In the parenting game, it’s easy to focus on the losses. There is no perfect parent, and those plays that end in conflict weigh heavily in the tally of W’s and L’s. On the best days, we second guess our guts a hundred times. I’ve failed more times than I can recount.
Like Santa. Totally screwed that one up.
Today, in need of a pat on the back, I took a minute to celebrate a few of the things that *for me* went well. I suppose I’m sitting down to do this for my own reflection and reminder, but I wondered if my wins might support you too.
So here goes…
It’s their language. When we talk about reaching teens where they are, this is where they live. I have had some really solid “conversations” over text, very effective ones at that, because texting allows me to review my words before hitting send and pause before responding to theirs. That’s hard to do in a face-to-face conversation with feelings high. It also allows both parties to go back and reread the conversation.
In most cases, this is good!
I text my kids when I think about them, share funny memes that unite us in humor, and send messages that I think they need to hear but would shrug off in person. I’ll randomly send a “what I love about you is…” text and hope it reaches them when they need it.
Obviously, this does not take the place of face-to-face, but it has certainly enriched our family’s lives in a way I didn’t expect.
The Drugs Convo
Somewhere around third or fourth grade, I started introducing the idea that some people use substances in excess and how harmful that can be. My son asked me why I was telling him about bad things that happen to people or bad things that exist in the world. My response to him was what we now jokingly refer to as the “stingray shuffle talk.”
Bear with me:
Living by the beach and spending a lot of time on the water, I’ve spent many boat days warning my kids about the threats that exist when it comes to ocean play. One of these in our area is an abundance of stingrays that hide just below the sand surface. A stingray barb to the foot can ruin a beach trip instantly! We taught our kids the stingray shuffle, where you don’t lift your feet but rather scoot them through the sand, which disturbs any rays lying in wait. The threat of danger doesn’t keep us from enjoying the beach, but we know how to avoid it and protect ourselves from something that exists.
So now maybe you can see how I related that to drugs?
I explained to my son that drugs exist in our world, like in the case of marijuana, where its use is in some ways legal and in other ways not. I didn’t want him to shame people who have legitimate use, but I also didn’t want him leaning into trends or pressure. I explained that I am preparing him for a world where they exist, but I want him to know ways to enjoy his life without fearing things I hope he will avoid.
Like stingrays. And drugs.
Odd angle, but it worked.
For now anyways.
Our family has always enjoyed cultural events, sports, and live music. We’ve never shied away from taking the kids to places with large crowds. However, dangers exist for children in public restrooms, large crowds, and emergency situations. Our children live in a world where they practice drills at school for these things, so why wouldn’t we talk about the application in our family life as well? On our way to any event, we talk about what we would do in that particular situation if something went wrong, who to ask for help, and where a good meeting place would be, as well as how they would get in touch with us.
On a trip to the Superdome in New Orleans, we talked about how a crowd can shift very suddenly, and a small person might get lost amongst the adults. We talked about finding a safe place to stay still if the crowd is surging—like behind a column or around a corner. We’ve seen the danger of a stampede after the Houston tragedy; we know public spaces are threatened by random acts of violence, gun or otherwise. I don’t want my kids to be afraid, but we talk just enough about “what ifs” and give them answers that make them and me feel more comfortable, prepared, and empowered.
This paid off recently when my oldest attended a high school football game where some youth violence erupted. He had the sense to leave the facility with trusted friends, call me with his new location, and choose a public place for me to pick him up. He stayed with his group, he stayed in contact with me, and he got out of the situation.
I put it off as long as I could. But as his need for it for communication and connection increased, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold out forever. Instead, I created his accounts. I started using the accounts to encourage the algorithm toward his interests. I friended our friends and family. I logged onto the accounts on my own phone.
When I finally gave him access to the accounts, they were already well-established. At first, he could only view them on my phone. When he had demonstrated responsible use of the accounts, we put them on his phone. But I remain logged in on his accounts and review them periodically to ensure that the content he’s seeing aligns with our values.
Teen boys are especially vulnerable to radical pages that target their demographic. I’ve unfollowed pages that he followed unintentionally or not, or I’ve removed followers we didn’t know or whose pages were questionable in origin. We talk about it together. I don’t micromanage his online life but maintain control over the device I pay for.
Birds and the Bees
We started early. Anatomical terms, being” the boss of their own bodies,” teaching respect for others’ bodily autonomy, and encouraging our children to talk to both my husband and me about their health regardless of gender and questions they have about sexuality and reproduction. We provided basic information that aligned with our values when we realized they were exposed to innuendo or other mature content on shows like” The Office,” which became popular among their peer group in middle school.
I guess I can say we stayed ahead of it– all of it. We kept it simple, with small chunks of information at a time. We’ve been casual; we’ve had full sit-downs. But our kids now come to both of us for just about anything. No topic is taboo; instead, it gives us the chance to frame the answers to their questions in the healthiest way we know for our own children. And my daughter is totally comfortable asking her dad to buy tampons. Win.
Being a Good Friend
This conversation has different implications at various stages. Early on, it’s “sharing” for toddlers and how to behave with a guest or as a guest as a school-aged child. But as my kids got older, I set up scenarios that I wanted them to be aware of and have a plan for How to protect a friend in a bad situation. What to do when a girl starts her period unexpectedly? How to respond when a peer comes out to you. What to do when a friend has a problem like an eating disorder, depression, or addiction? There aren’t perfect answers to these, but just opening the conversation takes the sting off of these very possible situations.
My” parenting failures” definitely take the most of my energy (like my “teacher’s kid” who forgets his school materials constantly, the one who is the messiest kid on the block, or the one who forgot to feed the neighbors’ dog while they were out of town, or the one with a C in Algebra 2). But it’s not healthy to only focus on the negative (like how I “ruined my daughter’s life” when I came clean about Santa).
Could I still end up with sociopaths who hate their parents and vent at therapy sessions in their 30s?
But if we don’t share what’s currently working in real-time, what’s the point of all the lessons we’re learning the hard way?