“You mean they’re talking this way, at age twelve?” a shocked parent asked after I told her about inappropriate dialog her child was exposed to. It wasn’t the first time I had to tell a parent what was going on in their child’s world at school. And it won’t be the last.
There’s been a great divide between the parent and the teen/tween world for generations. From Elvis to twerking, millions of parents have struggled with understanding the world their kids live in. It’s easy to turn a frightened eye, but our kids need us to be involved and aware of their world, even if they push against it.
Our kids’ world is expanding faster than we can keep up. We have to worry a lot more about things other than TV shows or who they hang out with these days. Even if we kept our kids locked in their rooms until college, they will still hear, see and experience things that would mortify us. 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:
- Being involved in the social media venues they’re using. If they’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vine, have an active account there, too. You need to know these entities, how they work, and know potential dangers. Being engaged also allows you to help your child know how to safely be a part of these networks. Require your child’s passwords to accounts when they set them up. 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 still are the gatekeeper for their soul.
- If you hear unsettling behavior involving teens on the news, take a moment to talk with your child about what may be similarly happening in their school or peer groups. You can usually measure their knowledge by their response to your questions. Don’t lecture but create a dialog. Using an external event for a discussion with your teen gives them an opportunity to say things they may not say to you on their own. Use these opportunities as teaching tools and listen to their heart.
- Don’t ignore red flags about your teen’s behaviors. Kids often are relieved if they are 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.
- 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 or to tell me something they’ve done wrong before I hear it from someone else. They’ve taken me up on it. It’s made for some hard, honest discussions, but I’d rather be the one giving my child accurate information about things they don’t understand. 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.
- Let them know you’re on their side and providing strength for them. The teen years are hard. Kids whose parents are aware of things in their world have a better chance for making sound, healthy decisions even if they’ve made mistakes. Knowing they are not alone in their world gives them strength and courage to stand up 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 that 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 world that’s changing around them?
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