We were in the middle of a student-led conference, looking over the 8th grader’s self-evaluation, when I asked the toughest question of all: “What do you think you’re doing well?” The student froze in anxiety and stammered, “Um, I dunno. Like, turning in my work, I guess? I’m not sure, really. . .”
Here was a student who had many A’s on her report card and high marks in behavior, yet she panicked when asked to say something nice about herself. This scenario was repeated several times at other conferences, so I asked my 8th graders why it was such a hard to question to answer.
“We don’t want to sound like we’re bragging on ourselves” was the reply. I tried to explain that being honest about your abilities and accomplishments wasn’t the same as acting superior to your classmates or putting someone else down. They weren’t convinced. It’s the same problem they have when they’re paid a compliment. “It’s so awkward,” they say. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” When I tell them they just need to thank the speaker, they complain, “But then it’s like I’m agreeing, like I’m saying, ‘Yeah, I know. I am that good.'”
When you say something nice to teens, or you speak well of them in their hearing, don’t be surprised if their response is less than gracious – if, for example, they shrug or downplay it. I sometimes supply them with the correct answer – “Just say, ‘Thanks, Mrs. Acuna'” – to let them off the hook.
To which they’ll (un)graciously reply, “Thanks. . .I guess?”