We’re told there are two things we don’t talk about in life: politics and religion. The only problem is, this “rule” sets us up for failure when these topics come up in conversation. Inevitably, most of us don’t know how to talk about them in a healthy way. 

Children are exposed to endless amounts of information in our connected world. As parents, it’s our responsibility to prepare our kids to be good citizens. We can help them learn how to talk about sensitive topics like politics.

My wife and I have done a lot of research, trial, and error to figure out how to productively approach the conversation about politics with our elementary-age kids. Here are 6 tools we’ve used along the way and would like to share with you: 

1. Decide your children’s intake.

With younger children, parents play the role of gatekeepers. While we can’t control what they hear at school, we can shield them from much of what the media shares. They haven’t entered the world of social media yet. When it comes to parenting and politics, we can choose how much information our children receive.

Remember, kids are sponges. They hear everything and will repeat what they hear even if they don’t have the facts straight. 

2. Frame the political discussions within your family values.

As you discuss politics with your children, frame the conversation within your family values. Some of our values are kindness, humility, and honesty. Ask your kids questions that reflect your values. 

  • Does this feel true to you?
  • Was that a kind thing to say or do?
  • Do you think that person cares more about themselves or others?
  • Do you think this person is a good leader?

I’m astonished at the way my 5 and 8-year-olds think. They see the character traits of others and are quick to call them out. They keep us on our toes, for sure. 

3. Teach your children about citizenship.

As citizens, we have a responsibility to be engaged in government. This is the foundation of our government system. Talk to your kids about what it means to be a good citizen. Start with the local level. Teach them about what the city council, school board, and mayor do. Help them understand how citizens can be part of the political process.

4. Talk about the issues, not politics.

Focus on the issues. What’s important to your family? I have a newfound interest in who is on the school board and their decisions since I have kids in elementary school. Help your children identify the issues and see where each side stands. Discuss the pros and cons together. 

5. Avoid the ugliness of politics.

Let’s face it; we all celebrate when elections are over because we’ve been overwhelmed with endless political ads. While election season can be especially ugly, it doesn’t end there. Remember, you control how much exposure your child has to politics. Be diligent in keeping them away from the name-calling. With the internet and social media at our fingertips, we have a full spectrum of news sources (not to mention family and friends). Remember—you’re the gatekeeper. 

6. Help your children form their own opinions.

As parents, we have the responsibility of raising adults. I want my children to contribute to society and influence others. Present the facts to your kids and help them form their own opinions. 

We’re often heavily influenced by our parents’ views and beliefs. This isn’t bad, but we have the opportunity to help our kids process what’s important to them. 

Remember to focus on values and issues. A lifetime of decisions and information influences your political stance. Your children don’t have that wealth of information, but you can help them decide based on values. 

Don’t fear talking about politics with your kids. It’s a part of everyday life, whether you’re talking about your mayor and city council or the President and Congress. The conversation is ongoing. Give them room to ask questions as well. Encourage their curiosity.

It’s hard to watch our teens feel insecure or see them lacking self-confidence. We want to encourage them to be more confident in themselves. So, we often have specific knee-jerk reactions to their insecurity. It’s easy to understand why. 

As parents, we…

  • Want them to see themselves in all the wonderful ways we see them. 
  • Know a lack of confidence can keep them from trying new things and finding their passions. 
  • Understand how confidence is a valuable character quality and will help them be successful in life. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to just watch them oozing insecurity and low self-confidence

Here are four things you can do to help encourage an insecure teen. But first, a couple of things NOT to do.

We sometimes try these two “shortcuts to security,” but they often make matters worse.

  • We Over-Praise Our Teens. Teens can sniff this out right away—especially if they just finished some low-risk, easy task or they know they didn’t do their best.
  • We Emphasize Results Over Effort and Perseverance. Just tell them to do their best and have fun. Accept the results the way you want your teen to accept them and grow from them. (Critique behavior, NOT your teen as a person.)

