Parenting

Psychological Must-Do Conversations for All Parents

As you consider the future of your child, there are probably some conversations that you’re not too excited about having with him or her. However, these are crucial conversations that can give your child the information that they need and the values you want to share with them.

Below, we detail the psychological must-have conversations for all parents, why they are so important, and some tips for delivering them.

College and Future of Your Teen’s Education

It is critical for your teen to have something at stake in their future. When your teen has something to look forward to, he or she is more likely to consider the consequences of certain actions. Knowing that there is a bright future in front of him or her can better prepare your teen for the next steps. They can also start thinking about how to finance their education, whether through afterschool work, academic scholarships, or athletic scholarships.

Drugs and Alcohol

Given the opioid epidemic, it is important to talk to kids about drugs and alcohol when they are young. This should be an ongoing conversation that you have with kids, ideally when there are teachable moments, such as learning that a loved one has a drug problem, talking about a news story that comes out, or giving opinions when viewing a show together with your kid. Inform them of the dangers of addiction, especially if there is a family history involving this issue.

Similarly, talk about alcohol, including responsible drinking and what can happen when under the influence. As your teen gets old enough to drive, inform them of the consequences of drinking and driving. Safety should always come first.

Smoking and Vaping

It used to be that kids who wanted to be rebellious would sneak a cigarette or two. Now, they use a colorless, odorless method through vaping that might be harder to catch. Since vaping is a relatively new phenomenon, there is not as much information out there about its dangers. However, it is dangerous, and it’s important that your teen know about these dangers and not listen to classmates who might not have the latest medically- and scientifically-backed information.

Bullying and Cyberbullying

Bullying can begin at early ages, even sometimes when kids are in daycare, so it’s never too young to talk about bullying. Some parents are surprised to find out that their own children are the bullies. The best way to avoid this outcome is to start planting the seeds of awareness of bullying early. Be explicit in your explanations about bullying and how not to be one. Raising your child with good values such as empathy and compassion can go a long way toward preventing them from becoming a bully, as well as how to step up for other kids who they witness being bullied. Keep the lines of communication open with your kids so they will feel comfortable coming to you if they ever encounter bullying.

A particular concern for many kids today is cyberbullying. Behind a computer screen, they may feel a sense of anonymity, which can embolden them to say and do things they otherwise would not. Some cyberbullying has gone so far that it has caused teens to commit suicide. More than 40% of kids report being bullying online and 90% say that they have witnessed bullying on social media but have ignored it. More than half of cyberbullying victims do not report the harassment to a parent or authority figure.

Here are some warning signs and how to detect cyberbullying:

  • Feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Sudden loss of friends
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Running away from harm
  • Self-harm
  • Low self-esteem
  • Declining grades
  • Talking about suicide

Sex

There is also no age that is too young to start talking about sex with your kids. At an early age, they should understand their bodies and properly describe body parts. Explain things to your kids in an age-appropriate manner and in a way that they can understand. Your conversations when they are very young may be very different than they are when your teens hit puberty. Younger conversations may include the classic birds and bees conversation while older kids may hear about safe sex, pregnancy, and sexual crimes.

Body Autonomy

While you are on the subject of sex, you will also need to discuss bodily autonomy with your kids. Your kids should understand that their bodies are their own. Explain to them some of the feelings that they might develop. Also, explain the difference between good touching and not touching. Unfortunately, many instances of sexual abuse occur when children are very young and may not understand what is happening to them.

Children should understand that their bodies are their own. Others should not be telling your kids what is okay to do with their bodies. Your children should understand that they can always say “no” and that they do not have to be pressured into doing something with their body that they are not comfortable with. Your kids should know that they can come to you if someone has made them feel uncomfortable or has touched them in an inappropriate way.

As your children get older, you will also want to talk to them about parties and how to avoid problems like date rape drugs. Teach your kids not to leave a drink unaccompanied and the dangers of drinking or doing drugs. This is a conversation you need to have with your sons, as well as your daughters. Both should clearly understand that “no” means “no” and understand what consent really means.

Technology Safety

In previous generations, you may have made mistakes growing up, but you didn’t have those mistakes plastered online for millions to see. Today’s kids have grown up with the internet. For this reason, it’s vital that your kids understand how to be safe online. Some things to address include:

  • Pictures they’re posting – Teach your kids “the internet is forever.” A good rule of thumb is often, “How would your boss react to seeing this online?” Or their grandma.
  • Comments they’re making – While social media and other online platforms can help give kids a voice, it can also give them a forum where they can make comments without fully thinking through them. In today’s cancel culture, a comment made at an early age may be brought up years later and negatively impact them.
  • Affirmation they’re seeking – Most of us realize that our online activity and personality may be different than real life. Ask your kids to think about what kind of acceptance or reaction they’re looking for online and whether it’s healthy.

Also, be sure you discuss privacy settings with your kids so that unwanted people do not have access to their profiles, pictures, or posts while acknowledging that this is not fool proof. Be sure they also know not to post private information about themselves or their location.

Conclusion

Although the topics above can be tough to discuss with your teens, they are all vital. It is far better for your kids to hear the truth from you rather than from their friends or the internet. Many of these conversations should be small talks that build on each other as your kids grow up, rather than as one “big talk.” The most important thing you want to impress on your kids is that they can come to you for accurate information and guidance, no matter how uncomfortable the topic might seem.

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