When Tech Is a Problem Child


CreditWesley Bedrosian

In the Broadway classic “The Music Man,” set in 1912, the con artist Harold Hill shows up in River City, Iowa, and attempts to persuade the otherwise contented townspeople that their youth are slipping into degradation. He singles out a billiard parlor, “the devil’s playground,” as the root.

“You got trouble,” he sings. “With a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for pool!”

These days, you don’t need goosed-up threats of nicotine stains and rebuckled knickerbockers to rouse the anxieties of parents. All you need is to broach the one subject that everyone views as Trouble.

By now, all parents know that technology poses at least some threat to children. Just last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study that said while digital and social media can help early learning, they also come with a host of risks, including negative effects on sleep, attention and learning, along with higher incidence of obesity and depression. The group recommends that parents develop a Family Media Use Plan.

Fair enough, but what should be in such a plan? As the parent of adolescents, I want more than bromides. I want to know what other parents are actually doing that works.

For the last six weeks, I’ve circulated (on social media!) 20 questions covering topics like homework, passwords, bedtime and punishments. I received responses from more than 60 families, and though the survey was unscientific, the answers have already changed how we manage tech at my house.

FIRST PHONES The vast majority of parents who responded gave their children their first phones in sixth or seventh grade, with a few holding out until high school. But those devices aren’t always cutting edge. Parents opted for “dumb phones,” “flip phones” or “hand-me-down phones” from siblings or grown-ups. They also turn off features, including Wi-Fi, Siri, even internet access.

Other popular restrictions include: “Writing an expected behavior contract.” “No use of the internet on school days (except schoolwork).” “Screen time limited to 30 to 60 minutes per day during the week, unlimited on Saturday mornings.”

Another is a partial ban on group texting. “I was able to help my son feel better about not having this by allowing him to view group texts on the family iPad,” one parent said. “It helped him see how little value the group chatter has.”

Phones during friend visits are another issue: “Nothing more disappointing than seeing my children’s friends bring their devices to my home and have them focus on the devices to the exclusion of hanging out with my children.”

My own favorite way to limit tech use: “Poor reception — the phones don’t always work.”

Asked to give other parents advice on when to give their children a phone, the consensus answer was: Wait as long as possible. Once you provide it, it’s very difficult to take back.

HOMEWORK Should children be allowed to communicate with friends while doing homework? Two-thirds of the parents say yes; one-third say no.

Among the comments by the Yeses were, “Only if they are in common areas of the house” or “Only with the door open (so we can monitor).” Another added, “Depends if they are working on a project together, which is difficult to enforce.”

The Nos said that homework is done independently, and that if kids need help, they should find a parent, or the parents contact a teacher.

Wider use of computers for homework also drew mixed reactions. Some parents are quite strict, limiting all technology “outside of a computer for spelling or Google docs.” “Only homework-related sites and no social media.” “Only certain educational sites are allowed. Wikipedia is completely discouraged. I strongly believe that actual books should be read for research purposes as opposed to ‘Googling’ everything.”

Others are more lax: “You have to let them use the tools they will need in their lifetime. Otherwise, let’s give them coal and a slate slab, like Lincoln.”

BEDTIME Researchers at King’s College London have found “strong and consistent association” between using devices at bedtime and inadequate sleep, poor sleep and increased sleepiness during daytime. Parents have gotten the message.

An overwhelming majority ban phones from bedrooms at bedtime. “Tech needs a bedtime, too, in our house, 30 mins before lights out.” “No technology one hour before bedtime.” “At 9 p.m. she brings her phone downstairs, where it stays until 7 a.m.” “Devices are supposed to be parked outside the kids’ bedrooms before they turn in for the night.”

Some parents make exceptions on weekends or as kids get older. A few have no restrictions at all, though one otherwise tech-friendly mom said: “No earbuds! Our carbon monoxide detector went off one night and he did not wake up because he was sleeping with earbuds in.”

