Just Be Quiet

“If you continually criticize or silence your children, especially your girls, eventually it might take.”

 

I teach improv.

Sometimes I teach improv to kids.

Sometimes kids are more honest and revealing than their adult counterparts.

I was teaching improv to kids as a way of helping them be more comfortable with presentations at school. At the beginning of class, I asked the students if any of them identified as having stage fright.

Some did. Not surprising. We moved on.

Later in the workshop, we were playing a game called Make a Story. In this game, a group of improvisers work together to tell a story.  The instructor points to the different improvisers, who take turns providing the next chunk of the story. The idea is for the group to listen to each others’ offers, work together as a team and build a cohesive story.

This group was composed of the improvisers who’d waited a while to volunteer to go up. The more outgoing individuals opted to go first, while the more reserved ones wait to get an idea of how the game is played before feeling confident the game won’t bring upon them unbearable discomfort or embarrassment. This is high school, after all.

The more reserved bunch went up and told a wonderful story. Every bit of it made sense logically, and it rivalled any of the other stories I’ve heard being performed by a group of people playing this game for the first time.

When I asked the group how they felt about their story, one girl confessed that she found it very difficult. I asked her why she felt that way.

She said: “Remember earlier, when you asked if we have stage fright? I’m one of those people who hates making presentations.”

I said to her: “But you did great! You seemed so confident. I couldn’t tell at all that you were nervous. Why don’t you like talking in front of people?”

She replied: “because every time I mis-speak at home, my mom yells at me.”

Look, I don’t pretend to know anything about parenting. But something tells me that if you keep telling your kid to just shut up, eventually they’re probably going to get the message. And that might cost them; grades, jobs, promotions. Who knows?

I quickly reinforced to her that her contribution to the story was helpful, wonderful and so. incredibly. valid. But that moment made me feel very sad.

I am a big loud-mouth. I speak loud on stage and off. Growing up in my house, my instead of going downstairs to ask my parents a question, I would typically shout my request down to them, and for the most part, they’d return the conversation in kind. My voice is a valuable tool, and it has always been encouraged as such.

Most people I meet, after knowing them for a month or two will typically express something the likes of: “I can’t believe I used to think you were shy (/quiet.)” (What can I say, it takes me a little while before revealing my true self to people, especially in like, an office setting or an intimate piano lesson.)

You know what? I’m probably reading too much into this, and creating drama where there is none. This girl’s relationship with her mother is probably wonderful, and totally Gilmore Girls and everything is sunshine and unicorns. But I can’t help thinking, if you continually criticize or silence your children, especially your girls, eventually it might take.

They might lose their voice.

They might be profoundly uncomfortable in an improv class. They might never feel confident in a business meeting. They might not speak up in a moment of crisis.

And then what?

More silence.

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