“You mean they’re talking this way, at age twelve?” a shocked parent asked after I told her about an inappropriate conversation in which her child was involved.
Are you aware of what kids your age are talking about?
From Elvis to twerking, generations of parents have struggled with understanding the world their kids live in. It’s easy to turn a frightened eye, but your kids need you to be involved and aware of their world, even if they push against it.
Your kids’ world is expanding faster than you can keep up. You have to worry about more these days with digital and social media. Even if you kept your kids locked in their rooms until college, they’ll still hear, see, and experience things that would mortify you. Being aware and engaged in your teen and tween’s environment is crucial for navigating and equipping them to make good choices.
Some strategies for being aware of the challenges they face include:
1. Being involved in the social media venues and apps they’re using. Have active accounts where they are. Know how they work, and be aware of potential dangers. Require your child’s passwords when they set them up accounts. Be respectful of their space by being a silent presence in these worlds. Don’t write embarrassing messages on their wall. Let them know you’re “there,” not because you mistrust them, but because it’s the same as knowing who their “real time” friends are and where they hang out. You’re still the gatekeeper for their soul.
2. If you hear unsettling behavior involving teens on the news, talk with your teen about what may be similarly happening in their school or peer groups. You can usually measure their knowledge of a topic by their response to your questions. Don’t lecture, but create a dialog. Discussing a news event with your teen gives them an opportunity to talk about things they may not share on their own. Use these opportunities as teaching tools. Listen to their heart.
3. Don’t ignore warning signs in your teen’s behaviors. Though they appear angry, kids often are relieved if caught in inappropriate behavior. Judge the severity and frequency of their behavior fairly. If your child needs help changing his or her behavior, get professional help as needed. Let your child know they can always make better choices the next day. Don’t let their mistakes define them. Give them new opportunities to start over and make right decisions.
4. Let your teen know you’re approachable – then follow through. I’ve always told my kids I’d rather they come to me to ask questions they don’t understand, rather than feel embarrassed by their ignorance or look up information online. I’ve also told them I’d rather they admit they’ve done something wrong before I hear it from someone else.
They’ve taken me up on it. It’s made for some hard, honest discussions.
Being approachable gives your teen opportunities to discuss difficult topics framed with your values. It’s better education than what they’ll get in the locker room.
5. Let them know you’re on their side. The teen years are hard. Kids whose parents are engaged in their culture have a better chance for making sound, healthy decisions even though they’ll still make mistakes. Knowing they’re not alone gives your teen strength and courage to stand strong when it’s difficult.
Kids don’t want Mom and Dad to be their friends. They don’t want you to “hang out” with them in their world, but they need you to be aware of their struggles and of the difficult world they live in when you’re not around. Be prepared – they’ll tell you they don’t want you in their space.
It’s all part of the natural process.
What are ways you engage in conversations with your kids? What other ways do you connect with your kids and engage in the changing world around them?