There’s a show on broadcast television called, “What Would You Do?” Immediately after one of our favorite shows, it came on. We just started watching it, so horizontal and lazy were we that changing channels seemed too huge an endeavor. It works like this: actors portray a brief scenario in public while being filmed. Whatever it is, you are compelled to ask yourself: What would you do in this situation? An online stalker propositioning a young victim, an racist mother talking her daughter out of buying a brown-skinned doll, a couple arguing loudly about whether they should divorce. Then-you guessed it-we see what happens. A person will step in at some point and try to help, or to confront, the actors. Then our host comes from behind the shadows and surprises everyone! And interviews him/her! And makes everyone feel good! It’s overproduced and inauthentic but has sparked some great conversations with my kids.
There are a couple things which have always bothered me about this concept. First of all, it feels like you are tricking the people into reacting. After all, it’s not really happening, it’s actors. I always appreciate the ones who step in and try to help, I’m not sure I always would under the circumstances, but still…It’s. Not. Real. The other thing that bothers me is that my kids are just sitting and watching. It’s reality television after all, everyone is always waiting for the train wreck to happen. It’s not active, it’s passive, even if they are yelling at the television.
As I read “The Whole Brain Child” by Dr. Dan Siegel last week, I was thinking about the show. He talks a lot about the “upstairs brain,” which is the thinking and reasoning part of your brain. And then there is the “downstairs brain” which is ruled by emotions and reactivity. You know when your child has a tantrum (yes this happens even when they are teenagers) and it’s impossible to talk to them? That’s when the downstairs brain is at work. When you wait until they are calm to have a discussion, that’s when the upstairs brain is operating. Newsflash frazzled parents! You are also calmer once the tantrum is over. Dr. Siegel mentions using “what would you do” questions to develop your child’s ability to problem solve! Imagine how brilliant I am that I was thinking the same thing as him!
So I sat down, thought about the ages of my kids, and wrote a bunch of questions on index cards. They range from “what would you do if you saw your friend cheating on a test?” to “what would you do if you saw your friend’s boyfriend kissing another girl?” and everything in between. It’s actually kind of fun thinking of these questions. Sometimes I throw them out during a long car ride, sometimes at dinner. But someone always says something I wasn’t expecting. It’s not really an opportunity to correct them but more connect to them. It’s cool to know what they are thinking, even if I don’t agree with them.
We all have times in life that we have to make a choice. For me, that comes down to asking myself what kind of person I want to be. For my kids, I hope that I can guide them into asking those kinds of questions of themselves. After all, I won’t always be there. You take them to practice to help them be better at sports, why not practice being a better thinker?
What would you do?
photo at top of post by Barbara Paulsen at tandemechoes.com