Instead of parenting your insecure teen in those ways, try doing these four things: 

  1. Be honest and vocal about your own insecurities. We all have insecurities and areas where we lack confidence. If you’re honest and talk to your teen about these things, you normalize those feelings for your teen. This is important because of what you’re going to do next…
  1. Model how to face your insecurities and work through your lack of confidence. Let your teen hear your positive, grounded self-talk. Allow them to see how you prepare for challenges. Tell them your goals. Be mindful of how you respond to your own successes and failures.
  1. Be a parent your teen wants to talk to and develop a healthy relationship with. This involves being available and regularly spending time with your teen. It means being a good listener and not overreacting or bombarding your teen with a million questions. Listen “between the lines” for the source(s) of their insecurity. Be gentle.
  1. Talk to your teen about social media. Model healthy media use. Yes, social media. It impacts how your teen forms and values their identity. Talk to your teen about the “unreality” of social media and the dangers of the comparison game. Your teen is looking at someone’s staged, filtered, touched-up highlight reel and comparing it to their own “behind-the-scenes” footage.

Most of us feel insecure sometimes, but some teens feel insecure most or all of the time. 

—These feelings can be because of their childhood, traumatic experiences, past failures, or rejection. You’ll want to explore all these things with your teen, but you have to be the kind of parent they’ll open up to.

—Your teen may be dealing with depression, loneliness, or social anxiety they need to see a professional about. Put counseling on the table as a positive, normal step.

—Sometimes, our perfectionism or criticism has contributed to our teen’s insecurity and lack of confidence. If you feel that may be the case, be honest with your teen, own what you need to own, and apologize. 

Insecurity and low self-confidence are not “light switch” problems. You can’t just flip a switch to make your teen secure and confident. Insecurity and low self-confidence are “thermostat” problems. You can’t “dial it up” for your insecure teen, but you can encourage them. Create a healthy environment, be a role model, and open the lines of communication. Then, your teen can grow in confidence and security!

Related Blogs:

5 Ways to Help Your Child Be More Confident

How to Be a Parent Your Child Wants to Talk To

5 Ways to Help Your Teen Through the Unknown

How to Prevent Depression in Teens

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

5 Mistakes Parents Make With Teens

Parenting a teenager is easy, said no one, ever. But it can be easier if you know what to avoid.

When you became a parent, you were probably bombarded with “sage” advice for all the stages of parenting. Much of it you immediately threw away. There may have been a few statements that stuck in your psyche like:

Just wait until they start walking. They will get into everything.

Oh, just wait until they reach the terrible twos! “No” becomes their favorite word.

You think the terrible twos are bad, just wait until they become TEENAGERS.

Once you hear that last statement, you may unconsciously begin to anticipate the worst. (Or you may do what I did: Immediately call your parents to apologize for your teen behavior.) No matter what, the teen years are coming. The key is to prepare yourself for when the time comes so you can avoid the mistakes many parents make with their teens.

Whether you’re just beginning the teen journey or entirely in the middle of teenage life, it’s vital you are aware of five mistakes parents of teens often make.

1. Failing to Prepare Your Teen for Adulthood by Problem-Solving for Them.

Your child needs to learn how to think for themselves and solve problems. Being your child’s constant problem-solver doesn’t prepare them for adulthood. You may continue to see your child as the baby that changed your life. However, they are growing up and need to be prepared for college, military service, and/or the workforce. Allowing your child to try, fail, and try again, is invaluable in building their sense of self-confidence. They need your support, but remember to prepare your child for the road, not the road for your child.

2. Choosing the Wrong Battle.

Being the parent of a teenager can be difficult. However, making everything they do a big deal makes it worse. Your teen will probably have different tastes in music, fashion, and entertainment than you. It’s okay and perfectly normal. You may dislike your child’s purple hair and loud music. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Is that the battle you really want to fight?  When you attempt to say “yes” to as many things as possible, it makes saying “No” stand out more.

