How We Talk To Our Kids
How We Talk To Our Kids
Adrienne BoettingerThursday,11 August 2016
My dad used to like to pretend bad things just didn’t happen. When asked about family feuds or crises d’jour he’d switch topics, ignore the issue, tell me to pray for him, or make up an innocuous answer. On the other hand, my mom would give bizarre guidance when it wasn’t needed—like that using tampons would make my insides rot and send me to hell or that walking pneumonia could be cured by walking—and ignore the tough talks like sex, drugs and alcohol, inequality, mental illness, and violence. I don’t really blame them though; that stuff is hard to talk about.
Oddly many of us lose our collective minds when schools try to teach our kids about any of these tough issues and yet still freak the hell out at having to do the talking with our kids ourselves. As a non-child having spinster I probably shouldn’t dare to express an opinion but I will anyway. I have a lot of empathy for my friends and family with kids. How the hell do you tell them that Santa isn’t real let alone that a gunman shot 20 first-graders? Or that heading off to college will probably result in them or one of their friends being sexually assaulted (or doing the assaulting)? How do you tell your child of color to be extra careful if he is ever pulled over by the police? How do you tell your child that his cop mother might not come home one day? How do you tell your white child that part of why discussions of race are so inflammatory in this country is because 150 years ago your ancestors thought it was okay to own the ancestors of the kid across the street?
If we can’t talk openly and thoughtfully with our fellow adults about these issues, how will we be able to listen to and talk with our kids? And how will we ever expect our kids to want to talk to or listen to us if all they ever hear is us demonizing “the other side.” And talking with children about life—the bad stuff and the good—is critical. They’re exposed to crazy conspiracy theories, fearmongering, and erroneous arguments about stuff that’s really important. How are they to make sense of it if the people they’re supposed to trust most in the world are suddenly tongue-tied?
For society to function well, we need children to think critically about the toughest and scariest things life throws at them. We need to be able to have sensitive and honest conversations with each other and with our children or we’ll just keep repeating the same mistakes generation after generation. Yes, sometimes it will be unbelievably awkward. But it won’t get better by hiding our heads in the sand or spending too much time shouting and not enough time listening.