How will you know if you don’t ask?

My three-year-old has officially hit the “Why?” phase. Any declarative statement we make, whether answering one of his questions, making an observation, or explaining why he should or can’t do something, is almost always met with the same reply.

Why?

Every parent has not only been through this phase, but also experienced the end of the “Why?” line, that point where you run out of logical responses and realize that you just don’t have a good answer. From deconstructing the various parts of fire trucks to staying at the table until he finishes his dinner, my three-year-old must really be starting to get the impression that I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.

As frustrating as it might be, kids don’t ask that question just to needle their parents (though as they get older it can certainly happen). At the onset, “Why?” is how they learn. They’re uncovering how things work, how decisions are made, and how actions link together. They ask “Why?” to make sense of a world that doesn’t yet make sense to them.

Maybe young kids are onto something here.

Maybe we should all spend a little more time asking “Why?” and a little less time making assumptions about what we think is true.

For example, what would happen if students, parents, counselors, and schools traded assumptions for genuine curiosity and began not just asking, but also trying to answer “Why?” around statements like:

  • “Yale is a great school.”
  • “I need a leadership position for my resume.”
  • “Our department will continue to measure class ranking.”
  • “This club meets at lunch once a week.”
  • “Our son needs a college with a lot of personal attention.”
  • “I need to expand my counseling practice.”
  • “The teacher doesn’t like me.”
  • “We don’t send counselors to conferences.”
  • “I’m interested in studying business.”
  • “He should quit the tuba.”
  • “Kids can’t do their own fundraising—parents need to take it on.”
  • “UCLA is good for premeds.”
  • “The counselors at our school can’t help us.”
  • “Kids who major in liberal arts can’t get good jobs.”
  • “My history teacher will write a better letter of rec than my physics teacher.”
  • “I have to stay up past midnight to get my homework done.”
  • “This student should attend a community college rather than a four-year school.”
  • “This student should attend a four-year school rather than a community college.”
  • “I’ll get better internships if I go to NYU.”
  • “You can’t get a good job if you go to a college people haven’t heard of.”
  • “I want to go to law school when I graduate.”

I’m not necessarily suggesting that any of those statements are flawed when specifically applied to you. But how will you know if you don’t ask?