I served as a juror in Placerville a few weeks ago and, along with 11 of my peers, I found the defendant guilty. Charged with drug crimes, it was a tragedy to see a young man squandering his life away. I kept thinking of my own sons, ages 9 and 11, and how someone just a little older than they are could already be so far down the wrong path.
Whether it be Internet use, bullying at school, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, sex, you name it, most parents are concerned about their kids and want to help them make the right choices, but how do we do that?
I thought of the cyber safety presentation I attended at Marina Village Middle School last winter and the No. 1 tool I took from it was to keep talking to our kids.
There is no way we will get ahead of cyber predators’ savvy skills or bar children from accessing every questionable website or app out there. During her presentation the district attorney repeated the theme: talk to your kids and talk some more.
Recently news circulated on the web about a mom receiving a “fat letter” from her 11-year-old daughter’s Florida school. Apparently her muscular, athletic sixth grader has a Body Mass Index of 22 and that, to school officials, was concerning enough to send a letter, though the mother had never thought her daughter heavy. I asked the executive director of the Summit Eating Disorder and Outreach Program in Sacramento about whether these letters to parents are effective and she said, “I recommend families educate children about what is normal in terms of weight, puberty and changes during adolescence. The most important thing is to promote balance across the board, from food to exercise, from academics to downtime.” What she said boils down to the same theme: the importance of parent/child communication.
My hairdresser has a son in 12th grade and is often my sage parenting counsel, giving me a glance at what the future will hold. “Parents need to keep talking to their kids,” he often says. “When they’re little they may share things that seem mundane, but they’re not unimportant to them. When parents brush off that talk, before long kids stop talking.”
I sometimes expect to sit down when I’m ready and my kids will spew their lives to me. Though some kids are that way, mine aren’t and neither are many others. Instead, try doing an activity with your children and if you have more than one child, try special alone time with each one. It’s amazing how they start to talk. Just last week I jogged around our neighborhood with my daughter while she rode her bike. Within minutes, she started to share the latest social dynamics of second grade, which she hadn’t done in such detail yet this school year. Instead of trying to solve her problems or chime in too much, I listened and tried not to act surprised, which is another tool to having kids open up. If we act shocked they often withdrawal.
The answers aren’t always so crystal clear, but communication with our kids is the best antidote to keep them from making bad choices. Keep talking, and then keep talking some more.