The topics of conversation around my home have become more and more interesting as my girls get older. They’re now 11 and 12 and despite my very best efforts, still have way more access to information than I ever did.
Topics that have come up recently have included:
Friends having “boyfriends” on Google Chat
Sex in the media
And of course, herpes…
Truthfully, as I am writing this I feel a bit ashamed. I feel ashamed because it was never my intention to have conversations about these topics at this age. The message I keep telling myself is “For goodness sake, Paige, you’re a parenting educator, can’t you keep your children young for a few more years!?” I really had delusions of grandeur that my girls wouldn’t be exposed to any of these things until they were in high school. But here we are and not only am I dealing with my own guilt but I am also having to figure out how to appropriately approach these topics.
The good news is that these topics have come to my attention and I have been offered an opportunity to discuss them with my girls. I am extremely thankful for this because secrecy scares me even more.
I wanted to share with you what is working so far to keep the lines of communication open with these pre-teenagers. Maybe you will find a nugget in here that will help you too.
Here you go:
1. I attempt to remove my personal judgements. Have I judged some of these topics? Yep. Especially those that push my own buttons or bring up things from my own childhood. However, when I can get to a place where I am giving the information vs judgement, IE our family values, I am more heard. An example of this, is WHY, in our family, it is not OK for a 6th grader to be chatting with an older “boyfriend” on Google Chat. Truth be told, in this situation, I initially freaked out (ask my husband!) and judged it all day long (What?!!, That’s NOT OK!!!) My daughter immediately shut down, her ears turned off and an argument ensued. After a few calming moments, I tried again and instead explained WHY it is not OK in OUR family. I gave information, ASKED a lot of questions and removed my judgement. These things helped immensely with our communication process. Did we agree at the end of the day? No, but I KNOW, through her body language that our family values and limits seeped in.
2. I ignore some resistance. Resistance is very common (think back to your own childhood and when your parents had “the talk” with you.) Of course, our children are not chomping at the bit to discuss the personal, sexual, heavier topics with us. But I am a firm believer that WE must be the ones to discuss these things with them as resistant as they might be. This is our opportunity to give them the correct information, to counteract what the media tells them, to again to share values and norms, and, give them the sense that you have their back.
Keep in mind that TELLING too much inspires resistance, so try to start with questions. When I overheard one of the girls use the word bisexual, I asked, “Do you know what that means?” One said, “No”, One said, “I think so”. I, very casually, nonjudgmentally, and quickly said, “OK, let me tell you then.” This was my special opportunity to give them the right information and to teach and to guide. I say quickly because using short bursts of information regarding these topics often lessens their discomfort as well.
3. I try to keep the information age appropriate. Am I still trying to keep them young? Yes, I suppose I am, although that seems to be fading quickly. I am also trying to give enough information without going overboard. I know that when they get older this will change because their circumstances, as it relates to sexuality, relationships and more are also going to change.
In closing, I will say that I am finding this phase to be very hard and I recognize that a lot has to do with my own middle school experiences. What I bring to the table sometimes causes the opposite of what I am seeking. I am going to keep on fighting the good fight though and I hope you will too.