Back in the day, parents braced themselves for The Talk, which we all know covered one topic, one time: Sex. But these days, largely thanks to both the internet and what we all love to refer to as our “political climate,” parents are having all kinds of serious, on-going chats with their kids. The topics range from porn to suicide, from racism to climate change.
This year, we wrote a lot about how to start (and continue) a variety of “big talks” with our kids.
Like with any large, complex and anxiety-producing topic such as this, it’s not the sort of thing you spring on them one day with something like, “So, I think it’s time to tell you how we’re destroying the world for your generation.” Instead, it’s a topic you can start to address while they’re young and build upon as they get older and develop an ability to understand the issue on a deeper level.
The bigger question is: When they do have sex, will we have done all we can as parents to help them feel ready, in terms of protection, consent, safety and timing? A new study in Britain, published in the BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health journal, found that a substantial amount of young people “transition into sexual activity under circumstances incompatible with positive sexual health.”
There’s a lot we still don’t know about preventing suicide among young people but we do know this: Silence does not help.
It is important for us to talk to our kids about suicide, and when we do, to use the words: “suicide,” “kill yourself,” “harm yourself.”
With social media and the internet readily available to most kids by the time they’re teenagers (and often much earlier), you can’t simply model good values. White supremacists spread their messages via YouTube and social media and recruit kids slowly and subtly through online multiplayer video games.
With any new website, social media or online game your child uses, make sure they also know how to both report and block an offensive user. Talk to them about how “reporting” and “blocking” go hand-in-hand. Reporting protects others from being exposed to that person’s hate speech and blocking protects them from personally seeing more of it in the future.
We need to talk to our kids about LGBTQ+ topics so they can be allies and upstanders when necessary. Roughly 4.5% of Americans identify LGBTQ+, so odds are that every classroom is likely to have at least one LGBTQ+ child in it. Ensuring our kids are allies can help contribute to that child feeling safe and affirmed both in and out of the classroom. And, even more importantly, showing we are allies means that if one of our kids turns out to identify as LGBTQ+, they will feel confident that we are their safe place to feel unconditionally loved and supported.
It’s no longer a matter of if they’ll stumble upon that hidden collection of Playboy magazines in the basement. They are very likely to see porn online—either with a fairly innocent Google search, through an ad on a seemingly safe website or thanks to some kid at school. Even if you work hard to keep their online experience safe at home … coming across porn is an inevitability for most kids.
I know, it’s a lot. Do not allow the sheer volume of the crap we have to address with our kids overwhelm you; you don’t have to do all of this today. Take this advice with you into 2020 when we will continue to talk to our kids about all the big, bad things.