This morning, I met with Mom-Author and member of my community Mandy Majors at our local Starbucks. She is the author of the book Talk: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting An Open Communication. We spoke about the conversations parents aren’t having with their kids, and her quest to spread the message that parents must create a more open dialogue with kids and teens. I couldn’t agree more.
Some conversations are just plain hard, but our kids need guidance. We have to walk along with them through some uncomfortable areas in order to keep them safe. If we don’t teach them what we want them to know, our kids will get answers to their questions elsewhere, or worse, go along without any answers at all.
Sex is a broad topic all by itself, but we have to have this discussion with our kids early and often. Before they are old enough to have a personal curiosity driving them to explore their own sexuality, our kids need to hear about sexuality at home. What is sex? What’s its purpose? When is the appropriate time to express sexuality?
By adolescence, teens need to be able to talk openly with parents about their thoughts, feelings, and any confusion regarding sex. College aged kids need to be able to call home and discuss topics like consent with ease.
2. Interacting with Strangers Online
There’s a whole world on the internet, and our kids are participating in that world every day. Despite a growing knowledge of online predators, it can still be hard to talk about strangers online. Instead, parents resort to simply forbidding kids to interact with strangers in the online world, but they can’t avoid stranger interactions completely or forever. We still have to talk about the fact that one can never know who is on the other side of that screen.
3. Technology and Privacy
Technology is never private. Period. Snapchats, Texts, Selfies… There is never a guarantee that any words typed into a device or picture sent across the airwaves, even when sent to just one other person, will be completely private. We must discuss this uncomfortable truth with our kids. Even your BFF may be incapable of maintaining your privacy at all time. His Mom may be glancing at the screen just as your message comes through.
Schools talk to our kids about bullying, right? So it might feel unnecessary to discuss the topic at home. But bullying is easily misunderstood, and in the online world, it is changing. The worst forms of bullying no longer involve shoving someone’s head in the locker, or ostracizing one person from the group. The new face of bullying is an electronic screen, where anonymity leads to unthinkable cruelties- like suicide baiting. Our kids need to talk to us about these issues long before encountering them, so they will seek our advice if they find themselves in a situation they are unable to handle on their own.
5. Depression and Anxiety
Kids, teens, and young adults suffer with record levels of depression and anxiety compared with the passt. There are many theories about the reasons for rising rates of depression and anxiety, but whatever the cause, our kids need to know that they can come to us if they struggle. Or, perhaps even more common, our kids may need to know we can offer advice and support if they have a depressed or panicky friend, since more than 20% of youth struggle with a mental health diagnosis, and depression/anxiety are the most common.
Cutting or otherwise harming oneself is a growing problem, especially in young teenagers struggling with overwhelming emotions. Some parents may even be unaware that self-harm rates have been increasing for a decade. Talking can lead kids to be more open with parents about their own struggles, and about what they are hearing and seeing from friends.
The online world provides infinite opportunities for pornography viewing. Kids as young as 10 years old may struggle with pornography. They may be viewing it in secret, and tying their sexual impulses together with risky behavior and shame. This is a topic parents may want to avoid, but our sons and our daughters need us to discuss it with them. They need us to answer their uncomfortable questions, and guide through a world with ready access to this kind of content.
The suicide rate, especially for young people, has been increasing. Perhaps the scariest of topics on this list, suicide needs to be a topic we bring up. Parents can’t shy away, or else kids may not come to us with their darkest emotional struggles when they need us.
9. Parents are Always on Your Side
Talking about these difficult topics, even when parents would rather avoid them, serves one central purpose: to encourage kids to come to parents with anything. Whatever the difficult topic, kids need to hear parents say that we can handle it. We will be with them. They need us to set aside our embarrassment and our fears, and guide them through the dark corners of the developmental years. Otherwise, they’ll be left to walk through it alone.