Bridge Builders and Burners

When I ask students what it means to build bridges, they say, “Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it.”  I sigh, roll my eyes, and explain that it means making a connection to somebody to build a relationship.  They’re surprised to hear such a thing.

As the school year winds down, some students are good at building bridges.  They realize they won’t be seeing certain people all summer (or even next year), so they can put up with them and show them some extra patience.

But then there are the bridge burners.  They won’t be returning (or they’re graduating), so they have an attitude of “doesn’t matter what I say, because I won’t be seeing you anymore anyway.”  They can make life difficult for those around them.

It’s a good idea for parents to chat with their teens at year’s end and see where they’re at emotionally.  Of course, this won’t be accomplished by marching up and asking point blank, “How are you feeling about the end of the year?”  You have to watch for your opportunity: a mellow moment at the end of the day, a relaxed time while watching TV, a lengthy car ride where nobody falls asleep.  Then be low-key and ask offhandedly, “Excited about the year ending?”

Be prepared to listen without too many questions or criticisms.  Comments of “Well, don’t worry. . .” or “Do you think that’s a nice thing to say?” will shut down communication.  Instead, use empathy with comments like “Oh, yeah, sounds tricky” or “Ouch, bet that hurts.” This will get you much farther and will show that you’re really listening.

An hour or a day later, you can say (again, offhandedly), “I’ve been thinking about what you said about (fill in the blank).  Want some advice?”  If not, let it go.  If so, give it as if you don’t care whether it’s taken or not.  Do be prepared that while your offer may be refused at first, you may be asked to advise a day or so later.

Just think – you’ll be building a bridge of your own!

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