At least one dad goes to the opposite extreme, turning off the Wi-Fi in the house at an appointed time each night. “Same rules, better enforcement,” he said.

Also popular is to require phones to be charged outside the bedroom. “Everyone in our house puts phones on a charging station in our kitchen before going to bed.” “Devices are charged in the kitchen. (I cook a lot and I can keep an eye on them, especially when the children are punished and still try to sneak off with them.)” “At bedtime, devices go in the bathroom for charging.”

One mother has no specific place, only not in the child’s room: “My husband and I simply ask where the phones are charging during our ‘audits of responsibility.’ If the children try to work around the rule, they know the device will be placed in ‘jail.’”

SOCIAL MEDIA Many parents restrict first-time phone users to a single social media platform. “Only Snapchat; no Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.” “Only Instagram, and I check it occasionally.” “One platform at a time.”

Regardless of the sites, most parents insist on knowing passwords and logins. “My rules, until he was 18, were that I get all the passwords to all accounts. I did spot check from time to time.” “I have ALL usernames and passwords, and if they change, she has to update my list. If I try to log on and cannot, I get the phone until it pleases me to give it back.”

Do parents actually monitor their children’s online behavior? Some do. “I read texts frequently.” “We are ‘friends’ or ‘following’ all of his social media accounts, so we see every post.” “I have asked to read texts when daughter was hiding device as I came into the room.” “I do random audits. We talk about digital citizenship and positive words.”

But others prefer to give their children freedom. “When they each began texting, I read random texts. And I asked about the ones I read. (‘I see you and friend are chatting about the Jets,’ or ‘I see you and friend are chatting about another child in class.’) That way they know I can read any text at any time, even though I don’t.” “They’re almost all very boring.”

PUNISHMENTS What happens if children violate the family rules? Is it actually possible to separate a digital native from a device for an extended period of time? Behold, skeptical ones: Many parents say yes.

“Yes when younger.” “Yes, she responds to it.” “YES!! It’s the ultimate motivator!” “Yes. Weeping and gnashing of teeth, and then they find other things to do.” “I have. He gets very angry initially but eventually he calms down. Last spring I implemented a 3 week digital cleanse. He was angry each day for 3 days but also became more pleasant.”

Another common way to get children to adhere to restrictions is to have them pay for overages. “We pay the fee but have her pay overages.” “We also cut data off.” “She now babysits family friends to earn more and has to learn basic budgeting.”

FAMILY TIME Perhaps the biggest complaint about technology is that it eats into family time. So what techniques have parents used to take back that time?

First, tech-free dining. “No devices for all meals.” “No phones at the table, and that’s not just at our house. Siblings, nieces, nephews and my mom’s home have the same rule. No one gripes about it, they just do it.” “No devices at meals. No earbuds in the car.”

Second, consider positive alternatives. “Doing things that make phones a burden. Playing a fast-moving game, hiking, attending concerts or performances.” “We watch movies together, have a fire in the yard or swim when it’s warm and have game night, only board games allowed. They used to complain, but have found favorite games and look forward to it now.”

“Do something constructive together. Make sure everyone (even mommy and daddy) get their hands dirty. We often will cook together and make some of the worst meals ever, but it’s O.K. because we did it together.”

Finally, when all else fails, many rely on the old parental standbys: threats, bribes and public humiliation. Threats: “Randomly I scream, ‘Take that phone out of your hand!’ It limits their use for the next five minutes.”

Bribes: “Parent-child date night. (Parents alternate taking one child out for a treat; fourth week is parents night out.)”

Public humiliation: “If a device is picked up during family time, we get to open texts, and my husband and I do dramatic text reading.”

Now that’s a technique even the parents of River City might embrace. These days, trouble may start with the phone, but the solution still begins at home.

