I Don’t Want to Brag

Outstanding EvaluationWe 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?”



That’s What I Like About You!

ImageWhen I was in high school, my mom came home from bowling one night and mentioned that a teacher had said something nice about me to my parents.  “Of course Dad’s head swelled with pride,” she said matter-of-factly. Wait – my dad was PROUD of me?  I’d always been a non-trouble-making good student, but I’d never realized my accomplishments meant anything to my dad.  He’d never said much more than, “You sure don’t get your brains from me!”

If I asked your middle school/high school student what you think of her, what might she say?  Don’t go and ask her now; you’ll just get an embarrassed shrug followed by, “I dunno.”  But think back to the last time you paid her a genuine compliment – more than just a “Good job!” or “Way to go!”  When did you last say something specific like, “I appreciate your responsibility – I can always depend on you to lock the doors when you leave,” or “You have such a good eye for taking pictures”?  Don’t take for granted that she knows what she does that makes your head swell.

Speaking well of your teen to someone else in his hearing is also powerful.  We adults are the same way – when I overhear my husband say something nice about me to someone, I can’t help but smile.  When I’m in conference with a parent and a student, I try to do both: compliment the student directly AND say something nice about him to his parent.  It’s a powerful opportunity.

Sometimes, when I say something to a student like, “I appreciate how helpful you are,” another student will ask, “What do you appreciate about me?”  I like to turn the tables and say, “You should know the answer to that by now.  What do you think I like about you?”  It gives me good insight into how the student thinks I view him, and it gives me the chance to publicly hand out some compliments.

Find ways to compliment your teen.  It will make you both feel better.  It was Mark Twain who said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”