Last week, my eight-year-old introduced me to a new game that she learned in school. The game involved spreading out all the fingers of the hand and saying a quick run of words. A finger got closed at the end of every sentence.
I must say I was ill-prepared for the end, because in the end only her middle finger remained and she was saying something like, “I killed so-and-so because he showed me this finger.”
And then she went on to explain to me that the finger meant “f*cker.” She also made it clear to me that it’s a “very bad word” — apparently that’s why the person who pointed the finger was killed in the game. In addition, she used a highly conspiratorial tone — a tone that kids use to share top secrets!
To be truthful, I was always expecting something like this. After all, it’s a fact that most of what children learn will be picked up from the playground. Most of them are “discoveries” they make.
The trouble starts only when the “discoveries” never make their way back to us — the parents.
Often parents very easily enjoy a seamless channel of communication with their young children. Somehow, that’s lost when the children approach adolescence. Many parents face an overwhelming fear of losing that connection with their teen.
One of the reasons is that parents have a hard time figuring out what’s going on in their teen’s brain, as I write on my blog. They feel they are dealing with an imposter in their child’s body. The changes are real and they behave the way they do for a reason.
And then, there are the kids themselves, who are dealing with feelings hitherto unknown to them. Their bodies are changing, their brains are changing, their friends are changing, their entire world is changing. They are fighting to create an identity for themselves. Most don’t even know if what they are feeling is normal and who to talk to.
Of course, they will eventually find out — parents or not. Here are some ways to ensure that your teenager comes to you first — at least in difficult times.
1. Start early
Reveal age-appropriate information to kids from an early age. Do not hesitate to give out information, especially when it concerns their body parts.
2. Establish openness
Most parents (quite naturally) feel that talking about sex with their adolescent implicitly means they are encouraging sexual activity. However, several studies reveal that teens who have open conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sexual activity and practice safer sex.
3. Make use of occasions
Use occasions like “bra-shopping” or “period-talk” as a great opportunity for one of the “big talk” moments. However, do not by any means limit your conversation to just this occasion. Try and weave it into everyday discussions just to remove the awkwardness of the topic.
4. Avoid euphemisms
Using real names of body parts, instead of euphemisms like “pee-pee,” “wee-wee,” etc. is shown to promote positive body-image. Children need to be able to talk about it without feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Plus, it prevents danger in the form of sexual abuse at many levels when they are well-informed.
5. Be good role models
The kids are watching you. So set them a good example. They need to see that showing affection is a very positive thing. Witnessing appropriate physical affection between parents promotes a very healthy image in their minds — resulting in stable, engaging relationships with their spouses. Exchanging spontaneous hugs, little love notes, quick pecks and warm compliments in front of the kids is a good thing. Amy Morin, teen counseling expert, recommends that parents demonstrate positive aspects of sex to help the child cope with their changing selves better.
Lastly, say the words “I love you” often.
Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha — where she brings together two important facets that can create a happy childhood, parenting and education. Get her “53 Timeless Hacks for Parenting” for free here!