Are you like me? Have you been sent/forwarded something that caused your “skeptical” alarms to go off? I graduated with a degree in Journalism, and I just can’t help myself from being a skeptic when faced with some wild and (truly) unbelievable story that is spreading like wildfire. If adults can be fooled, how about kids, who often don’t have a clue where to go for “real” news. Growing up in an age of newspapers, where journalistic integrity was at least held up as the standard (whether always followed or not), older generations are more used to researching, asking questions, and challenging a source when something seems “off.” But our kids are getting most of their news from their feeds, and who knows what they are hearing and believing? In fact, Common Sense Media in an online report (with great infographics) found that “less than half of kids agree that they know how to tell fake news stories from real ones.”
One encouraging item in the above-linked report is that kids tend to trust news from family more than any other source. If you want to help your teen become a THINKING consumer of news media, there are some things you can do. Commonsensemedia.org has some great resources and ideas. I usually go there for analysis of TV shows, and movies from a parent’s perspective (you’ll find out in detail why a movie is PG-13, or R-rated for instance). But they also have a lot of insightful articles about how we as parents can help our kids use media wisely and well. Two articles there that will give you some ideas on how to talk to your kids are: “How to Spot Fake News,” and “Teaching Kids Media Smarts During Breaking News.”
I remember vividly two letters I received from students last year recounting the effects of sexual abuse in dating relationships. In one case, a girl was experiencing constant nightmares a full two years after experiencing sexual force in a relationship with her 8th grade boyfriend. The other was depressed and cutting, again years after sexual abuse in a middle school relationship. But sexual abuse doesn’t just happen in the context of romantic dating relationships. It may happen at the hands of a “trusted” family friend, neighbor, or family member. We all hate to think it could happen, and parents may be the ones most likely to think “I would know if my child had been abused.” However, if some estimates are true that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been abused in some way sexually before the age of 18, then many more of us have children who have experienced abuse than we think. Why don’t our children tell us? According to an article about child sexual abuse, children don’t tell because of…
Threats of bodily harm (to the child and/or the child’s family)
Fear of being removed from the home
Fear of not being believed
Shame or guilt
The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress says: “If the abuser is someone the child or the family cares about, the child may worry about getting that person in trouble. In addition, children often believe that the sexual abuse was their own fault and may not disclose for fear of getting in trouble themselves. Very young children may not have the language skills to communicate about the abuse or may not understand that the actions of that perpetrator are abusive, particularly if the sexual abuse is made into a game.”
Do your children know that they can talk to you? That you will listen? Maybe it’s time to have a conversation. Start with reading this article, and when you have that conversation, be sure to let your children know YOU can be trusted to listen and understand, and that nothing that might have happened to them is their fault.
In addition, here are some local resources…hotlines you or your child can call.
YWCA West Suburban Center. Glen Ellyn. Hotline: (630) 971-3927
Community Crisis Center. Elgin. Hotline: (847) 697-2380
One of the funniest comments I ever got was from a student who said that at first she expected to see some old person with warts show up as the Teen Decision speaker. Others were similarly relieved…”‘I like how you didn’t just say ‘Sex is bad. Don’t have sex. Back in my day….’ You talked about how it actually is.” While we immediately dispel students’ notions about boring or irrelevant sex ed, it’s not so easy to dispel the misconceptions many ADULTS have about the abstinence message. Today I watched a YouTube video of a 20-something sex educator who has multiple videos mocking abstinence education as “abstinence only,” “pledge cards,” “purity rings,” and “lies, lies, lies.” The false stereotypes were rampant…and it made my blood boil. So, let’s tackle just one common misconception: That abstinence education is “shame-based.” One of the ways to connect with teens, whether as a parent, or a Teen Decision speaker, is for them to know you understand their world, their feelings and the pressures they face. That includes the desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend and the urge to express their desires physically. Shame is a poor motivator, and is never part of our classroom presentation, nor should it be how you approach your child. Instead, we’re matter-of-fact about discussing sex. And that makes it less awkward. There was a study some years ago of teen-parent conversations about sex. When parents didn’t show nervousness or discomfort (I know, that’s not easy!) but were straightforward and calm when discussing sex, teens were more likely to be OK with having those conversations, less nervous themselves, and more likely to feel parents (YOU) could be approached with questions and concerns. We want to send the message that there’s no shame in having feelings and desires, but managing those desires in a way that leads to good relationships and dating practices is key to a healthier, happier future.
