Have you had moments when something happens where you aren’t sure what to do and look for direction from someone else? Or have you made decisions in a hurry without taking the time to mull it over? Or perhaps you’ve been pulled by your emotions to react in a certain way because you’re so full of big feelings that the compulsion to act is powerful?

If you’ve gone through common situations like that, as I have, you’re likely not accessing the powerful tool of critical thinking.

What is happening in the modern era of parenting, which is so drastically different that the one our parents experienced, is that the influence of other people has become louder and more prevalent and seriously affecting our parenting abilities and confidence. I’m looking squarely at the invention of the Internet and social media as causes here.

In some areas this has benefitted our children a great deal: positive parenting is on the rise, as is emotional IQ growth, and parents feel able to get answers to most of their questions by simply doing an online search.

However, we’re also seeing a dip in millennial’s abilities to think for themselves: to be able to problem solve, make confident decisions, and have grit. Some authors go as far as saying we’re in the midst of a critical thinking crisis.

What is critical thinking?

Vineet Nair, MD, says in his new book Healthier You, that:

Critical thinking is simply the process of analyzing a topic objectively prior to forming a judgment on that issue, opposed to simply going by your instincts or your “gut.” In order to do this, you need to be aware of what may be influencing those feelings, including common biases—preconceived ideas that aren’t based on sound reason—and errors in logic that all humans make when thinking about a subject. But because it takes effort, our thinking is easily manipulated by media, advertisers, and even our friends and colleagues.

Critical thinking is not about the ability to gather information so having a great memory and being smart is not the same as being able to think critically. The difference is having the ability to deliberate clearly and rationally about what to believe in or do.

It is possible to parent our children in a way that reduces their ability to think for themselves – picture “helicopter parenting,” micro-managing, and “snow-plowing” here. When we solve our children’s problems for them, preventing any struggle in their lives, we take away valuable learning that happens when things go wrong.

When a child is continually managed, told what to do, how to solve a problem, what to think, and what to believe, they have a harder time growing the ability to deliberate for themselves.


There are actually quite a few things you can do to foster the growth of critical thinking in your kids at home.

  • Encourage them to ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense to a child, (s)he can be encouraged to voice any objections or not buying what we’re saying. One of my sons does this regularly and I have to remind myself this is a good thing!
  • Steer away from “Because I said so.” I know: it’s just easier to say that. This also applies to pushing a particular dogma. We don’t want our child to believe something hook, line, and sinker just because we think something should be done or believed a certain way.
  • Get them to clarify what they mean. Ask them to put things into their own words.
  • Talk about “biases.” Emotions, cravings, and motives can influence our judgments. Explain how to look at something without a bias. Dr. Nair does a great job of covering this topic in Healthier You.
  • Encourage children to think of alternative explanations and solutions to a problem. Maybe there is more than one way to solve something well? This helps them to be more flexible in their thinking.
  • Talk about moral, political, and ethical dilemmas. Ask them questions like, “What would you do” or “Is that ethical?”
  • Encourage them to read and write!


I will be posting more information about higher-level thinking for parents in the months to come. If you keep track of my Facebook page, you’ll see when those go live.

Full disclosure time! Vineet Nair, MD is actually my husband but I’m not recommending his book because I am married to him, I am suggesting it because it’s a great tool for the job. If I thought a different resource would accomplish that, I would certainly choose that one instead.