. . . Drugs . . . Spin the Bottle
. . . School Fights . . . Scary Movies
. . . Girlfriends . . . Dating
I’ve had some great conversations with my 12-year old son, Jarrett, over the last few weeks and the above are just a few of the topics that have come up. If you talked to Jr. High kids across America, I’m certain the resulting list would be similar. It’s almost like there’s this magic door that opens in the 6th grade exposing kids to so much more of the world than we would like.
So as a parents, how can we raise our children to make choices that are honoring to God and respectful to themselves and others? Below are the first three steps I recommend taking. These steps will help you get the best picture of what your child is being influenced by, if they are struggling with anything, and what they think and believe about their world in general.
Listen & Observe
You can’t provide guidance for your child if you don’t know what’s happening in their world. Be intentional about spending one-on-one time with him/her. This will open the doors for some great communication.
If you struggle with getting your child to talk openly, find a casual environment, conducive to conversation, where you can spend a few hours together. Good places to try is the mall, miniature golf, fishing on the lake. Bad places would be the movies, the dinner table or places that keep you too busy to chat. The more time you allow, the more interesting and honest the conversations will be. It takes children time to build trust in a adult and their motives. They live in a world that is quick to judge, quick to rebuke and doesn’t always value the ideas of this younger generation.
Your goal is to provide a safe environment that encourages their thoughts and ideas. Don’t offer advice or correction during these meaningful conversations. Save that for later. Just be attentive, be observant and ask good questions.
Remember, sometimes children simply struggle with articulating their thoughts, so allowing plenty of time gives them an opportunity to put their thoughts into speech. You’ll have to resist the urge to finish their sentences, otherwise you’ll be putting words into their mouths, and they’ll just be saying what you want to hear, and not what they really think.
Keeping the Conversation Going
You can easily get a conversation going by asking questions. Avoid general questions like, “How was your day?” This would be too broad, and won’t help your child to focus on a particular subject. Practice asking questions like, “Hey how is your friend Jake doing, I haven’t seen him in a while?” By honing in on a specific topic or person, it will get the gears in your child’s head rolling. If they don’t answer right away, just wait. They may be thinking. Once they answer one question, they’re likely to jump to a new topic on their own. If they don’t, ask another question and then wait. Patience is the key.
Once your child is engaged, keep the conversation going by asking them more open ended questions.
“Why do you think your teacher handled it that way?”
“What would you do if you were faced with the same situation?”
“If you could change one school rule, what would it be and why?”
“What do you mean by . . . . ”
Be sure to . . . repeat what they say so they know you are listening.
Empathize with them, “That must have been a hard decision to make.”
Build their self-esteem, “That was a wise decision.”
But don’t . . . make judgement with your mouth or your face if you disagree with their thoughts. Don’t give advice unless you are asked. Don’t tell them what you think, unless you are asked. Don’t lecture. Don’t dominate the conversation. If you do any of these, your conversation will mostly come to an abrupt halt.
Remember, you are there to listen. Correction, guidance and discipline, if needed, can come later.
Initiate the Hard Conversations
There are some topics that your kids may never bring to you, no matter how much they trust you. They are just too difficult. When it comes to things like drugs, alcohol and sex, these are the topics that you will need to be more forward with.
You can start these conversations the same way:
“I heard the drug dogs were on campus today. What was that like?”
“One of your sisters classmates were drunk and wrecked her car the other day. What age do you think it’s okay to start drinking?”
“It sounds like you’re really learning to appreciate girls. Tell me three ways you can a show a girl you care about her.”
Again, questions like these will begin to pry open the door to conversation and let your kids know that these topics are not off limits to talk about. Remember patience is the key. They may try to avoid the topic or laugh and giggle, but it’s important to keep going. You may want, or need, to feed them bits of information to provide some education on the subject, but allow enough spacing in between to ask them what they think or if they have any questions. It’s okay for there to be silence. It gives them time to think.
You might be fearful of exposing your child to information that they might not know, but it’s only a short matter of time before they do. Wouldn’t you rather be the first person to influence them instead of the last? If they are already aware of a certain issue they won’t be so enamored with it when their friends talk about it for the first time. It’ll be old news and they’ll already have a firm foundational belief from which to make decisions. If they’re not aware of a new topic, their curiosity will most likely get the best of them, and without a firm foundation they’ll rationalize their poor choices with poor excuses.
These techniques will work for any age child, but I think Jr. Higher’s are the hardest. Your job this week is to spend some good time conversing with your child. I’m sure you’ll have a few surprises, good and bad jump out at you. Becoming a good listener takes patience and practice. I killed plenty of conversations with my kids with my poor choice of words or responses, but I’ve gotten much better with some intentional practice. The last few week have proven that my effort has definitely paid off.
Next time I’ll offer some suggestions for upgrading beliefs when they go astray, correcting the mistakes they will make, and furthering your understanding of this particularly puzzling age group.
Wayne Rice – Has written several books on understanding Jr. High kids. They are insightful and helpful.
Boundaries with Kids – A book about when to say yes and when to say no to your children.