Ask Culture and Guess Culture

Ask Culture and Guess Culture

I was scrolling through a Facebook group recently and one of the members shared this Tumbler post. For the original post the author is referencing, see here. To summarize the post, someone who lives in New York has a friend asking to stay in his home. The first time he and his wife had a ready excuse. The second time, he’s asking for advice on how to say no to the request, and essentially what would be the nuances of rudeness in a direct NO versus another excuse.

There are the predictable myriad of comments ranging from “How could she?” to “What’s wrong with asking? Just say no.” One of my favorite comments is, “If you need an excuse, tell her you’re going out of town. If you need an honest excuse, go out of town.” Who actually goes out of town to avoid saying no?

Until one reader leaves this comment:

This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Obviously she’s an Ask and you’re a Guess. (I’m a Guess too. Let me tell you, it’s great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.

Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people — ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signaling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you’ll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you’ll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.

As you read through the responses to this question, you can easily see who the Guess and the Ask commenters are. It’s an interesting exercise.

Mic drop.

The concept of Ask Culture and Guess Culture really struck a chord with me.

I have spent the vast majority of my life as a Guess. As a teenager, I very rarely conflicted with anyone, because I avoided all conversations that might result in a no or any other kind of conflict. My parents called me the “easy child.” Other parents praised them for my obedience. I lived with a low level of very well-concealed anxiety that had me taking prescription medications to calm my stomach for a period of time. Everyone blamed school and stress.

In hindsight though, in the context of this comment, I believe that a fair share of that internalized stress was a fear of risk. A fear of the unknown, of failure, of a NO.

My father used to say, “What’s the harm in trying? The worst that can happen is they say no.” And logically, I knew it was truth. But emotionally, it was terrifying.

The commenter is right. The farther I wandered from home, the more I was forced to learn to interact as an Ask, but it is a conscious decision every time. In my heart of hearts, I’d really rather wait until the answer is 99% Yes before we talk about it. The only real exception is when advocating for others. Somehow asking is easier when it doesn’t feel selfish, right?

As a parent, I’m with my dad. I want my kids to ask fearlessly and not to dwell on the No’s when they happen. I want every question to be valid and heard, even when it doesn’t produce the desired result. And even then, the balance between bulldozer and fearless self-advocate is essential. I don’t really want kids who ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission. Ask respectfully, but ask away!

So moving forward with this new awareness of the two ways to view the world, I’m hoping to be more intentional about fostering an Ask Culture in my home, by validating and honoring requests, even when the answer is No. As a Guess though, I’m suddenly aware of what I’m modeling. Am I being overly cautious or am I just being polite?

What about your experience and Culture? Are you an Ask or a Guess? Is your spouse the same? Are your kids the same? How does it affect your household interactions? How does it affect your teens in school?

Tell me in the comments. I’m fascinated and I want to hear more! 

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

Not Your Average Teen Drama

Not Your Average Teen Drama

Grief is an odd friend in our house. Between culture shock kinds of grief and mourning three of our four parents, all but one grandparent and too many friends, we’ve had our fair share. Even since we’ve been self-quarantined, I’ve lost three friends. (None of them to COVID-19.)

There is an odd pause in the collective breath when someone dies and you can’t be together to laugh and cry and remember.

We were made for connection. The Bible says it. Brené Brown says it. I’d say at this point in our world history, we can all make a footnote that says 99.9% of us agree: isolation is not a natural state of humanity. Weddings, funerals, birthdays and graduations are a thing. They are a thing because we were made to celebrate and to grieve together.

From toddlers to teens, our kids are grieving too. They are unruly and restless and not interested in school work. They might act angry sometimes, but anger and angst go hand in hand with grief. And instead of getting together to shake their fists at the sky and dance to angry music, they are forced to stay home in our worldwide time-out while they grieve the loss of what they had hoped. For prom. For graduation. For their summer jobs and trips with friends.

I think we will all look back in twenty years and, having traveled and caffeinated and danced, we will mostly agree that many of the things we are grieving now were frivolous. But at the moment, whether they are voicing it or not, our kids are just sad. And that’s ok. It’s ok to feel sad and to move through the emotion. We will all come out the other side.

As parents and teen workers, one of the most vital things we can do is help them name what they are feeling and create an atmosphere of emotional connection. Whether that’s helping them prank a friend’s yard (save the tp for a more momentous occasion and get creative) or offering a shoulder to cry on, even when all we get is attitude. Start looking for markers to help them commemorate this life event, even when the life events they expected have been marked off the calendar. (Read more about markers here.)

When my toddler starts into a fit these days, something he rarely did until about a week ago, I’ve started pulling him in close and asking what’s making him sad today. Then we pick a friend to FaceTime and bake something. We’ve been baking a lot.

