Monday, February 15, 2010

Hey Junior, let's talk about drugs, not science...

So let's say you're a parent of a teen. This teen faces the standard teen problems: acne, a fresh-baked sex drive, stoner friends who have discovered pot, and science homework.

Let's also say that by some miracle this teen gives you fifteen minutes to actually talk about one of these problems. Which one do you, the parent, raise? Acne's pretty easy to talk about. Sex, well, most wouldn't like to go there with kids (though I am an enthusiastic exception.) How about drugs? Most parents are pretty uncomfortable with that too.

How about that science homework? Do we want to raise that with Junior? A survey shows that parents are generally more comfortable talking with their teens about drugs than about science homework. Yup, that's right, science homework makes parents more squeamish than pot.

Oh, this makes me crazy. Please, everyone, have your teens and their science homework shuffle self-consciously over to my house. We'll take care of it.

The study hints that parents are uncomfortable with science homework because they don't understand the science themselves. But I wonder why parents don't feel comfortable saying, "Gee, Junior, I have no idea what the hell your physics teacher is talking about either. Let's work it out together."

Maybe we hate physics, or maybe we're just tired and need a stiff drink. Well, that's fair enough. But maybe the real reason is that we don't want to appear stupid, and fear that we couldn't figure the science homework out if we tried. This reason is a big big mistake, in my humble opinion.

I think the scientific method is a terrific parenting tool. Here's how it works: we're trying to figure out some phenomenon, call it X. Mom offers some explanation of X (hypothesis) Junior says, "But wait, that can't be right because of this or that experiment we did in class." (hypothesis testing) Mom says, "Oh, you're right." (hypothesis rejection and teen victory) Junior says, "Maybe it's this other explanation." (revised hypothesis) Mom says, "I just read this bit in your science textbook, and I think you're right." (literature review and second teen victory)

Here's what the teen takes away: Mom isn't afraid to be wrong. Mom isn't afraid to say "I don't know." Mom is open to hearing what other people -- even pimply teenagers -- have to say on the science. Now just replace "Mom" with "the scientific method" in those sentences. What a wonderful gift to our kids, and to parent-teen relations.

Of course, in my view we need to have these sciency chats long before the teen years. I love giving my five-year-old the upper hand in scientific discussions, and lately I have to say that he genuinely outsmarts me. Proud mama.

So how about you?


  1. It's hard to imagine finding a discussion of science homework more intimidating than a discussion about drugs. My 6yo regularly reminds me of science facts and often knows more than me and I think it's great that she is learning so much about her own interests. Even my 2yo correctly my identification of a whale species the other day.

  2. Wonderful post! I love talking about science with my daughter (and math and spelling and pretty much any school subject) and we frequently have "scientific method" talks where she'll propose a hypothesis and I'll ask her questions about it.

    We did that about Santa a few months ago and I was amazed at how clever her answers were. :-)

  3. I'm so glad to find likeminded parents!