Teaching Kids About Consent

By Joanna Schroeder, Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt and Alyssa Royse

The ongoing horror of rape in the news, from Penn State to the young women raped and killed in India to Steubenville, has proven to be a wake-up call for many parents. We always knew that rape was a problem, but never before have we been so mobilized to create change.

As writers, educators, and advocates of sex-positivity and healthy consent, the four of us have been inundated with requests from parents for advice on how to help create a future with less rape and sexual assault.

We believe parents can start educating children about consent and empowerment as early as 1 year old and continuing into the college years. It is our sincere hope that this education can help us raise empowered young adults who have empathy for others and a clear understanding of healthy consent.

We hope parents and educators find this list of action items and teaching tools helpful, and that together we can help create a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

There are three sections, based upon children’s ages, preschool, grade school, and teens and young adults.

Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder

Guidelines for Teens and Young Adults

1. Education about “good touch/bad touch” remains crucial, particularly in middle school. This is an age where various “touch games” emerge: butt-slapping, boys hitting one another in the genitals and pinching each other’s nipples to cause pain. When kids talk about these games, a trend emerges where boys explain that they think the girls like it, but the girls explain that they do not.

We must get kids talking about the ways in which these games impact other people. They will try to write it off, but it’s important to encourage them to talk it through, and ask them how they would feel if someone hit them in that way, or did something that made them feel uncomfortable or violated.

When you see it happen, nip it in the bud. This isn’t “boys being boys”, this is harassment, and sometimes assault.

2. Build teens’ self esteem. In middle school, bullying shifts to specifically target identity, and self-esteem starts to plummet around age 13. By age 17, 78 percent of girls report hating their bodies.
We tend to build up our smaller kids by telling them how great they are. For some reason, we stop telling kids all the wonderful aspects of who they are when they reach middle school. But this actually a very crucial time to be building up our kids’ self-esteem, and not just about beauty. Remark to them regularly about their talents, their skills, their kindness, as well as their appearance.

Even if they shrug you off with a, “Dad! I know!” it’s always good to hear the things that make you great.

3. Continue having “sex talks” with middle schoolers, but start incorporating information about consent. We’re often good at talking about waiting until marriage to have sex, or about sexually-transmitted infections, or about practicing safer sex. But we don’t usually talk about consent. By middle school, it’s time to start.

Ask questions like, “How do you know whether your partner is ready to kiss you?” and “How do you think you can tell if a girl (or boy) is interested in you?”

This is a great time to explain enthusiastic consent. About asking permission to kiss or touch a partner. Explain that only “yes” means “yes.” Don’t wait for your partner to say “no” to look for consent.

Educating our middle schoolers about consent means we don’t have to re-educate them later and break bad habits, perhaps after somebody’s been hurt.

4. Nip “locker room talk” in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy. But as parents and educators, we need to do more than just stop kids from talking about other kids like they’re objects. We also need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people.

If you overhear a kid say, “She’s a hot piece of ass” you could say, “Hey, I think she’s more than just an ass!” You can keep it jokey, and they’ll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in. They need a model for grown-ups who are doing things right. Even saying something like, “It’s also cool that she (or he) is so awesome at tennis, isn’t it?”

5. Explain that part of growing up is having changing hormones, and that hormones sometimes make it hard to think clearly. Sometimes that means our desire feels overwhelming, or that we’re angry, confused or sad. It’s common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by these new feelings.

Tell your kids that no matter what they’re feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one’s responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.

6. Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Men need to talk to boys about what’s good about masculinity. Ask what hasn’t been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future.

Boys need to start talking about building a healthy masculinity starting in middle school and continue through college, because transforming masculinity is vital to transforming rape culture.

7. Talk honestly with kids about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re drinking. Questions such as:

– How will you know when you’ve had too much to drink?

– How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink? (Make clear that your child can always call you to come get him or her if needed).

– How will you know if your drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level, or crossed into addiction?

– How does your behavior change when you’ve had too much to drink? How can you protect others from yourself in that situation if, perhaps, you become an angry drunk or start violating people’s space or safety?

