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Marvin Marinovich thought he knew how you pass down your values to your kids. 

He may have tried harder than any parent in history

Recognized as a training guru in the 1960s, he became the NFL’s first strength and conditioning coach. He opened an athletic training research center and pioneered training methods still in use over 500 years later. If you’ve ever done “core” training, you have Marinovich to thank. He invented it. Impressive resumé.

His parenting resumé? Not so much.

On July 4, 1969, Marvin became the father of Todd Marinovich. Long before Baby Marinovich was born, dad determined that his son would be the greatest quarterback of all time. “The question I asked myself was, ‘How well could a kid develop if you provided him with the perfect environment?‘” This obsession made Todd less a son and more a lab experiment.

Training Todd began before he was born. (Really.) It continued from crib to college, earning Todd the nicknames “Robo QB” and “Test-Tube Athlete.” His entire upbringing revolved around being a quarterback. 

  • Dietary restrictions before he was born. 
  • Daily training before he could walk. 
  • A team of football tutors was soon in place. 

Sports Illustrated ran a story titled “Bred To Be A Superstar.”

✱ Todd Marinovich’s unremarkable eight-game NFL career ended abruptly after a series of interceptions and failed drug tests.

Passing down your family values is a tricky business

Many parents dream of their children being doctors, lawyers, or taking over the family business. Some dream of Johnny being a scholar, an athlete, a world-class cellist, or graduate from their alma mater. But what about their kid’s dreams? What about the values and character qualities parents want to instill in their children? How do parents pull that off? (One way that Marvin Marinovich was successful was demonstrating that our kids can’t be programmed.) 

How do you go from desiring values to developing them?

Whether you realize it or not, you’re already doing it. As the saying goes, “More is caught than taught.” The life you live in front of your children is the best tool you have as parents for passing down values. Ask yourself, “What did I pass down today?” If we could rewind today and watch it, what would be today’s life lessons?

Kids are sensory sponges. They see and hear everything and soak it all up. Your kids watch where you put your energy, efforts, and resources. They pick up on your attitude. They hear how you talk to people. Your children watch dutifully to see how you fulfill your duties as spouse and parent. It’s not a question of “if” you are passing down your values; it’s more a matter of “what” values you are passing down.

This doesn’t mean you have to be a perfect parent.

Trudi Marinovich, a collegiate swimmer, and athlete in her own right, was also an art lover. She exposed her son Todd to jazz and classical music, art-house movies, and regularly took him with her to art museums. She simply lived her love of art.

Despite Trudi and Marvin’s divorce when Todd was a teen, her influence on Todd was indelible. Although Marvin only had football aspirations for his son and tried to program him from before birth to be a quarterback, Todd surprisingly chose a Fine Arts major when he enrolled at USC—not a major you would expect for the NFL’s “next big thing.”

Todd Marinovich made ESPN’s list of “Top 25 Sports Flops.” Marvin Marinovich was listed #2 on ESPN’s “Worst Sports Parents In History.” Trudi (now Trudi Benti) is reduced to a footnote in stories about Todd, but which parent successfully passed down their values?

Today, Todd paints. 

And plays bass guitar, loves concerts, and runs an online art gallery. 

Listen, there is no formula. There are no guarantees. But there is the life you live in front of your kids. You may not be passing down the values you think you are, but you can be sure your example speaks volumes. Forcing your dreams onto your kids may backfire. Live out your values and passions. Leave room for them to dream their own dreams as you love and support them.

How Do I Talk to My Teen About Their Romantic Relationships?

Here's one key to guiding your teen through romance.

I was sitting at my middle school son’s football game. Some parents around me were discussing who was dating who in the school. I kept quiet during the conversation, but was anxiously waiting for them to mention my son. They did. I was astonished and a little embarrassed because I was totally unaware my son was “dating.” I knew for a fact he didn’t go anywhere with anyone. That’s what I consider “dating.” All he did was talk on his phone. 

How does that constitute dating? 

As soon as we left the game, I must confess I blindsided him with the question, “How is your girlfriend?” [Mom Smirk.] He gave me one of those looks only a teenager could give. “Mom, I don’t have a girlfriend.” [Teen Eye Roll.] “That’s not what I heard.” The more we went back and forth, the more frustrated he became, and the angrier I became. He was ADAMANT  he didn’t have a girlfriend. Truth be told, I was confused. I soon recognized that not believing him was damaging our relationship

How could I have prevented this from happening? 

Could I have better engaged my son in a conversation about his “romantic relationship?”

How can my misstep help you?

⇨ Related: 6 Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Dating Habits

Learn The Language

This is a time when the teacher becomes the student. Be humble and allow your teen to teach you the new relationship lingo. Your willingness to learn and listen shows you respect your teen’s perspective and you care about what’s going on in their world. 

