Bernadette is perfect. She's never made a mistake in her life. She never swears, never drank too much, never smoked, never slept with the wrong guy, her house is spotless and--as she would have me believe--her life is, too. Her life and the way she looks at life is all black and white with no gray and no room for compromise.
Tina is a bit of a mess. She's in a good place now, but she has been down the wrong road now and then and had to find her way back. She still swears, drinks too much now and then, and has most definitely slept with the wrong guy and cried for weeks because of it. Her house is a mess, but she knows how to have fun, and she also knows that life is not simple. She believes that life is full of gray areas and there is rarely a simple right or wrong answer to anything.
If I have a problem, or have made a mistake and need help...or drank too much and need a ride home...who do you think I'm more likely to call on?
That is basically my parenting philosophy in a nutshell--and over the last few months I have had many opportunities to be thankful for it.
I have three teenage sons and over the last few months I have been amazed and so thankful for the things they have felt comfortable sharing with me. Issues with relationships, friends, girlfriends, alcohol and life in general--I have been privileged to be a part of it. To be either the mentor and advice-giver, or merely the trusted friend that they are comfortable to confide in. Nothing could make me happier--or more proud--as a parent to see the way my boys have chosen t handle these various issues. And while I think much of it is attributed to the simple fact that I was blessed with amazing kids--I think I can take credit for some of it as well. Specifically, I have built the kind of relationship with my kids that allows for this kind of sharing. And on that note, I want to share Nikki's Five rules for establishing Teen Trust.
1. Ask questions. I'm not talking about the general, "How was your day" kind of question. That's far too vague and easy to dismiss. Anybody can ask your kid that, and it's far too easy to dismiss. You need to ask questions that are specific to their lives...and that show that you've taken an interest and continue to care about what they're doing and who they're doing it with. Questions like:
- Who are you hanging out with at lunch these days?
- Who is dating who in your circle of friends?
- Do you think that's a good match? Do you think it'll work out?
- Is there anyone you're interested in? And why? What about them do you like?
- What teacher do you like?
- What assignments do you have due next week?
2. Share from your own life. Try to stay away from the "When I was your age...." type of stories! Those typically come off as authoritarian and preachy. For me, the purpose of personal stories from your youth shouldn't be to teach so much as it should be to show that..."You know what? I've been there. I know what it's like." AND hopefully, to show that you're not perfect either. That you've made mistakes too, that you've been hurt, that people have let you down and that you've let others down too. It's not about elevating yourself--it's about putting yourself on the same playing field with your kids. And this includes stories about drinking, sex and maybe even experimentation with drugs.
3. Talk about sex--early and often. When they're five and come home asking what a boner is...TELL THEM THE TRUTH! If you act uncomfortable with the words and the subject how do you think THEY're going to be comfortable with it? Talk about sexuality, homosexuality, birth control and abortion. Talk about porn because you know what? They're watching it. Or reading about it. And they're definitely thinking about it!
Joke about sex. Have fun with it. Make it part of every day life, because you know what? It is.
I heard a counselor say once that if they haven't started asking those questions by the age of nine, then it's time to start talking about it anyway. Maybe they're not asking because somebody at school told them the "answers" and they think they know already. Chances are they're wrong.
4. Allow your kids to drink alcohol with you at home. Why would you think that a kid who has just turned 19 and goes out for his "first" drinking binge will automatically and magically know what it feels like and how to handle it responsibly? I am of the philosophy that I would much rather they learn gradually, and under my supervision, what they like and don't like, and how they're body reacts to it. If they're first binge is at 16 and they get so drunk they throw up and feel miserable the next day--I'd much rather it happen in the safety of my own home then out at a party when they've got to find a ride home.
5. This is the biggest rule...and really what it all boils down to. DO NOT JUDGE! You have to earn their trust and a big part of doing that is building a relationship where they know they can tell you anything without fear of judgment or punishment. When my son was ten and he threw a rock that broke a window he knew that he'd done something stupid and there would be consequences. But he's not ten anymore, and I'm not with him 24 hours a day. He's not throwing rocks anymore, he has the potential to create a new life. I can't ground him for that. I have to make sure he has the information to make sure it doesn't happen at all--but to trust in my love in the unfortunate instance that it does.
I have to hope and trust that I've done a good job raising him, and that for the most part he'll make good decisions--but when he has questions or isn't sure where to turn he needs to know that he can come to me and I won't judge him for asking which condom to buy. I want to know when he's had too much at a party and needs a trusted ride home. And I want him to trust me to be there to help him find ways to cope with any poor decisions...and how to avoid them in the future.
My boys are only just venturing into adulthood, but I think they're headed in the right direction. Those are my guidelines for helping them find that direction. It may not be for everyone...but it's worked for me.