– How will you know whether it’s okay to kiss someone, touch someone, or have sex with someone when you’ve had a lot to drink? Explain that decisions sometimes become cloudy, and signals become unclear when we are impaired. How will you be sure that you are reading the other person’s signals accurately? Suggest that they always ask for permission to touch or kiss another person, especially when there’s drinking involved.

– Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed or sexually assaulted. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had to much too drink.

– Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.

8. Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they’ll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you. It also normalizes talking about consent, so talking openly and respectfully with partners becomes second nature to teens.

9. Finally, teens are thirsty for more information about sexual assault, consent and healthy sexuality. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information — lovingly, honestly and consistently — they will carry that information out into the world with them.

Having good information encourages kids to be UPstanders, not BYstanders. Not only does the world need more Upstanders, but kids really want to be a force for good. And we can give them the tools to do so.


Parents Navigate Tears and Cheers as Kids React to Election


Kids joined their family in voting at Frank McCourt High School, one of the many polling stations in New York. CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times

In the Roethle household in Leawood, Kan., the children woke up on Wednesday to a family celebration. Donald Trump was the new president. But the excitement came with an admonition “to be a good winner” and not to gloat about his win at school.

“Kindness is the No. 1 thing in our house,” said Alana Roethle, 37, a mother of four children ranging in age from 4 to 9. “We were talking about this in the morning, that we love everybody, even if they don’t share our political views, even if they don’t love Jesus.”

The post-election morning was different for Amber Karamat, 47, of Anaheim, Calif. Her 9-year-old Muslim-American son was devastated by the news. “Will Trump still let me be an American?” he asked his mom, who cried as she recounted the story. “I feel helpless. I said, ‘No one can take that away from you, sweetie. You were born an American.’”

Perhaps more than any other election in recent memory, the Trump versus Clinton campaign was a family affair. Girls donned “The Future is Female” T-shirts and canvassed neighborhoods with their mothers to support Hillary. Parents supporting Trump imagined a better economic future for their children, and talked to them about gun rights and safe borders. Often, the election news cycle forced parents to navigate tricky topics like bullying, profanity and sexual harassment. A much-seen Clinton ad reminded us “Our children are watching.”

And now, in the days after the election, parents on both sides of the vote struggle to put the bitter election fight into perspective and find teachable moments in the sometimes unpleasant aftermath.

Amber Deyle, 37, of Emmons, Minn., and her husband, Dan, watched the election results roll in with their two sons, ages 6 and 10. “We were really excited,” she said, noting gun rights as a critical issue. “Hunting is important to our family. Not only were we raised on it, but it helps us teach our children where food comes from.”

But she and her husband had some hard conversations with their boys about Mr. Trump, she added, “because of some of the things he had said about women and minorities and things like that. But at the same time, we also had to explain to our children what Benghazi was.”

Daniel Roberts, a 47-year-old father of two daughters in Montclair, N.J., and a Clinton supporter, took his younger daughter, 10, to vote with him. Mr. Roberts, a high school football coach and a patient navigator at a hospital, is black and his wife is white, and their daughters are biracial.

After the results came in, his younger daughter was upset that a woman didn’t win, and worried about the racist sentiments she’d been hearing. “My wife and I talked about it a lot and told her to keep aiming high, and reach for the stars.”

His older daughter, 14, was not so easily comforted. “My daughter wants to be a doctor. She’s a smart girl and she knows it’s a tough field. She understands that she’s already starting one step behind as a woman.” Mr. Roberts said he’d never seen her so dejected. “Seeing her mood after the election, the dad in me came out and I felt for her. It almost made me cry.”

Parents on both sides of the election say the result has triggered conversations at home that are equally focused on civics and history as well as values and acceptance.

