Check the Horizon: Setting Standards Early
A parent can easily get caught up in the mundanities of life, i.e. the forest for the trees, and miss what's coming. It helps to check yourself occasionally and ask if there are any changes with the kids or any changes in the household which require further thought. If so, use the opportunity to start setting expectations and standards now instead of waiting for later.
For example, an elementary school boy gets calls from girls wanting to play or hang out. You can't send them to a monastery or ban girls from the home; many relationships are and will remain platonic in nature and acting as though any interactions will automatically lead to sex can send an unrealistic message about friendships with kids of other genders. On the other hand, thinking that things can't spiral out of control amongst hormones is horrendously naive.
What are some guidelines that you might want to set in place now?
- Set a time limit on phone conversations. The longer that kids are on the phone, the larger the possibility that things will spiral downwards.
- Increase the conversations about how to treat girls (or boys) and what is appropriate behavior. Dude, you can wrestle with Mike but you simply can't do that with Michelle. And if she starts, then you have to take the lead and stop. Yes, it's expecting a lot but the kids have to at least hear it and many have a wonderful ability to rise to expectations.
- Having said that, don't get stupid and just assume that everything will be fine since you've spoken.
- Don't let the kids throw you off with comments about not trusting them. You're trusting them by just letting them get together with friends of the opposite sex; they have a like obligation (not a word they like) to listen.
- Establish areas that are clearly off-limits or set guidelines. If your 4th grader wants to show an opposite gender friend the rock collection in his room, then establish that he can but that the door has to remain open at all times. Or just say that no boy will be in the girl's room and vice-versa.
- Make sure that when any child is over, you keep yourself available and in the open at all times. It wouldn't be the time to spend an afternoon in the garage working under the hood. And feel free to spend a few minutes eavesdropping as the opportunity arises; while the First Amendment doesn't set an age limit, you're still responsible for what they say and the parameters within which they live.
These are standards and goals that have to be considered and set explicitly, and only after consulting with Mom. But the further down the road you look, the less likely you are to be surprised.
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