. Sloman and his wife usually reside in Providence, RI and have raised two teens of their own.

Want More Dr. Sloman?

You can find Steven on his website, at Brown, follow his work on Google Scholar, and check out more of his writing for Behavioral Scientist (a teaser for his next book!).