Recognize and Accept Things Have Changed

When your teen says things have changed, believe them. The words and labels they use—DIFFERENT. The modes of communication they use—DIFFERENT. The definition of relationships—DIFFERENT. Trying to impose the “old way” on them will be met with rolled eyes, resistance, or worse. 

Be An Askable Parent When You Talk to Your Teen About Romantic Relationships

Take time to listen. Be open and genuine. You might hear some “stuff” that shocks or surprises you. You have to use your poker face. You’ll be tempted to turn a conversation into an interrogation. If your teen perceives a negative reaction from you or gets bombarded with a billion questions or a long lecture, it can cause them to stop talking and create distance.

⇨ Related: How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?

Build Up Your Relationship

Cultivating and maintaining your relationship with your teen provides space for this conversation. As your teen grows, your relationship with them should grow from more directive to coaching them through life and relationships. The more you try to control or force a relationship with your teen, the more they can pull away from you. 

If your teen says they are in a romantic relationship, here are some conversation starters to ask your teen:

  1. Are you able to be yourself in the relationship?
  2. Do you show respect and feel respected in your relationship?
  3. Do you have realistic expectations about the relationship?
  4. Are you feeling pressured in your relationship?
  5. Do you feel you have the time to devote to the relationship?

The key to guiding your teen through romantic relationships is to stop being a talkative parent and become a parent your teen wants to talk to. Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your teen builds and supports the relationship

Sure, “dating” might look different now, but there is still no substitute for a close, healthy relationship with your teen.

Check out some other blogs on healthy dating habits here:

Just wait until they turn 13, they said. Yeah, they’re cute now, but the day is coming, they said. Then my daughter turned 13. And I admit, the days are a lot more unpredictable when you have a middle school daughter. I never know whether I’ll be driving Jekyll or Hyde home from school on any given afternoon. Hair colors change from day to day, moods change from minute to minute. One moment they are cuddling in your lap like they did when they were 3; the next moment they’re rolling their eyes at you and holing themselves up in their room. 

Can you relate?

It’s a confusing time for middle school girls—they’re caught somewhere between being a little girl and wanting to be an independent young adult. They are seesawing between the two at any given moment. 

middle school daughter

It’s a confusing time for us dads, too, for obvious reasons. On the one hand, it’s hard to know what to expect out of your daughter. But more than that, it’s easy to feel like your role as a dad carries less weight than it once did. As a dad of a middle schooler, sometimes I feel like I’m a benched player when I was once a starting quarterback. 

Well, as a fellow dad-of-daughters, I’m here to say that you (and I) are still in the game. And I’d like to share some words of encouragement for being the best dad you can for your middle school daughter. 

Your daughter needs you to spend time with her.

Yes, she wants to exercise a lot more independence. She wants her space, her privacy. But your middle school daughter also desires to spend time with you. I mean good, quality time where she has your undivided attention. She not only wants to know you love her, but also that you like her, you like being with her, hanging out with her. Make time to do your favorite things together. Go on a coffee date, chow down on greasy cheeseburgers, take a hike, watch a movie, jam to music in the car (both yours and hers). If you haven’t already, find the activity that is going to be “your thing together.” (My daughter and I have “our” TV show that we watch together.) If you do have “your thing together,” go ahead now and make plans to do it again soon. (No, like, right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait here…

Your daughter needs you to listen.

It used to be that I could sit my daughter down and teach her all kinds of wisdom and “life lessons,” and she’d hang on to my every word. At 13, that doesn’t work quite as well anymore; “life lessons” come across more like lectures or replays of what’s been said before. But where my daughter and I do connect nowadays is when she comes to me to talk. I’ve found the key is to do a lot less “lesson-giving” and a lot more listening. Listen to understand. Ask questions to get an idea of where she’s coming from, how she’s feeling. And always, always let her know that she can come to you anytime with anything on her mind… and you won’t respond with any kind of judgment or ridicule.

And a funny thing happens sometimes: in the course of simply listening to my daughter, somehow a nugget of wisdom will slip through the cracks and get heard by her. Amazing how that works.

Your daughter needs you to affirm her. 

Lots of changes are happening in your middle school daughter’s life: brain development, friendships, body changes, emotions. It’s just a normal part of her development. But when your daughter experiences these changes, it can cause her to be unsure of herself, and she needs a regular boost of confidence. This is where you come in.

All middle school daughters need to hear certain things from their dads. Let her know how intelligent you think she is, how creative, how bright. Tell her that anyone would be lucky to have her as a friend. Don’t shy away from complimenting her physical appearance in an appropriate way: her hair, her eyes, how tall she’s getting. (My daughter is an avid cross country runner, and she beams whenever I ask her to flex her leg muscles and show me how strong she is.) Let her know she grows more and more beautiful every day. (Seriously—she needs to specifically hear the word beautiful applied to her.)

Affirming who she is and who she is growing to be can make all the difference in how your middle school daughter feels about herself and her future. 

