How much should we tell our kids?
Should you tell your kids how much you earn? What do you tell them about that scary diagnosis? Do you tell them that you smoked dope as a teenager? How about the marriage that didn't work before you met their mother? Knowing what to share and what to hold back, knowing when to share it and how to do it in the best way are all very difficult questions. John Cowan has been scratching his head over this one and has come up with some helpful principles.
Areasonable compass in family life is, “What is the most loving thing to do? What is the best thing for the kids?” Sometimes the best thing will be for them to know something, even if it is uncomfortable, because good information can help ground immature speculation. A painful example might be when parents are separating. Children are sensitive and will already have picked up on the tension. They will certainly notice if one parent is now absent from the home. Their young minds will guess at all sorts of explanations and a not uncommon conclusion is that the break-up is all because of them. “If I had been a better boy, Daddy wouldn’t have left.” They desperately need to be rescued from that misapprehension, and also to be reassured that no matter what else happens, they will be loved and cared for. It's a message that
The few families in the survey who did talk to their children about their income mainly did so to teach them about budgeting, and I can see the benefit of that. I have heard of families using Monopoly money to demonstrate how much of their income goes to rent, power, groceries, insurance etc., and how little of that, apparently huge, income (from a child’s perspective) is left over. However,
years by having a weekend away with your child and listening to The Big Weekend CDS together (available from The Parenting Place). They cover all the basics of hygiene and development, coupled with a healthy dose of how to look after self-esteem through puberty. Alternatively, you could get a puberty book and go through it together – though the advantage of listening rather than reading is that you can both stare straight ahead without any eye contact! Watch TV together, and when sexual themes develop, use it as an opportunity to launch a discussion on the topic. If there is no sex currently on TV, wait five minutes.
Share your values. They probably already know them, but state them explicitly, and why you hold them. If you believe a person should not have sex until marriage, say so. Let them know you believe that sex is special, and they are special – and that to have sex is a big decision.
Tell them they can talk to you any time. You cannot guarantee that you will not be shocked, and maybe a little upset, but you will always listen and help. Let them know that your love for them is not conditional – you will love them and support them regardless.
A coach does not just do one big talk to the team and then retire to the grandstand for the rest of the season. Similarly so with your coaching around the topic of sex. New experiences, knowledge and dilemmas keep coming all through adolescence, so occasionally revisit the topic – but not every time you ride in the car or sit down to dinner, or they may develop a nervous tic.
One final word – love. Would it not be tragic if our beautiful young people launched into their adult lives with a head full of knowledge and a pocket full of condoms, but never got to experience real love and intimacy? Excitement and sensuality cannot create love, or take its place. So of course we have to talk to our children about sex, but let them know what your real dream is for them – real, meaningful, lifetime love.
When it comes to 'taboo topics', every family is different. Sometimes our kids will need to know more than we're sharing with them, and sometimes less, but the important thing to ask ourselves is, "What is the most loving thing to do? What is the best thing for the kids?”