The Tip of the Iceberg or the Rest of
As many health educators know, the years during which children
are willing to speak about personal things that are important
to them are often limited to the "show and share"
years of primary grades. Once children enter middle school
age, many of them seem reluctant to tell adults much about
their meaningful experiences.
Often a child will start a story and then say, "Never
mind." Sometimes a word or two in passing is all that
an adult might hear about an important eventjust the
barest hint of a story that asks to be told. The stories are
like icebergs. The tip of the story is like the tip of an
icebergonly 10% of it appears above the surface. The
rest can remain hidden below the surface.
Why is it difficult to get to the "rest of the story?"
As children pass the magical stage of childhood and move into
an adaptive, more socially "correct" or acceptable
way of being in the world, they may be reluctant to tell too
much for fear that they won't be "cool," or they
have learned that they will upset another or get in trouble
if they tell too much. As teens mature, they may also believe
that no one will listen or understand. When there is a good
listener present, adolescents like to tell their stories,
just as they did when they were young children; however, the
stories may be more complex, and they may not be able to find
the words to describe what's going on. Feeling safe and having
a good listener will enable a teen to "scratch the surface"
of the story. As a result, more and more of the story can
The importance of getting to the "rest of the story"
is to balance the talking about events with the feelings
or emotions that the story elicits. Among other emotions,
there may be some sadness in the story which can be acknowledged.
This sadness helps with the understanding of how much a person
cares about what s/he remembers. If teens don't have an opportunity
to acknowledge their emotions, they can become depressed.
PAST THE 'TIP' OF THE ICEBERG:
Learn how to be a good listener. Many teens will share if
they trust that their stories will be honored and not judged.
Remembering that the "tip" of the story is probably
only ten percent of what is there to be said, one can ask,
"Is there anything more about that you'd like to say?"
or, "Did you leave anything out?"
Health educators and parents can offer middle and high school
age students a life skill by permitting and encouraging the
telling of the whole story. The telling of meaningful experiences,
no matter what the content, can be stepping stones to maturity.
illustrate the idea behind telling just a bit of a story,
put a cylinder of ice in a fish bowl or some other glass
bowl. The tip of the iceberg is like the "tip"
of the story. Ask your students to guess how much of
the iceberg is visible and how much is under water;
they may be surprised to find that only ten per cent
of an iceberg floats above the water. Ninety per cent
is under water- just as ninety per cent of a meaningful
story is "under" the surface of those first
few words. As the students talk and listen to each other,
the cylinder of ice melts, providing the illustration
that the talking can get beyond the "tip"
of the iceberg.