When I think about myself as a young kid or a teenager, I think about the teacher who inspired me to pursue my love of books and writing. I think about the friends I have made who continue to stand by my side today and winning the volleyball state championship with my sister. I also remember the incessant need to fit in. I remember being an outsider, hating myself for it and wanting to do just about anything to be a “cool kid.” Sometimes, I would do anything to be liked, but it did not always end up the way I thought it would.
During my junior year of high school, my English class was required to go to a school play if we wanted to earn extra credit. Being older than most of my other classmates, I could already drive and I offered to do so. When we arrived in the parking lot, one of my classmates brought out some marijuana and asked if it was cool if they smoked in my car before the play. Not wanting to say no, because they were some of the cooler kids, I obliged. We were in a school parking lot, in my parents’ car, and I preferred to chance my getting in very real trouble just to get the opportunity for my classmates to like me. I chanced being caught by the school or by the police instead of simply saying “no.” I did not become “cooler” after letting them smoke in my car and my parents, to put it lightly, were enraged. Now, it has been more than a handful of years since I have even spoken to a single one of those classmates.
While the situation I was in did not end in anyone’s arrest or injury, there are similar situations happening to kids every day, all over the country, and those children may not always end up being so lucky. It seems as though time is flying by and everything has changed since the days I was in school. I have even found myself using a phrase I used to laugh at: “kids these days.” In reality, children are still facing many of the same struggles we faced, from acne and homework to bullying, violence and drugs. And, just as our parents worried about us when we were young, we worry about our own children.
You may find yourself asking “What is my child getting into when he/she is not home?” or “Who is my child spending time with?”
How can parents make it clear that it is safe and responsible for kids to come to them with their concerns? William Solari, a student assistance coordinator with the Frisco ISD’s Student Services Department, has his own approach with his family that he shares in his professional life as well. “Being a parent and working with a lot of kids, I have noticed that the hardest thing is finding that balance between being a parent and being a friend. While your role is always to be the parent, you have to have the kind of relationship with your children where when something occurs, you want your child coming to you. You want them to think of you first. You do not want them to avoid coming to you because they are afraid of either the consequences or your reaction.”
This does not mean your child should never get in trouble, but having effective communication with your sons or daughters is key, if not one of the most important parts, of establishing a trusting relationship. Having an environment where your child feels like they can come to you with something difficult they may be feeling or going through will be vital if a potentially dangerous situation arises. Oftentimes, a child hesitates to go to an adult if they believe they will be seen as a “tattletale.” Allene Byroad, a fellow student assistance coordinator with the FISD, likes to clarify for her students that “tattling is when you purposefully want to get someone in trouble. Reporting, on the other hand, is when you are trying to keep somebody else from getting in trouble or you are trying to keep someone safe.” Mr. Solari adds that “it all has to do with the intent of the child disclosing the information.” Keeping these definitions in mind and sharing them with your children when they are young may make a difference for someone someday … and that someone might be your child. It is also important that your child knows they can turn to you, or another trusting adult, because if they only turn to a sibling or a peer, that person may not know how to properly guide them. This can be a breeding ground for negative behavior. Always try to encourage your students and children to report or share with a trusted adult.
In forming this relationship with your children, Mr. Solari focuses on effective communication and the impact that can have with your children. “The first thing, really, is to establish effective communication and, more specifically, I really think it is important that parents listen closely to their child and give the child or student the opportunity to first voice what their concerns are. At least in my experience, many times I have witnessed the parent talking over their child or cutting the child off. Doing this creates an environment where the child does not feel like they are being heard. Therefore, they will not want to go to that parent or adult. I would say to put emphasis on building an environment where you can hear your child and acknowledge what they are saying, rather than not allowing the child to fully express what they are feeling or going through.”
Ms. Byroad agrees, saying that “if you give yourself a chance to really listen, then your child will know they have the floor. And while you are open to them and listening, there is a possibility you may find something out that you did not know that could change what you wanted to say or do. When you really listen to your child, you are telling them that one, you value them enough to give them 100 percent of your attention and, two, you want the kind of relationship with your child that promotes healthy communication and comfort with one another.”
It is often difficult to remember because as adults, we have already learned so many of these lessons about manners and kindness and dangerous situations. We forget our own children have not learned them yet. They are not born knowing how to be nice, how to be a good friend or how to treat a girl or a guy well when they begin dating. You have to teach your children these traits and teach them the best way to handle certain situations. Asking questions is the best way to figure out what your child does or does not know.
Parents, it is OK to not always know exactly what you are doing. Your own parents were often just as lost, just as afraid and just as worried as you are right now. If they are faced with a difficult situation, remind them they can always turn to school counselors, parents of friends, pastors, coaches and adults who care about their well-being. It is never tattling if you are protecting someone. Engage your child, show them you love them and that you care. Reinforce your love for who they are, not what they do. Really listen with an open mind and heart to what they are going through. You can help make a difference for them.