3. Trying to be Perfect.

Yes, your teen will be watching you. Watching how you react to a variety of situations. They need to know it’s okay to make mistakes. When you model how to learn from mistakes and regroup, it shows them that messing up isn’t fatal. Thomas Edison said it best: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

4. Because You Think They Aren’t Listening, You Stop Talking. 

Culture and media tell parents they have little influence on their teens. This is not true. As a parent, you continue to have a MAJOR impact on how your child handles “big ticket” items like drugs, alcohol use, and sex. Yes, they may roll their eyes and tell you that you don’t understand. Nevertheless, keep talking. Keep asking questions about what’s going on in their world. Keep listening.

5. You Are All Business and No Play or All Play and No Business.

You may remember the old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The opposite is true, as well. All play and no work makes Jack a freeloader. The focus is to provide balance for your teen. They need to know the boundaries and expectations you have for them while having the freedom to act within what you have set. Yes, they have to prepare for college and adulthood. But that shouldn’t prevent you from spending some quality downtime together. 

Parenting teens has been compared to so many different things, from roller coasters to waves to keeping a car in the middle of the road. Continuing to be present and a presence in their life no matter how difficult they make it or say they don’t want or need you is vital. Your teen will make missteps on their journey to adulthood. As a parent, you may make a few mistakes guiding your teen on this path as well. In the words of Samuel Beckett, “Try, Fail, Try Again, Fail Better.”

5 Things All Teens Need From Their Parents (From Parents Of Teenagers)

7 Ways to Deepen Your Connection With Your Teen

How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?

It’s been a different kind of year, to say the least. You’ve changed, adapted, adjusted, and dealt with disappointments, uncertainties and the unexpected. But you made it. And as a family, you made it together. Here are 20 fun ways to end 2020 on a high note with your family.

These ways will help you connect with your family and remember what’s most important.

  1. Give to essential workers—thank you notes, gift cards, prepackaged treats, coffee, etc.
  2. Build and play a music playlist with songs each family member has listened to most in 2020.
  3. Family Karaoke with songs from 2020.
  4. Practice your 20-20 vision by naming what you’re most thankful for in 2020.
  5. Learn a new game the family can play together in 2021. Teach it to others and create a new tradition. 
  6. See how many family and friends you can get on to one video call. Have a simple encouraging message that your family can share with everyone who gets on the video.
  7. Get hot cocoa and go on a holiday lights tour in your car.
  8. Write letters to family members. Include family updates, pictures, highlights of the year.
  9. Read a book together as a family.
  10. Create and write a family story together.
  11. Build a fort and camp out in the living room. Each family member chooses a TV show or movie, and the family watches it together.
  12. Make s’mores in the kitchen using a microwave, stove, or oven and share funny memories from 2020. (No burns! Be careful!)
  13. Cook a favorite family meal. All hands on deck to prepare the meal.
  14. Look online and create a special family meal together: buy the ingredients, make plans, cook it together and of course, eat together.
  15. List what you’ve learned about yourself or your family from A-Z. A: We’re Appreciative of each other. B: We’re Bad at Board Games. C: Cook good meals, etc.
  16. Have a family awards ceremony. For example: Best Attitude, Loudest Snorer, Longest Shower, Most Adaptable, Best Hand-Washer, Best Sharer, Most Improved Attitude, Most Improved Cook, Best Helper, and come up with your own categories!
  17. Cardboard Race Cars—build a race car out of cardboard and race around your home.
  18. Build a maze or tunnels through your home out of cardboard. 
  19. Use cardboard to build forts and have a family fun time: paper battles, Nerf gun battles, pillow battles, blow-dart battles using straws and Q-tips, etc.
  20. Create your own New Year’s Eve Party. Make your own ball drop, streamers, and countdown clock. With younger children, you don’t have to wait until midnight to watch the ball drop.