Don’t be afraid to pull your teens in close and ignore the newfound homeschooling power struggle for a moment. No one will remember that late assignment twenty years down the road, but they will remember how you made them feel when the world came crashing down.

We are all grieving the loss of normalcy. We all need a virtual funeral to grieve our expectations and regroup. So schedule your days, pick one fun thing a day to do together, bake a little more than usual, but most of all, give yourself, and your teens, a lot of grace. The struggle is real.

*We’re excited to have Beverly Ross join us in our Impact group next month to speak more on grief. Usually exclusively open to monthly donors and church partners, you can now join Teen Life’s private Facebook group for FREE until further notice due to the Coronavirus. Check out the Teen Life Impact Group for support, discussion, videos, and exclusive content. Join the conversation with Teen Life and our Resident Experts, like Beverly, where we will cover new topics each month that are relevant to living and working with teenagers. In the meantime, you can find more on grief in these posts.

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Marketing Assistant

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind.

The Power of Consistency

The Power of Consistency

“How’s your wife feeling?”

This question came from a 14 year old young man at a local drug rehabilitation unit where I lead Teen Life support groups.

And I was floored.

Think about it. A kid whose short life had landed him in rehab was asking about how my wife was feeling. For an adolescent to ask a question so far outside of himself in a setting that involves so much inner work was humbling.

The previous week, I had shared during our “check in” that I was a little worried about an injury my wife had sustained and wasn’t healing well. I didn’t think they were listening.

I’d say only about half or even less of my interactions with these guys seem that successful. They have it really hard, and their situations moving forward seem rather dire. A lot of the time, it just seems hopeless.

In fact, I often dread showing up to this place. It’s just one of the harder aspects of my week because I never know what I’m gonna face.

But as I have grown as a helper of teenagers, my mantra is “you will never regret showing up.”

And I never have.

Working with students is hard because it is unpredictable. Despite being prepared and ready, you never know what is going to happen. Sometimes you hit a home run, but a lot of times you strike out or just get a walk.

What we have learned from our work with students here at Teen Life over the last 11 years is the power of consistency. In a world of chaos and confusion, the steady hand is the one who makes the difference.

This bears out in life and should be instructive for those of us who face resistance: showing up is half the battle. Think about the last time you experienced significant resistance. After jumping in and facing that resistance head on, did you regret engaging with the difficult situation? Was there a moment after that you really regretted showing up?

The life of a teenager – no matter when someone experiences adolescence – is hard. And you know who is the most aware of how hard it is? Teenagers. Whether they are able to articulate the difficulty or not, they are aware of how hard things are for an adolescent.

In my experience it is rarely lost on a student when I show up in the midst of their chaos and do so consistently. I don’t always show up with the right answers, or even the right words, but my presence can make all the difference in the world – especially when it is steady.

Whatever you have committed to in your work with students, please do so with the commitment to consistency. You will never know how much impact this commitment will have.

And, you never know. They may ask you about something that is important to you – like those guys did checking in on my wife.

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

5 Assumptions About Teenagers

5 Assumptions About Teenagers

Teenagers are easy targets to complain about…they cost a lot of money, eat way too much food, do weird and sometimes awkward things, spend a ton of time on their phones or gaming systems, and often cause drama with the whole going-through-puberty thing.

Anytime I tell someone that I work with teenagers, I often hear statements like, “Bless your heart.” Or, “I could NEVER do that, good for you!” Sometimes I get questions like, “Don’t teenagers drive you crazy?” “How can you handle working with middle schoolers all the time??”

But here is my secret…I often make assumptions when it comes to teenagers.

We all make assumptions. However, these are not the assumptions that the well-meaning people made above. It is probably not even the assumptions you would expect. In order to work with teenagers (and genuinely enjoy it), I encourage you to make some of these assumptions as well…

Assume teenagers are trying their best. Put yourself back in middle school or high school. Do you remember that feeling? Adolescence is HARD. You could not pay me to do it again…so I always assume that teenagers are doing the best they can in a very difficult situation. It would be really easy to assume that annoying or difficult teens are acting that way on purpose. But when we label students negatively, that is all we will see, and it is how they will continue to act. When you treat students like they are good kids coming from hard places, it can change everything for you and them. Let’s give some grace and some help when they need it.

Assume teenagers are searching for hope. Even the most troubled teenagers I know want their future to look better. They have dreams and goals. They want to graduate and go to college or get well-paying jobs. They want to start families and have a happy life. I have yet to talk to a student who wants their future to be worse than their present situation. Hope is a powerful motivator! Unfortunately, teenagers often don’t know where to start to reach their goals. Which is why we have to assume the next point…

Assume teenagers have the skills they need. When we talk to students in our Support Groups, we often talk about the resources, skills, and strengths that they already possess. We don’t always give them new skills; instead, we point out the people in their life who can help. We have them think through the strengths that they can grow and improve. We ask them to think differently about themselves while giving encouragement and hope. Teenagers are not dumb. They are not helpless children. It makes a big difference if we assume that they are capable. Will you be an adult who can help them realize their potential instead of telling them how they have messed up? Will you encourage, equip, and empower teenagers to face life’s challenges?

