The Importance of Starting Serious Conversations With Your Kids
By Jason Osmond
As a parent, your influence is vital when it comes to helping your kids understand the important (and sometimes awkward) topics in life like sex, drugs, and death. But connecting with kids on these issues is one of the hardest things for a lot of parents to do. It’s scary, uncomfortable, and we always seem to satisfy ourselves with the notion that if we just keep them away from these topics as long as we can, we’re protecting them. And that’s what a good parent does, right? We protect.
Come on. What you’re really doing is procrastinating the inevitable. Sure, being a protector is part of the job, but don’t forget the most important part of being a parent: we’re teachers. Thus, we absolutely need to become experts in communicating on those “not-so-fun” topics.
The longer you prolong the conversations,
the more you lose control of their education.
And remember that your kids will learn about this stuff eventually, no matter what. When’s a good age or time? Well, it depends on your kid and the situations your family is in. But whatever you do, don’t procrastinate. Ask yourself this: would you rather teach your kids about their bodies and the world around them or leave that to the Internet and the kids at school?
So, how do you approach your kids and start these important conversations? By using natural prompts that pop up in the form of entertainment, family and friends, and current events. Here are a few tips:
Use your kid’s entertainment
Your kids love games, movies, and books. They are all over them. So why not use them? “Watch TV with children,” writes Veronica I. Johnson, professor and counseling educator at the University of Montana. “Movies can provide opportunities to ask questions and spark conversation with kids about healthy relationships and sexuality in the context of relatable characters.”
Related link: Which Kind of Helicopter Parent Are You?
Now, I don’t think she means for you to pull an R-rated movie marathon on Netflix with your preteen. What’s she’s saying is that when mentions of death, sex, or relationships in general pop up in the media, take the opportunity to stop and have a quick chat about it. The media is all over the place. These are opportunities to strike up conversations and build that trust. “Demonstrate openness and honesty about values and encourage curiosity,” she continues. “Allow conversation to emerge around sexuality at home—other people having children, animals reproducing or anatomically correct names for body parts.”
Use family and friends
Without turning on the TV, your kids will find issues and events that raise questions. And most are coming up in your own extended family and social circle. Family members and friends always have problems and causes for celebration. Use those events as tools to bond.
An article from Planned Parenthood suggests that when “you, another family member, friend, or neighbor announces they’re pregnant,” that’s a great chance to ramp up a conversation with your kid. To add to that, if a friend lets you know their grandmother passed, or if your brother gets a divorce, don’t tell your kids that it doesn’t concern them or get mad at them for asking questions. Make every moment you can a teaching moment. Planned Parenthood also suggests not to “jump to conclusions about why they’re asking what they’re asking.” Instead, after “giving an answer, keep the conversation open” and “then check their understanding.”
I would also add that if you flat-out don’t know the answers, it’s okay to say that. You can even look the answers up with your kid. Or look it up yourself and share what you learned. It is more important to your children that you be honest and open with them than know everything, especially when they have questions. Want to be a bad parent? Just shut them down when they ask you something.
Use local and world events
The news affects your kids even more than you realize. The news of a gun shooting near your home is something your kids will likely hear about. If a pastor or youth leader gets in trouble with the law, there’s a good chance they’ll know before you do. When you frame and explain events, especially local events, the right way, it will benefit their education and your relationship with them. It will also help them to start forming their political viewpoints and opinions on vital controversial issues. While it’s healthy to let them discover some things for themselves, you do want to be a big part of that development.
“You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife,” says Caroline Knorr, editor at Common Sense Media. “But be careful about making generalizations, since kids will take what you say to the bank. This is a good time to ask them what they know, since they’ll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.”
Related link: Why You Should Let Your Kids Think For Themselves
When you hear about things on the news, ask your kids about it. When the anniversary of 9/11 comes around, ask them what they know. If there’s a school shooting, check in with them. Get them talking about what they feel and think.
In the end, it’s all about being aware of opportunities. You have to keep your eyes open. Your kids will learn about it all one way or another. Don’t procrastinate or they will leave you in the dust. That’s how kids end up surprising parents in the worst ways. Don’t let them slip away.
Jason is a writer, marketing strategist, and professional dad. He lives with his wife and three kids in Vineyard, UT.