Eight Tips for Building Your High School Student’s Critical Thinking Skills

By Huntington Learning Center

There are many skills your teen will need in college but one of the most important is critical thinking. College professors encourage students to challenge assumptions and not just memorize information. They expect students to analyze, reflect and ask questions. 

As a parent, what can you do to build your teen’s critical thinking skills and help him or her get ready for college? Here are eight tips: 

  1. Ask your teen’s opinion. Whether you discuss the news or the latest movie you’ve watched together, invite your teen to share ideas. Then, when your teen communicates his or her point of view, talk about the “why” behind them.
  2. Let your teen solve problems. Resist the urge to step in and save the day when your teen can’t find something or is struggling with an assignment. Your teen experiences significant growth by figuring out the steps required to deal with adversity, major or minor.
  3. Talk about books and other reading material. If you hit a wall bringing up real-world or personal topics, try discussing what your teen is reading. Ask about the story, your teen’s favorite and least favorite characters (and why), and what your teen predicts is going to happen at different parts of the story.
  4. Teach your teen to take new perspectives. In everyday life, encourage your teen to think about things from his or her perspective as well as the perspective of others. Ask how those viewpoints differ and why your teen thinks so.
  5. Encourage your teen to dig deeper. In every situation, there is the information in front of us and the information one must either assume or determine (from further research or inferences). Instill in your teen a sense of inquisitiveness. Remind your teen not to accept everything as fact, but rather, investigate and think independently.
  6. Talk about the application of concepts. As your teen nears college, he or she is probably thinking about majors and careers. Point out how different subjects and concepts are used in life and in different kinds of jobs.
  7. Have your teen show you. Put your teen in the teacher’s seat and invite him or her to explain to you how he or she approached that math homework or opinion essay. Ask thoughtful questions that require your teen to articulate ideas and methods clearly.
  8. Talk through failures. As mentioned earlier, it is important for your teen to learn to solve problems independently. When your teen does struggle or fail, however, you can help reinforce valuable lessons by asking good questions, such as:
    • What happened?
    • Why did this occur? 
    • What were the consequences of your action or inaction?
    • If you could redo the situation what would you do differently? 
    • What did you learn from this?

No matter what career path your teen chooses, the ability to think deeply and critically is essential. Your teen’s teachers continuously promote this, but there’s a lot you can do at home as well to support their efforts. As a critical thinker, your teen will be better equipped to succeed in life far beyond high school and college.


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