Next time, I’ll tackle another misconception…that the message to wait to have sex is “fear-based.”
If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that we regularly encourage parents to discuss topics of safety and health with their children. One topic that bears regular repetition is pornography, and we are always happy when we can pass along a new resource to help you discuss the difficult topic with your teen.
On a personal note, please don’t shy away from this topic. The landscape of porn today is more more relentless, dark and dangerous than just a few decades ago. It is worth trying to steer our children away from it, however daunting the task may seem. You can be successful in turning young people away from porn. My husband recently shared a story from his childhood:
I went over to a friend’s house and brought Braveheart for us to watch. It was on VHS. Partway through, the movie stopped and Olympic gymnastics started. We thought the video had stopped, but no…it was still playing. Eventually, the movie came back on. Then I realized my dad had taken the VHS tape and recorded gymnastics over the part with some nudity.
My father-in-law cared about how his son grew up, the kind of man he would become, and the images he would see. It is humorous now, in a way, but also something for which I, as his son’s eventual wife, am forever grateful.
This article builds off of the previous post, which can be read here.
My dad’s parents taught me to play card games and told stories about my Grandpa beating all the other soldiers at Cribbage. My mom’s mom taught me to bake — real, old-world baking with lots of butter, yeast, and white flour. And the stories she told about my mom’s dad taught me about farming and life in the American Midwest. We lived a plane flight away from both sides of the family, and still my grandparents had a profound impact on my life.
Today, grandparents often play an even bigger role in children’s lives. In general, their health is better and they live longer. As more families include two working parents, grandparents are picking up the slack with childcare. And for the grandparents who do live far away, technology like Skype and social media make it easier than ever to stay in touch. Last week we looked at the importance of children having a strong family identity. This week we’ll look at how grandparents specifically can connect with teens and help give them that sense of identity.
How can grandparents connect with their grandkids? There are several obvious disconnects between grandparents and teens. They are separated by not just one generation gap, but several. Their interests, abilities, and experiences are very different. They may not even live anywhere close to each other! Yet intentional steps taken by grandparents and parents can facilitate good connections, which hopefully a teen will quickly reciprocate. Here are some ideas, written as steps a grandparent could take:
Invite each grandchild to do something unique with you — just the two or three of you.
Teach your grandchildren a hobby or skill, such as fishing, cooking, woodworking, etc.
Attend their events, even the boring ones: recitals, baseball games, marching band parades.
Plan an event, outing or vacation for either all the men or all the women in the family. This is especially beneficial when teens hit 12 or 13 and are going through puberty.
Invite your grandchildren to events and social gatherings that are important to you, whether that’s church, the local VFW, or Rotary club. Let them meet your friends.
Ask your grandchildren to teach you a new skill, such as digital photography, or game, such as Minecraft.
Use texting and Skype to communicate, even if it feels difficult to learn.
If you speak a second language, teach your grandchildren some of it. Have a few words that can become part of the family vocabulary even if the kids don’t become fluent.
Talk about family traditions you enjoyed from your own childhood. If the tradition hasn’t continued, find a way to restart it.
Gather a few time honored recipes and teach them to your grandchildren.
Keep track of special events, or big games or tests, and call or text your grandchildren on those days.
Start a collection together (dolls, stamps, postcards) and build it, whether you are together or far apart.
Share this post with the grandparents you know. I hope there will be one or two new ideas for building family connectedness.
Sadly, I know there are many cases where family brokenness makes forming a strong family identity difficult. Next week, we’ll look at navigating the ups and downs in a family.
*Several ideas from this post were first shared in this article, which is a faith-focused article about passing on religious beliefs to grandchildren.
A few months ago, my husband and I said good-bye to the last of our grandparents, my husband’s Grandma. For the last decade or more, every 4th of July, her children and their families would gather at a lake house — a group that grew by one or two (or five) each year. She lived to see 25 great-grandchildren born! Today, if you want to know what our family is about, you only have to stop by that lake house this July 4. I expect all of the traditions will continue, from shooting off our own fireworks, to building some new addition to the house, to taking the requisite family photo — more difficult as the family grows each year. The family is competitive, stubborn in its generosity, efficient as only engineers know efficiency, and completely devoted to each other.