Carrie Chavis, a 41-year-old mother in Austin, Tex., voted for Mrs. Clinton, but most of her neighborhood voted for Mr. Trump. Her sons expressed disbelief when Ms. Chavis told them that Mr. Trump had won the election. Her oldest son was taunted at school when classmates learned he supported Clinton.

But even though Ms. Chavis is sad about the result, she used the moment to remind her sons about the value of democracy. “I told them that we are so lucky that we get to vote for who we want as president, and we should be so thankful,” she said.

In Pelham, New York, Cherie Corso, a Trump supporter, had similar conversations with her 13-year-old daughter, Julia, who helped her volunteer for the Trump campaign and cried with happiness when he won. But she also struggled at school, where most of the other students supported Clinton.

“She’s been getting backlash,” said Ms. Corso. “My advice to her is, ‘He’s the winner, O.K.? He won, the people have spoken, you don’t have to defend Donald Trump, you don’t have to say anything.’”

Julia said most Trump supporters at her school don’t admit it. “Everybody whispers,” she said. “If I say something about how he’s not that bad, people yell at me. I don’t blame them because it’s something they feel passionately about.”

Jason Benedict, 46, a registered Republican and father of a boy in elementary school in Scotch Plains, N.J., voted for a third-party candidate. He reminded his son “to be kind to his friends who may be upset by this decision.” “No matter who the president is, what’s really important is that he try his hardest every day to be nice to people, be helpful, and that everyone is entitled to their own life and opinions,” he said.

Valerie Kummer, 32, a Republican from Watford City, N.D., watched her children leave for school on Tuesday morning chanting “Trump” because they were excited to cast their ballots in the school’s mock election. Ms. Kummer said she reminded them throughout the campaign “about loving other people and loving differences.”

For the first time in his life, Ben Goldstein, 39, a rabbi and father of three young children in Los Angeles, voted for a Democrat for president. The first thing his 7-year-old daughter asked him when she woke up on Wednesday was, who won the election?

“I told her that Donald Trump won and explained that we live in an amazing country where people disagree and get to decide who is president. I told her that I hope he does such a great job that I end up voting for him in four years,” he said.

His daughter seemed to accept that explanation, but Rabbi Goldstein is concerned about the damage the divisive campaign has already done.

“Instead of vilifying him and all his followers, we can take this opportunity to look in the mirror and see how we contributed to the rhetoric of the past few years. How do we treat those with whom we disagree? What do we do with their arguments?” he said.

In some families, children disagreed with their parents’ choice for president.

Elise Breth, a 38-year-old mother of two in Orlando, is a Trump supporter, as is her 9-year-old son. But her 6-year-old daughter supported Clinton. She “thought Hillary hung the moon because she’s female, and that’s who her friends at school were supporting,” Ms. Breth said. “Even though I support most of Trump’s policies, I am proud of my daughter for recognizing that a strong, independent woman can be anything she wants to be.”

How parents can help disappointed kids cope with the election results

The Washington Post

November 9

Donald Trump won the election, so how do you tell your kids?

The Washington Post’s Amy Joyce has a few suggestions about how to break the election news to your kids. (Erin Patrick O’Connor/The Washington Post)

The night of the election, Mary Laura Philpott and her 10-year-old daughter danced to “The Schuyler Sisters” from the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” a song about three strong sisters who depend on their brains, not their looks, to succeed in their patriarchal world. It was a perfect fit for a night both assumed they would be celebrating the first female president.

So when Philpott had to wake her daughter in the morning and tell her the news, she hesitated in front of her daughter’s bedroom door. “To me, it feels like what this taps into is the most primal parenting fear. I can’t protect you from everything,” Philpott, a writer in Nashville, said on her way to work. “I tried and I can’t do it. It’s the darkest sphere in parenting. That bad things happen we can’t protect them from. And that’s how I felt standing outside her room, thinking we did everything we could and we couldn’t make it happen.”

