Vail Daily column: Asking the hard questions
Have you talked to your children and teens about Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus? If not, you should. Here’s why …
Timing is, in fact, everything: Most parents wait for an incident or negative event to occur before they broach difficult topics with their teens. For example, most parents do not speak with their children about having sex until they suspect that their child may be sexually active. This incident-based approach to conversation often leads to defensiveness on the part of the child, accusations on the part of the parent, and is often “too late” to prevent unwanted behavior.
Strike Before Iron is Hot
Do not strike while the iron is hot — strike before the iron is plugged in: When incident based conversations occur, emotions are often high on both the part of the child and the parent. Children may twist or bend the truth in the hope of avoiding punishment and parents may seek to resolve a single issue, rather than targeting an overarching value or behavior. Rather than taking a reactive approach to conversations, we encourage parents to be proactive. When we preemptively speak to our children and teens about issues, behaviors and values, we can increase our child’s willingness to have an open and honest discussion and increase the possibility of positively impacting future behavior.
Media is your friend
The media is your friend: The vast majority of people in the United Stated above the age of 8 have an opinion about Miley Cyrus. Although parents of young children may have successfully prevented their child from viewing her infamous VMA performance, most children have at least heard about the performance and many have very strong opinions about it! Miley’s performance is a perfect example of what psychologists often refer to as a teaching moment. A teaching moment is an event that naturally occurs from which an educational lesson can be drawn. Do your research. Talk to them about stars that they care about and do not let a golden opportunity (like Miley or Justin) go by without using it to your advantage!
The best type of teaching does not involve a lecture: Rather than telling your child how to feel about Miley’s performance, ask them. And when you ask them, make sure your question is intended to open the doors of discussion. For example, there is a substantial difference between the question “You don’t cut yourself do you?” and “I saw an article that said a lot of kids your age cut themselves … is that something that goes on at your school?”
Listen Without Reacting
Listen without reacting: The most important skill for successful parenting is the ability to listen without reacting. Listen to what your children have to say. If they are saying something that makes your stomach churn with fear or disgust, then resist the urge to jump in and make demands. Rather, ask clarifying questions that can help you tie in the message or value that you are attempting to get across. The goal of difficult conversations is not to always have your child agree with your values, but to gain understanding in your child’s values, while also increasing their awareness of your concerns.
Don’t Be Afraid
Talking to your children about difficult topics, such as sex, self-harm, substance abuse, is, well, difficult. It is not black and white. Do not be afraid to explore the gray area with your children. Do not be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Most importantly, do not be afraid of asking the hard questions because you are afraid of the answer.
Sheri Mintz is the executive director and Casey Wolfington is clinical coordinator at the Bright Future Foundation. The Bright Future Foundation serves Eagle County by empowering individuals and families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault to lead safe, productive lives through prevention services, advocacy, crisis intervention and recovery services.