As those 25 great-grandchildren age, their family identity will keep them grounded. Research backs this up. Family stories and a child’s ability to see herself as part of a bigger picture play an important role in helping children navigate challenges and stress. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“[Researchers] developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.
“Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?
“Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families…. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
So how do you create a strong family identity? I offer some suggestions below, and then next week, we’ll continue the discussion by looking specifically at grandparents.
Family artifacts. Share stories about items that belonged to other family members or which have been passed down through generations. They don’t have to be valuable! My husband keeps a few of his Poppy’s books (some of which still have Poppy’s old business cards tucked in as bookmarks). I have a pair of my Grandma’s shoes — the ones she got in Germany as a refugee during WWII. When we visit my parents’ house, we use a tablecloth made by my Grandma and her sisters, and hear again how incredible it is that they crocheted the whole thing by hand.
Make and keep traditions. If you don’t have any traditions yet, it is never too late to start. You could look through old photos to get ideas of activities you want to repeat — family memories you may have already forgotten but want to rekindle. Or, decide as a family what would be really special to do, and to keep doing. My friend’s family picks up take-out Chinese for dinner every Christmas eve. Why? No one knows. But it has become tradition.
Share photos. This can mean looking at albums together, but it can also be an opportunity to leverage social media. Throwback Thursday is an internet tradition of posting pictures from way back when — why not start including some from WAY back. Scan family photos using one of these methods or at a local convenience store with photo services. Then they are ready to share — and you may be surprised at what your kids are willing to post on their social media. Grandpa bowling with a handlebar moustache? Awesome!
Family Core Values. Like a business, sit down together and identify what your family’s core values are. Let everyone contribute. Write them down. If you have younger children, write down values on popsicle sticks and use them to build a house together. Repeat these to each other. “Remember guys, we’re the Smiths. And Smiths stick together.”
In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to explore the topic of family stories and how they can help us be better parents. In the comments section, share a way that you keep family traditions!
The latest social media trend among today’s teens may surprise you. This report from The Onion describes the movement from Facebook to the comments section of a popular YouTube video of a slow-motion deer running.
What kind of boy or girl resists peer pressure? And how can I get one of THOSE kids?
All joking aside, there is some indication that a child who is comfortable “negotiating” with his or her mother, one who stands up for his or her views in the family, might be good at asserting him or herself in a peer pressure situation. The study found that “teens that were best able to resist peer pressure were those who openly expressed their views with their mom. These teens also used reasonable arguments instead of whining or using insults to influence their mother’s opinion on common issues, such as grades, household rules, money and chores.” So, the next time you’re weary of the child who seems to be wearing you down with arguments, remember that your little debater may also be taking those reasoning skills into social situations where resisting risky behavior is critical to his or her well-being.
I could have used the advice in this short article when navigating how to be a Facebook friend to my daughters. I’ve made a few mistakes mentioned there, like tagging my daughter in pictures, not realizing they then automatically appear in her profile. I also have had comments removed before…though I’m not entirely sure what my offense was. In my defense, I did wait for my daughter’s last boyfriend to friend ME, rather than friending him first. So parents, do you have the courage to find out what blunders you’ve already made, and how to keep in the loop by being a good Facebook friend?
There is a dramatic disconnect between what parents think their own children are doing, and what they are really doing when it comes to alcohol and drugs. For example, while 52% of 10th graders admit to using alcohol and 28% say they’ve used marijuana in the past year, only 10% and 5% of parents, respectively, believe their teens have used these substances. As I’ve written previously, this is true for sexual activity as well…everyone thinks his child is more naive than his peers. Parents do, however, believe that other people’s kids are doing such things.
We need to ask ourselves, “Am I one of those naive parents?” We want to believe in and trust our kids…but even the best kids can make surprisingly stupid choices on occasion. after all, the “wisdom” and “self-control” part of the brain doesn’t mature until the mid-20s. We at least need to be alert, and should look for opportunities to have preemptive talks about these risky choices. The article reporting on these findings also has suggestions for parents.