A rush of feet, a quick kiss goodbye, and my two middle schoolers were off to catch the bus. I closed the door and stood with my hand on it for a second, absorbing and appreciating the stillness that comes with an empty house while marveling at my big kids. Both kids in middle school means a change in morning routine. It also means that the two little kids I used to walk to elementary school are no more.
I picked up the newspaper that the kids lobbed to me as they scurried down our front steps and made my way to the kitchen, wanting to savor the quiet a bit longer before beginning my work day. I sat down at the table to finish my coffee an article about kids putting off traditional markers of adulthood caught my eye.
Adulthood. My goodness.
Emily is 14 and Thomas is almost 12. We’re more than halfway through the 18 summers I know I’ll have with them and I often find myself wondering if I’m doing enough to prepare them for what comes next. Am I imparting enough knowledge so they’ll make good decisions on their own? Will they remember the good from the bad when put in tough situations?
“Popular culture short-circuits your children’s decision making by pushing their “hot buttons” related to peer acceptance, physical attractiveness, and stimulation,” writes Jim Taylor Ph.D. in Parenting: Decision Making that appears in Psychology Today. “When these hot buttons are pushed, children who are poor decision makers are ready prey to the inevitable bad decisions when they listen to popular culture.”
While my kids seem to have a good head on their shoulders and are making solid decisions now, will this hold true in later life? Will someone push their hot buttons? Will they be confident in standing up to their friends or will peer pressure make them switch from making a good decision to a bad one in a heartbeat? After all, high school is on the horizon, followed by college, and then who knows what their futures might hold.
“Just one screw up,” a friend said with worry in her voice. “All it takes is once and their life will be forever changed. That’s what scares me.”
There’s tons of parenting advice about how to teach kids to make good decisions. Allow poor decisions and play the “what if” game advises Parents Magazine. AllProDad.com says it’s important to let kids learn the hard lessons from their own mistakes and then talk to them about it afterwards to help them reflect. But what really happens, according to Dr. Taylor, is the absence of forethought that causes our kids to overlook the consequences of their decisions and ignore their long-term ramifications.
Even if you follow all the parenting advice in the world, all it takes is once. One friend’s voice in your ear urging you to do something you know you shouldn’t. One drink too many before that one time behind the wheel. One failed relationship. One time of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One photo taken and shared by a friend that seemed so innocent at the time. The future is bright for our kids but it’s also a bit terrifying for us parents because the possibilities are endless and scary.
A recent Washington Post article reported that research conducted by the journal, Child Development, found fewer adolescents were engaging in adult activities such as having sex, dating, drinking alcohol, and driving among others. While that’s good news, it doesn’t mean we can throw up our hands and walk away, patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. As parents, we would be naïve to rest on our laurels, thinking our job was finished.
Instead it’s more important than ever to arm kids with knowledge they need to make good decisions by having necessary conversations about subjects like puberty, healthy relationships, sex, and alcohol that will help them keep growing socially and emotionally.
These are the topics that invite uncomfortable conversation which makes them the most important ones to have. If you’re struggling with how to approach these very difficult issues here are some resources and past posts of mine that can help.
How to Teach Kids to Make Good Decisions About Tough Topics
Resources for Parents to Create Conversations About Healthy Relationships and Sexuality
AMAZE.org produces engaging sex education videos for 10-14 year olds that cover the “mechanics” (e.g., puberty) and also more complex topics (relationships, gender identity, consent, etc.) to help adolescents realize sexuality is a natural, healthy part of being human. Their goal is to empower parents to be the primary sexuality educators of their kids through videos that inform and spark a conversation to provide more information about these subjects that make them less weird. In addition to resources from AMAZE.org, these posts of mine might also help:
- How to Talk About Healthy Relationships with Tweens and Teens
- 4 Things Parents can Do to Teach Kids About Healthy Relationships
Resources to Assist Parents in Talking About Underage Drinking
Responsibility.org leads the fight to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking while promoting responsible decision-making. It’s no small task. I’m proud to say I’ve been working for this nonprofit for years to create resources for teachers to use to educate tweens about the effects of alcohol on developing brains as part of Ask, Listen, Learn. We also have some helpful new resources just for parents that will empower you for starting and continuing the conversation about alcohol in your home.
- Start by getting to know the facts about why kids and alcohol don’t mix.
- Since talking to kids about alcohol early and often is important, here are some tips on keeping lines of communication about alcohol open.
- Get to know the laws that are designed to keep your kids safe, including rules about having your kids drink in your own home instead of going out. Providing underage kids with alcohol is called social hosting and it does come with consequences so know the laws in your state.
- Talk through these hypothetical situations to help your kids practice safe decision making.
In addition to the Ask, Listen, Learn resources for parents, I’ve written a lot of posts to help guide you through conversations with kids about drinking.
- What Do You Do When Your Kids Ask for a Sip of Your Drink?
- Why It’s Important to #TalkEarly When a 9 Year Old Asks for a Beer
Resources for Parents About Discussing Your Child’s Digital Reputation
As kids get older and are applying for college and looking for jobs, their digital reputation is another way that they present themselves to the world. Kids need to know that their digital reputation is an online extension of them and just as they want to make sure that they make the best first impression when meeting someone in person for the first time, the same is true about their digital reputation. Young kids who aren’t on social media often have a digital reputation that comes from photos posted by parents on their social media accounts. Tweens and teens with phones and apps like Snapchat and Instagram need to know that what they post is part of their digital reputation. Here are some of my past posts that can help you navigate a conversation about digital reputations and digital safety with your kids.
- Important Conversations to Have with Kids About Being Safe in the Digital World
- Important Conversations to Have with Kids About Managing Their Digital Reputations
- Important Conversations to Have with Your Kids About Instagram
No compensation was received for this post. I work as an Educational Programs Consultant for Responsibility.org but all opinions are my own.