For many parents who had supported Hillary Clinton, this was a familiar scene the day after the election. Girls who had gone with mothers and fathers as they tried to elect the first female president were shocked to hear the news when they woke. Children who were scared by the harsh comments and chants from Trump followers were full of questions. And parents were at a loss to explain why the election turned out the way it did.

Long after Tuesday-night bedtimes, when the results were rapidly leaning toward a President Trump, the texts, tweets, calls and emails from parents started:

“How will we explain this to our children?”

“How will I explain this to my daughter?”

“The only thing you can do is be a little tiny shining light,” Philpott and her husband told their disappointed and fearful kids. “All the things that we thought and believed in yesterday, we still think and believe in today. It’s not like our brain voted for Trump. It’s not like we suddenly don’t believe our feelings. So we just need to act in accordance with what we believe.”

Braden Bell, a middle school theater teacher in Nashville, spent the morning after the election with his two teen sons. He reminded them to be empathetic to other kids, no matter whom they supported. And he made special note of the girls who might be feeling extra discouraged. “We talked yesterday about how this election could be potentially very exciting for their peers who are girls. So I tried to pull that back in today and said there might be another layer for friends who are girls who may have received this election very differently,” he said. “I think they understand the idea. I hope it sinks down to the practice, what they do and interaction in the moment.”

At Lafayette Elementary School in the District, a fourth-grade girl walked to the entrance to start her day, tears streaming down her face behind her glasses. The principal, Carrie Broquard, went straight for her and hugged her. “I’m just so scared,” the girl said.

“We’ve got you, honey. We’ve got you and we’re right here and we’re going to be okay.”

The girl wiped her tears, nodded and walked inside the school.

“A lot of kids are very scared because they feel like they are somehow going to be in danger, and we have to reassure they are not going to personally be in danger,” advised Kathleen Trainor, a child psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of “Calming Your Anxious Child: Words to Say and Things to Do.” And remind them, she said, that “there are a lot of good people who will be working with President Trump, and we’ve got to hope that the country is going to come together.”

Children have been caught up in the election, she said, even little kids, and a lot of them “have thought of Trump as a bully or a big bad man. And thinking that this man will now be president, they feel like something is going to happen to them, that they aren’t safe.” Parents need to hold back on their own emotions if they are scared themselves, she said. “There is a lot of uncertainty, but we have to protect our children from that.”

Trainor suggested asking children how they feel and what they’re thinking and take their cues. That way, parents can be sure they aren’t creating anxiety where there may not be any. And then “stress that there are a lot of good people who share our family’s values, and we are going to continue to work for and stand up for those values,” she said.

A group of mothers in the District texted each other Wednesday before their kids awoke, discussing what to say:

“We have to see this as a renewed call to support all the values of inclusion and acceptance and tolerance we care about,” wrote one.

“Our kids get a dose of honesty about what happened last night, but we feed them mounds of optimism and hope. We will be okay,” wrote another.

“Maybe this is an opportunity to pick something that will make a difference and show our kids what it means to stand behind our convictions. Enlist them as a family in deciding what we do about it. Isn’t that the silver lining of politics? That it encourages us to act?” wrote another.

And finally, a mother said her daughter might have said it best: “She said, ‘Mom, I know we aren’t happy, but let’s focus on what he does and not what he is, or who he is.’”

Phyllis Fagell, the counselor at the Sheridan School in the District (where 93 percent of the vote went to Clinton) and a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, suggests parents help kids be specific with their concerns. You may be surprised what they’re worrying about. And better yet, you may be able to allay that fear easily.

Help them to do something with those feelings. At the school on Wednesday, Fagell helped about 30 students write letters to Clinton and to Trump. Others wrote journal entries. Kindergarten teachers asked kids to think about one kind action they can do and they illustrated it for a “kindness board.”

When talking about the results of the election, she said, “the goal is to be authentic without alarming your child. Hear their concerns, respond to them in a calm and reflective way.”