Bonus:

Make a large sign wishing neighbors a Happy New Year. You can drive through your neighborhood honking your horn so neighbors will look out and see the sign. Post on family social media accounts. Include an encouraging message to lift their spirits.

The circumstances aren’t what we remember most as a family most. It’s how we deal with the circumstances that color how we remember events. Instead of focusing on what you didn’t have or get to do during this challenging year, help your family recognize how you grew and are better for it.

The best advice is always in the comment section. It’s an adage that’s proven right over and over. Doesn’t even matter what kind of publication. So, I’m reading an article online by a national beacon of journalism about the things teens need most from their parents. 

Couldn’t wait to get to the comment section!

Having raised four teens and enjoying my last, I’m always looking for some pointers. I’ve been in high schools for 25 years, so I read the article with a ton of curiosity. I’m no expert. Every one of my teens has been different and challenging in their own way.

But make no mistake, Beacon of Journalism, they’re not rocket science…

The article divides the teenage years into very neat 2-year increments. It gives some reasonably decent, general thoughts on each two year period. Turns out, wait for it, teens need coaching, support, good examples, and most of all, understanding. Fair enough. Many teens don’t get those things at home. 

This is all based on the latest brain-scanning technology and the latest research, including longitudinal studies. (Studying the same subjects over a period of time, as opposed to research that studies a group once. Think video over a snapshot.) These studies are “…changing scientists’ views on the role parents play in helping children navigate a volatile decade.”

Question: How were parents raising their children before brain scans and longitudinal studies and scientists told us how to parent and what things teens need from us?

Remember, the best advice is always in the comment section. The comment section may not be full of scientists, but it is filled with parents with actual experience with teens. No brain scans. Not a scientist or a longitudinal study in sight.

Could we learn some of the things teens from actual parents of teens in the comments? 

Here Are Five Gems (Plus a Bonus Funny)

  1. 99% of successful parenting is being there. Really being there.
  2. Don’t rob them of the struggle. Teach them hard work and discipline.
  3. As the parent of two now mature and successful daughters, I believe that other than showing unconditional love, one of the best teachers is to let them screw up and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.
  4. I have been trying to mentor a teen whose parents did nothing for him but put clothes on his back and shoes on his feet. He is 20 years old operating on animal instincts. If character is not taught, many of the other attributes are useless. He is hurting badly from absentee parents who never taught him character or anything else.
  5. Understanding is overrated. As an adult, do you whine to the IRS to “understand” the tax code? Teens need healthy and firm boundaries. And then held accountable to those boundaries. To give them too much in the way of material things or too much of anything is to create whining, spoiled babies. They need to be required to contribute to the family in terms of household duties so they feel valued. And you always show them love when you take away their devices for non-compliance. 

Not bad advice at all. Just like parents don’t want to wonder where their teens are, no teen should have to wonder if they are loved. Didn’t even have to plug in my brain scanner. Thanks, parents.

✦ Here’s a bonus funny: 

When I was a teenager, my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.

Here we are at Christmas, supposedly “the most wonderful time of the year.” Children are wide-eyed in anticipation, excitedly telling their parents what they want Santa to bring them. On the other hand, parents are reeling amid the pandemic with too many unanswered questions to count. 

Let’s don’t even talk about finances. Or the pressure to make sure everything is in stock and ordered early enough to arrive on time. 

Give Something Different

Can we press the pause button for a minute? I think it might help to take a step back, breathe, and think about a few things. There are lots of voices telling your children what they should ask for this Christmas. While some of those Christmas gifts may be awesome, the truth is, what your child really wants for Christmas and what you actually end up giving your child this Christmas may be two very different lists. And for good reason.

I’ve been down the road of being really proud of myself for getting some of those begged-for items, only to see them sitting in the corner a few weeks into the new year.

After several years, it occurred to me: maybe those things aren’t really the best Christmas gifts I could give my child. That sent me down the trail of thinking about what I could give her that wouldn’t break, sit abandoned in the corner, or be returned to the store. Challenge accepted.

