Tonight was an evening in which I pulled over the car to have a conversation with Youngest, who’s now old enough that testosterone is starting to course through the veins of both he and his buddies. On one level, it was just another conversation to cull through the phrases and comments that he’s hearing and yet on another, it’s the conversation, the first of many that will occur over the next half-dozen or so years. Even having had similar conversations with his older siblings, it doesn’t get easier and it still puts me so far outside of my comfort zone that returning to it sometimes requires a compass and map. But having this kind of conversation is crucial because I’m certain that the kids are having their own conversations with both their peers and the entertainment/media complex.
We’ve made sure that the basics of birds and bees are clear with the kids from a young age and all of them knew the source of babies before they were in kindergarten. But we left the mechanics alone and only went into further detail when they started asking or bringing comments home from elementary school; it was then that both my wife and I made the promise that I repeated to Youngest last night. If you hear anything that you don’t understand, or have a question on the meaning of a phrase or comment that you hear, then bring it to me and I’ll answer it. It will be factual and it will be correct, and after the actual definition, I’ll even toss in some of the slang so that you have a clue of what you’re hearing when you hear it. The flip side is that it’s incumbent upon me to actually honor that promise; I might have to defer the question to another time – Honey, let’s answer that one when no one else is around – but it’s critical that it’s not only answered, but that I bring up the topic to the child. Especially in the case of the boys, I added several additional comments:
- When you hear your buddies talking, accept it as gospel that they’ve got lousy information and might not even know what they’re saying;
- When you hear your buddies talking, accept it as gospel that even if they have a clue as to the concept, they have no experience with any of it;
- When you hear your buddies bragging when they’re older, expect that they’re blowing smoke.
The conversations that our kids are having aren’t just with their peers however. The entertainment/media complex has been having a long-standing monologue with them via the electronic media – television, music and video games – for decades now and the level of the conversation progressively coursens over time. If you don’t believe it, consider the impact of MTV’s Jersey Shore and the subsequent behaviors of teens at the mall and on the street. Pubescent teens strut down the street with loud and obnoxious swagger, proclaiming the most shallow nonsense but utterly ignorant of the most basic workings of the world around them. When the average American youth is spending about six hours daily in front of a screen, it’s especially important that you make the effort to have conversations of your own; it’s okay to tell them to turn off either a particular program or the entire device and make an effort to have conversations of your own. What I’ve also found helpful is to quietly pursue my own inquiries into what’s out there, by checking out the lyrics of some of their favorite tunes and periodically checking out popular youth websites. It’s fantasy to believe that I can stop the older kids from following them, shy of fully eliminating the electronics, but I can certainly be forewarned about what they’re encountering.
The conversations aren’t always going to be heavily laden and not all of them are going to go well, but it ‘s crucial that the effort be maintained. The kids might even roll their eyes, but the truth is that they want to have your attention and conversations; and it’s in everybody’s best interests that you do.