Falling down on the credibility job

Yesterday I was considering buying a product online so I read some reviews.  One caught my attention because it matched especially well the frustrating experience that had led me to consider buying the product.  The reviewer’s comments were very positive. One of the options I had after reading it was to read her other reviews which I immediately did.

Why?  To check her credibility.  If her reviews were always positive, I’d have been a little suspicious.  Some were, and some weren’t, so at the very least I knew she didn’t only have good things to say.  (It’s of course more common to find that a person’s reviews are consistently negative, which is also helpful to know.) I just wanted to know whether she was someone who sometimes likes/approves of things, and says it, or whether she was just posting a bunch of positive reviews to improve her own morale, or plug the company, or whatever else might possess a person to do such a thing.

Kids give us opportunities to show credibility all the time.  They say things like “This homework is stupid.  Why do I have to do it?” and we very often pass up the opportunity, even though if you asked us we’d say we want to be seen by kids as trustworthy. We just don’t recognize it as an opportunity to gain credibility.

So we don’t tend to look over their shoulders and say things like “Huh.  I see why you feel that way.  I wonder why the teacher assigned that.  Do you think it’s because…” Instead, we’ll say things like “You don’t have to like it you just have to do it,” or “Can you just get your homework done so we can eat?” or “Your education is important, your education is your job, you’ll be glad later that you learned that.”

And every time we do that – every time we turn down the opportunity to weigh in honestly about something, to give kids a chance to see us  grappling with the complexity of things – we forfeit a little bit more credibility.  We’re like the reviewer who only says good or bad things.  We’ve merely chosen a position, and declined to engage in any kind of inquiry, analysis, or critique of it.  It’s an odd choice, when you think about it, because we want kids to become discerning about what they choose to opt into and out of (when it comes to what they’re asked or pressured to do by friends, partners, insurance salespeople, etc.)

It’s not as though we have to engage in a lengthy discussion every single time a child challenges something; it’s just that if we never do, it sends a message that’s inconsistent with how we say we want kids to turn out.  If from time to time we say things like “Huh.  I’ve never really thought about why kids have to do that.  Maybe it’s _____, or maybe it’s ______, or maybe the reason was once good but it’s time we rethink it,” then kids see that we’re willing to actually consider what’s in front of us.  So that when later we say “I’m concerned about your staying over at _____’s house because ______,” they’re less tempted to dismiss our concern out of hand as just another in a long series of thoughtless adult responses we’re delivering on auto-pilot.