Give Something Meaningful

Here are some of the things we gave her through the years instead.

  • Coupon book. We made a coupon book with 20 or so different coupons for things like an ice cream date, getting out of a chore for a day, making your favorite dinner, popcorn and movie night, dessert before dinner, staying up past bedtime, and extra video game time.
  • Membership or passes to a children’s museum, aquarium, zoo, rock-climbing, zip-lining, or other attraction to stimulate both the brain and body.
  • Vision book. We asked people who knew our daughter well—teachers, friends, coaches, grandparents, neighbors—to write her a short note talking about the qualities they saw in her and giving her words of encouragement. I put all of the messages in a scrapbook and gave it to her. She’s all grown up, but that book is still with her.
  • Scavenger hunts and experiences. A wrapped box under the tree with a clue in it that led to the next clue somewhere around the house… which after numerous clues would lead to the gift. One year it was tickets to a concert we attended as a family. Another year, it was a weekend daddy-daughter trip. The goal was to create lasting memories instead of temporary excitement. I think it worked because we still talk about those experiences today.

Back to hitting the pause button. After a few Christmases, it occurred to me that each year around September, I started feeling significant stress about Christmas—shopping, finances, and attitude over gifts I bought that weren’t the right thing. I actually began to dread what was my favorite time of the year. Something had to give. That’s when we decided to do things differently.

Give Something That Lasts

In the end, I think we decided that not giving our daughter all the stuff on her list might have been one of the best Christmas gifts we gave her as her parents. You can’t buy the conversations and laughter around those memories. And they are there forever. 

They won’t ever put this on their Christmas list, but what children really want for Christmas is to know they are loved by their parents. Don’t expect a huge thank you for not getting everything on their Christmas list. That won’t happen for a long time—maybe never. But, coming up with creative ways to celebrate your child, creating memories with them, and showing them your unconditional love truly will be the most priceless gift you can give to them. You’ll never regret giving them that, and you don’t have to break the budget, wait for it to arrive in the mail, or get it at the mall.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Photo by Any Lane from Pexels

A couple of years ago, 23-year-old Alonzo Johnson made the news for helping an elderly gentleman down an escalator. When asked about what happened, he said his mother raised him to be nice and kind. 

“It’s really the way I was brought up and raised,” he said. Johnson went on to say that all the attention was very humbling.

The woman who witnessed the act posted it on social media. She ended her post by saying, “Whoever this young man is, YOUR FAMILY RAISED YOU RIGHT! THANK YOU! So, please look for the silver linings – as I was so fortunate to witness this evening.”

Most parents would hope their children would do the same thing if they found themselves in that situation, but who wants to leave it to chance?

There’s a good reason for teaching children how to be generous. Multiple studies found that generous people tend to be happier and are more likely to be healthier, friendlier, smarter, and stronger. 

Wondering exactly how to raise a generous child?

You can raise your child to be generous and cultivate generosity by putting these practices in place all year long.

  • Read “The Giving Tree” together.
  • Model generosity. Let your children see you being generous throughout the year. It doesn’t have to be huge. Get extra canned goods while grocery shopping and take the children with you to drop them off. Walk together as a family for a worthy cause or bake cookies and take them to your closest fire station or police precinct. 
  • Make it a part of your family’s DNA. Talk about what generosity looks like. Help them see the need and possibilities. Encourage them to help you make a family generosity plan.
  • Have a “Giving” jar. Once you have made your plan, let your children decorate a jar for collecting money throughout the year. Decide on a specific time when you will take the jar and be generous.
  • Expose your children to worlds beyond their own. Take your children with you to volunteer in places where they can meet the needs of others. All it requires is the gift of your time. You don’t have to have a lot of money to share your time.
  • Host Birthday Parties for a Cause. Many young people are asking for donations like dog food for the animal shelter, canned goods for a food bank, or blankets for a homeless shelter instead of birthday presents.
  • Make Blessing bags. As a family, you can put together blessing bags for the homeless and include things like socks, snacks, washcloth or wipes, lotion, shampoo, a package of tissues, a small bottle of hand sanitizer, conditioner, body wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and a bottle of water. You might want to add other things as you see fit.
  • Acknowledge when you see your children being generous. One way to encourage generosity is to call it out when you see it. Let your children know you noticed what they did. Ask them how it felt and what they learned from the experience.