Assume teenagers are fun to be around. Teens are hilarious. They are fascinating creatures to watch and observe. They are adorably awkward. They often say exactly what they are thinking. They goofy and spontaneous and full of life. Why does this annoy us? What if we assumed that they are fun? What if we looked forward to spending time with teenagers instead of dreading it? Maybe they don’t need to be less exhausting…maybe we need to be less old. We need to change our own perspective!

Assume teenagers want to talk. You might be shocked by what teenagers are willing to share with adults. Within a few minutes in a Support Group, I can know about a teenager’s family, interests and hobbies, how their day is going, and how connected they feel to others. They want to talk. They are looking for safe environments to share and be vulnerable. Are you asking the right questions? Are you positioning yourself to be a trustworthy adult? Take the time to connect with the teenagers in your life. Be prepared to listen…really listen, without judgement or interjections. Have patience and be willing to ask two or three times.

I love teenagers. They are bold and fun. I encourage you to trade your current assumptions for something more positive. Teenagers have enough to deal with – let’s take our perceptions off their plate and assume the best!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Traveling New Roads Together

Traveling New Roads Together

Last month, I had the pleasure of training a group of college students preparing to be camp counselors. My main purpose in the training was to equip them to support kids from hard places. Many of the camps they would be doing would take them into areas of the city where behavioral issues and lack of family support would be likely prevalent.

During the Q&A session at the end, questions kept coming up about how they should handle discipline. One counselor asked, “Can we make the kids do pushups if they are misbehaving or late?”. This is a common form of discipline within sports or camps, and I have never liked it. Personally, I think it can be pretty degrading to a kid to give penance in the form of a pushup – but despite how much I despise the approach, I answered – “Yes.”

But I had a caveat.

“As long as you do the pushups with them.”

The group laughed, but the point was taken. When you make kids do pushups for misbehaving, is any connection made? Or are we further cementing our authority and power? However, when we do pushups with the kids, connection is created and there is some sense of shared responsibility.

Because if the kids are constantly misbehaving or late – does the fault completely lay on their shoulders? Or is it a power play for the adult to dish out the discipline without also taking some of the blame? 

As helpers of students, we often forget the power of vulnerability and connection when it comes to how we correct. It is much easier to point out the mistakes with our kids. It’s much harder to admit our culpability.

This concept rang true to me as I read through a recent study on teenagers and cell phone use commissioned by Common Sense Media. The main takeaway of the study showed that 1 in 3 teenagers take their cell phones to bed and report checking their phones multiple times overnight.

Simply put, this is a horrifying trend. Numerous studies have confirmed the “blue light” emitted by screens should be eliminated at least 30 minutes before bed, and cell phone be removed from the bedroom for any chance of quality sleep. Why on earth would teenagers do this to themselves?

Well, because we do. The same study reports 61% of adults check their phone within 30 minutes of going to bed. Simply put – we adults have developed some nasty habits with our devices and our kids are watching.

An interesting thought that came out of the same study showed the number of teenagers who think their parents are spending way too much time on the phone went up by 11%. But teenagers own assessment of how much time they spent on devices was more muted. While they thought their parents spend way too much time on the phone, they felt like their time was just about right.

This study highlighted how teenagers can develop really unhealthy habits and suffer loss of sleep and health as a result. As an adult it would be easy to just tell a student to not take their phone to bed. If so, prepare for a fight.

It’s like this in so many aspects of our parenting and mentoring of students. We are quick to point out their issues and tell them where they should change, but even with the lightest of scrutiny, we as adults aren’t doing much better. 

This isn’t just about cell phones and sleep. It’s how we deal with our stress. It’s how we self-medicate. It’s about our anger. It’s our discontent. Do we not realize our kids are watching us, even if they seem aloof?

This offers opportunity for connection. For example, if you know your teenager is taking their phone to bed, you likely are as well. Instead of laying down the law, why not share your own struggle and create a plan to deal with it together?

Or maybe you struggle with anger or outbursts. Maybe acknowledge that with your kid? Apologize? Even ask for help?

When we choose connection with our teenagers, we build relationship. It’s the harder road, but it is one that acknowledges our humanity as well as respects where our teenager is developmentally. 

We cannot ask our teenagers to travel roads we do not presently travel. By choosing vulnerability and connection, we choose to travel those roads together.

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.