Our children think they have all the answers. Just ask them. They’ll be sure to tell you why they are right and you are wrong – about almost everything.
As parents who are (hopefully) wiser, we know that our children are still somewhat naive in a variety of ways in spite of their confidence. We try to guide them and help them miss those bumps in the road but sometimes they don’t want to listen.
Here are five places our children can do with our help, with a few simple tips for being an influence without being the intrusive, over-protective parent.
This is the obvious place to start, because in all reality, our kids know more about this than we do! It can take us twenty minutes to switch the TV from X-box mode to… uh, TV mode.. – and after failing we give up and go to bed. The kids do it in 3 seconds.
But while they might be savvy when it comes to “know-how”, many children are less savvy when considering the way they use their technology.
The 2013 Tweens, Teens, and Technology reports from McAfee showed that kids are sharing passwords with friends, sharing private information in public spaces, chatting with strangers online, and meeting those strangers in the real world. And countless media articles are being written about the “selfie epidemic” that sees our daughters provocatively posing, pretending to be sexually confident and available.
Savvy they may be, but they are naive when it comes to online safety and digital reputations.
How to Help:
- Keep kids off social media as long as you can – and at a minimum, until the appropriate age specified by the relevant app.
- Monitor feeds and timelines by either checking in via their account, or being their friend.
- Ask questions and promote conversations (where they do most of the talking) when you see things that concern you.
Many children are reluctant to take advice on relationships, particularly as they get older. But social challenges can make for troubled times in out children’s lives, and often they don’t have the experience to navigate them well. Friendships shift and change as values and identities are explored, discarded, and resurrected. Conflict is almost certain for most children’s relationships.
How to Help:
- Recognise that most of the time, our teens just need to be heard, not fixed.
- Acknowledge that friendships can be hard, and then ask your child how she thinks a solution can be found. The answers are generally inside our kids. Figuring it out is part of their growth.
3. First relationships and dates
While most kids have crushes throughout primary school, boyfriends and girlfriends become more common – and more intimate – during adolescence. This is challenging for us because while we want our teens to experience love, we also want them to be safe, happy, and healthy (in every way). Break-ups hurt. And unexpected intimacy too young is related to a range of negative outcomes.
How to Help:
- Establish boundaries about dating early. Have conversations with your kids from the time they first start talking about a boyfriend, girlfriend, or ‘crush’. E.g., what is the right age to “date”? (For what it’s worth, we teach our kids that group dates are great from age 16 and single dating from 17).
- Talk about intimacy from a young age, helping your children understand the right time and place for holding hands, kissing, and eventual sexual activity.
- Encourage the relationship in ways you feel good about. If you don’t feel good about it, don’t encourage it.
- Remember that forbidding relationships only drives teens to be sneaky. They’ll do it anyway. Instead, spend lots of time teaching them what you expect from an early age.
Most of us do a good job teaching our children about spending money – we do so much spending ourselves! But we tend to be less effective at teaching them about earning and saving money (and sharing/donating it).
How to help? Teach them:
- There is a difference between needs and wants. Needs are literally required for survival. (A phone isnot a need for most kids – in spite of what they say.) Wants would be really cool to have, but life could still continue without it.
- There is a time-cost of what they want. It’s not just about money, but time taken to earn that money. For example, that movie and meal with a friend might mean you’re out of pocket $30. But that’s $50 before tax, and may have taken 1-2 hours to earn. Add up the hours they’d need to work and it is an even longer time. Is that want really worth all that work?
- Don’t pay for chores. Chores are part of contributing to family and running the home.
- Save something each week (I suggest about 10-20% of their pocket money/income).
- It feels good to give. And if we have enough for our needs, we have a social responsibility to help those who don’t have enough
We never had email as kids. Or mobile phones. (Some of us didn’t even have computers!)
But our children have grown up in a device-driven world, completely connected. And with that technology saturation has come an enormous media influence. I call the media the ‘super-peer’. Our children accept the messages they see and hear from their super-peer. It’s our job to change that by helping them learn what marketers are doing and why.
Here’s an idea you might try:
Find a magazine ad featuring a woman (or part of her). Cover the brand or headline, and have your child guess what the advertisement is for. Without the writing, it should be hard. Then have a conversation about how the picture ‘sells’ something – and why. The same can be done for ads for junk food or just about anything.
Once our kids start to recognise that the media is manipulating them, they see things differently. They become far more savvy in a positive, constructive way that can build them up, making them less susceptible to media influences that might otherwise make them feel inferior.
Want savvy kids?
If we want savvy kids we need to talk with them – lots – with most of the chat coming from your teen, rather than from you. Some days you might get little more than a grunt. Other days you might get a genuinely thought-provoking, impactful conversation.
Ultimately, savvy children come from parents who are open to having the hard conversations about hard topics, and who are available to listen without lecturing.