And don’t shy away from the “really big, scary issues like sexism, racism, disability rights, health care, immigration,” she said. “Kids are thinking about them anyway.” She said her second-graders had expressed their fears about racism; the fourth-graders worried about deportation.

Finally, she said, focus on the positive things around them. Talk about the traits they admire, the kinds of people they want to be and the concrete ways they can make a difference.

When it became clear Clinton would lose, “all I could do was stare at my 6-year-old black son and wonder what I’d say,” said Rae Robinson Trotman of the District. “The man who has denigrated every minority group. … How do you go from celebrating the Obamas, getting excited about the Clintons, feeling over-the-moon proud because your kid cares about the process – to telling him that his new president thinks only straight white men matter?”

15 Questions to Replace “How Was School Today?”


These questions will help you draw out important information from your kids.

How many times have you asked your child, “How was school today?” and been frustrated by the lack of response? As a parent, I’m guilty of asking my son this question all the time, even though I usually don’t get much in return.

Sometimes (to be honest), I haven’t had the energy for a real conversation. Other times, I just can’t think of what to ask. As a teacher, I have often wished that kids would share stories of the awesome things we were doing with their parents, but I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen.

Now that my son is in middle school—where communication from teachers is less than it was when he was in elementary school and more stuff is happening at school that I need to be aware of—I’ve identified a list of questions that draw out important information. I wish that when I was in the classroom I’d been able to offer this list to parents so that they could hear about what we were doing in our class.

The Questions

With slight wording modifications, these questions can work with children of all ages:

  1. Tell me about a moment today when you felt excited about what you were learning.
  2. Tell me about a moment in class when you felt confused.
  3. Think about what you learned and did in school today. What’s something you’d like to know more about? What’s a question you have that came from your learning today?
  4. Were there any moments today when you felt worried? When you felt scared?
  5. Were there any times today when you felt disrespected by anyone? Tell me about those moments.
  6. Were there times today when you felt that one of your classmates demonstrated care for you?
  7. Were there any moments today when you felt proud of yourself?
  8. Tell me about a conversation you had with a classmate or friend that you enjoyed.
  9. What was challenging about your day?
  10. What do you appreciate about your day?
  11. What did you learn about yourself today?
  12. Is there anything that you’d like to talk about that I might be able to help you figure out?
  13. Is there anything you’re worried about?
  14. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  15. Is there a question you wish I’d ask you about your day?

Tips for Asking Questions

How and when we ask these questions makes a big difference in the information we receive from our kids. First, you don’t want to ask all of these questions on the same day. You might ask one or two. After a while, you’ll figure out which ones elicit the most meaningful responses. You’ll want to ask during a time when you have the ability to focus so that your child feels they have your full attention. With my child—and in my household—dinner and driving in the car are optimal times for these conversations.

Now these conversations have become routine. My son knows that when we drive to school I’ll ask him what he’s looking forward to, if there’s anything he’s worried about, and if there’s anything he wants to talk about with me that I might be able to help him figure out.

More Suggestions

The following can help your conversations be positive and powerful:

  • Don’t interrupt. This is a good rule for any conversation, but especially if you want to get a lot of information out of a kid.
  • Ask for more. Simply say, “I’d love to hear more about that…” Or, “Can you expand on that a little?”
  • Ask about feelings. After a child describes an experience, ask, “How did you feel in that moment? What did you notice about your feelings?”
  • Validate feelings. Whatever your kid feels is normal and okay. Let them know that. Feelings are okay. Tell them this.
  • Tell them it’s not okay for teachers or kids to be unkind or mean. If they tell you a story about a teacher who yelled or disrespected them (regardless of what they said or did) let them know that it’s not okay for an adult to treat them that way. Same goes for how they are treated by other children.
  • Thank them for sharing with you. Always appreciate their honesty and willingness to share the highlights and bright spots, as well as the difficult moments. This will fuel their confidence in telling you more.

What questions bring about the most conversation between you and your kids?