Although the topic of how to raise a generous child seems to get a lot of play during the holidays, learning to be generous is a year-round effort. Generous children often become generous adults who give back to their community. Help your child discover that generosity is a gift you give to others as well as yourself.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

If there is a generational divide today it is definitely digital. It’s not like parents don’t know how to use smartphones and understand how to use social media—they do (mostly). The generational divide is a mentality. Parents send texts and make posts on social, but they fail to realize that online, digital life is the main life that matters to their teens. What’s worse is, parents sometimes seem blissfully unaware of some of the dangers that left unchecked and unsupervised, can get their teen into serious trouble. And if they don’t understand the dangers, they can’t possibly be talking to their teens about them.

Dating Violence in the Digital Age Pop Quiz:

  1. You probably know what “sexting” is, but what is “sextortion?”
  2. How many clicks is PornHub, a porn site filled with often violent porn, from Snapchat?
  3. Define “sexual bullying.”
  4. What percent of teens who experienced digital abuse also experienced physical abuse?
  5. True or False: If you aren’t dating, you are less likely to be abused and harassed.

Answers:

  1. “Sextortion” is using threats or pictures already in your possession to get an individual to send more (often more explicit photos or videos) or sometimes even money to ensure you don’t send out pictures to the school or family members on social media.
  2. 5 clicks from one of the most popular teen apps. And pornography is often teaching boys (and girls) about human sexuality and what is acceptable and normal behavior—even if it is violent.
  3. “Sexual bullying” is the name-calling, psychological, and often physical abuse suffered by someone who has had a compromising photograph shared around the school. It has caused victims to have to switch schools and even commit suicide.
  4. 52% of teens who have experienced digital abuse will also experience physical abuse.
  5. False. Not being in a dating relationship does not spare someone from the potential abuse physically or online.

★ Here is one more sobering statistic—while 25% of teens are harassed or abused digitally, only about 9% seek out help. (And it is rarely from parents or teachers.)

Based on the data, if parents want to help guide and guard against things like this happening to their children, they really need to get educated and be willing to initiate conversations with their children. Otherwise, you’re leaving your teen to navigate a Digital City with creepy people and dangerous back alleys.

A. Be a parent that is approachable, askable, and relatable.

Don’t freak out over what you hear. Steer clear of interrogating your teen with a million questions. If you can’t keep your emotions in check, your teen won’t talk to you about the digital part of their lives for a really long time. (Also, realize your teen could do nothing wrong and something explicit could be sent to their phone.)

Smartphones, the internet, video games, and social media all have their benefits and their dangers. Fortunately, there are tons of resources available on the internet to educate yourself.

B. Be aware of the signs of dating abuse and harassment.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. They have an excellent list on their website of warning signs.

Have you noticed any of these warning signs in your teen?

C. Help your teen be aware of the short-term consequences AND long-term.

Not only could your teen become the victim of mental, psychological, and physical abuse, but a simple nude photo sent to their boyfriend or girlfriend puts their future at significant risk. The internet is forever, no matter how much they may think something is deleted. When a future employer or the school of their choice Googles their name, what’s going to come up?

Use these resources below to help you start the conversation about dating violence in the digital age…

6 Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Dating Habits

8 Warning Signs of Unhealthy Dating Relationships

10 Red Flags in a Dating Relationship

What to Do if Your Teen is Sexting

How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexting

What To Do If Your Teen Is Having Sex

How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?    

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***