My son walked up to a sales associate at a sporting goods store the other day and let him know that he was looking for something and he couldn’t find it. He didn’t ask for my help and he didn’t hesitate. He just found a sales associate and said, “Your website says you have it in stock but I don’t see it here.” Ten minutes later the new item in hand and after requesting a mini-lesson on how to use his new head harness for lifting weights (I know), we were on our way.
It sounds like a small thing, but when I was a teenager, I would have assumed the store didn’t have the product, and left or asked my mom to ask for me because I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it. And I wasn’t a shy child. I just put other people’s time and energy before my own and always felt that I’d rather go without than put someone out.
My daughter is very specific about how she likes her veggie wraps and while the man behind the counter was assembling her sandwich a few weeks ago, she asked for more pickles after he’d placed some on her sandwich.
My Teens are Confident and Speak Up
Again, this wasn’t something I would have done when I was younger. I would have taken what I’d been served, longed for the extra pickles, but I definitely would not have said anything.
There are evenings I drop my son off with his friends at the local mall and they shop and eat. Sometimes he’s the first one there and he gets out of the car and walks in, sits down and waits alone. I’ve asked him many times if he wants to stay in the car until he sees one of his mates, or if he’d like me to go wait with him–he doesn’t.
It’s not just because he’s ashamed to be seen with his mom (although I’m sure that’s part of it), it’s because he doesn’t mind sitting alone waiting or browsing a store solo. One time I decided to stick around because I didn’t see any of his friends so I slipped into Starbucks where he was waiting to make sure he was okay. He was asking the barista to make him something he didn’t see on the menu, a drink that used to be his favorite.
She couldn’t, but he wasn’t afraid to ask.
There was a time when they were younger that it bothered me if they disagreed with an adult or requested something that wasn’t on the menu. Like the time my father came over and made fun of my son for wearing a beaded necklace he’d received in a parade. My son’s response was, “I’ll wear what I want because I like it.”
He could have said nothing and simply continued to wear the necklace. He could have taken it off and never worn it again, but he decided to speak up.
Then there was the time he caught another adult in a lie and called him out. It was uncomfortable but he wasn’t wrong. I’m pretty sure that family member will never tell a lie (in front of him anyway) again.
I was raised to believe that children should be seen and not heard and because of that, I was a very quiet child who sublimated my needs and feeling to please other people and not rock the boat. I did myself a huge disservice that had long-lasting consequences for me.
I didn’t have the confidence to speak up as a young girl. When I graduated from college and got my first job, I found out a coworker who I had seniority over made more money than me. I kept quiet because I was too scared to speak up and ask for what I was worth. The thought of speaking up practically made me break out in hives—I’d never done anything like that before.
Rocking the boat was scary but so was mustering up the nerve to ask for what I wanted. I’d often say, “It’s okay” even when things weren’t okay.
And because I hadn’t practiced asking for what I wanted or letting someone know if they’d crossed a line when I was younger, it was unnatural for me to do those things as an adult.
In my 30s my behavior began to change. I realized that life would fly by whether I asked for what I wanted or not. I knew I had to set a better example for my kids– especially because they were all headed off to school and they didn’t have my voice behind them making sure they got what they needed.
One of my kids is shy, but she still has no problem speaking up–with her teachers, her friends, or her two brothers.
Of course, I insist that they speak up in a respectful way, they are, after all, still kids but I refuse to punish them for speaking up.
I think it’s one of the most valuable skills they can possess. If they speak up they are less likely to be taken advantage of or to feel resentful. They will be better able to communicate their feelings and thoughts with friends, bosses, and partners, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
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