Your daughter needs you to be interested in her world.

Her world in middle school is more complex than when she was younger. She’s discovering what she likes and dislikes, trying new interests, and devoting more time to activities she can call her own. It’s important to remember she considers this part of her space, her world; but, she wants you to come over and visit often.

Ask her questions about what interests her. Allow her to be the expert on whatever it is she’s into. Ask her to tell you about her best friend, how she goes about putting color in her hair, or what’s going on in the reality show she watches. The trick is to show genuine interest without seeming intrusive or nosy. And you certainly want to avoid coming across as judgy of her friends or interests. Showing interest in her world tells her that you are interested in her and that she means a lot to you. 

Your daughter needs you to believe in her.

Here’s something I realized about my daughter not too long ago: it’s possible that she’s going to do something later in her life that will absolutely change the world. I have no idea what that might be. Maybe she’ll help heal people as a doctor, or write award-winning screenplays, or solve some major crisis in a far-off country. And the same possibility holds true with your daughter as well.

Here’s the question I have to ask myself: When that time comes around, do I want my daughter to look back and see that her daddy believed in her every step of the way

Absolutely I do. 

And I’m sure you want the same for your daughter as well. Let her know you believe she’s capable of making a difference in the world around her, both now and in the future. 

Dads, I’m asking you to join me in the mission of being the best dad you can be for your middle school daughter.

Let me leave you with a sobering thought: This is the stage when it’s the easiest to pull away from your daughter but is possibly the most crucial stage to stay in the pocket. You’re still in the game and called to play it strong. Your middle school daughter needs you, whether she’s Jekyll or Hyde on a given day. Now, go eat some greasy cheeseburgers with her and tell her she’s beautiful. 

For more great information on being the best dad for your daughter, check out the links below:

6 Tips for Teaching Your Teen Healthy Dating Habits

You can use these talking points as a cheat sheet.

When my wife and I thought our daughter was ready to date, our daughter was in panic mode before the first boy came to pick her up. She wasn’t worried about the boy; she was worried about me

Dad, are you going to grill him and ask him a million questions?

No, Sweetie. I’m just going to ask him one question.

Really, Dad? Just one question? Wow!

Yup. “Where are WE going?”

Not funny, Dad.

The reality is that WE aren’t going anywhere. THEY are. How do you know if your teen has a healthy understanding of dating, how to get to know someone, and will exercise healthy dating habits? Here’s a little quiz for your teen to pass before they start dating that will also provide you as a parent with some great talking points.

ARE YOU READY TO START DATING?

1. What is the purpose of dating?

  1. To have fun.
  2. To find someone to marry.
  3. There is no purpose. It’s just what teens do.
  4. To learn how to get to know someone.

Answer Key: Although you want your teen to have fun while dating (a lot of fun), the best answer here is, “To learn how to get to know someone.” Make sure your teen knows that there is a level of “fakeness” built into dating, especially at the beginning. This doesn’t mean people are being deceptive or dishonest, BUT both parties are trying to put the best version of themselves forward while possibly (probably) hiding parts of their real self and any of their flaws. Everyone is trying to sell an image of themselves. Getting to know someone takes time. It means seeing them in a variety of situations and paying attention to how they treat a variety of people—besides you. Oh, and marriage is like 15 years away.

2.  How long does it take to really get to know someone?

  1. First impressions are everything. 
  2. Their social media accounts show who they really are.
  3. Five or so dates.
  4. It really depends.

Answer Key: First impressions are important but can be totally misleading. So can social media. Some people post about their friends, family, hobbies, and little snapshots of their life. Some people create and curate a digital self-image that is far from reality. The bottom line is that it really depends. Assuming they treat your teen great because they are interested in them, your teen wants to watch for the following in who they date.

Watch for how they…

  • Treat their parents.
  • Act when they’re told, “No.”
  • Treat their siblings.
  • Treat their friends.
  • Respond to criticism.
  • Treat authority figures.
  • Treat people who wrong them.
  • Handle when things go wrong.
  • Treat people in need.
  • Respond to disagreements.

3. Your main goal in a dating relationship should be:

  1. Developing social skills
  2. Taking your time
  3. Growing emotionally
  4. Staying true to yourself

Answer Key: Trick question! Your teen’s goal in a dating relationship should be all of the above! If any of those things are NOT happening, it’s a bad sign. They should be growing into their best self. They shouldn’t feel rushed or pressured into anything, and their social skills should be developing as they learn how to interact with people. 

4. If there isn’t anybody in your life you’re truly interested in dating…

  1. Settle for the best you can get
  2. Explore online dating sites
  3. Lower your standards
  4. Hang out with your friends and pursue other interests

Answer Key: Your teen never wants to settle or lower their standards just so they can be dating someone. And they have no business being on some online dating site.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with not dating. Lots of people aren’t doing it. Your teen is probably avoiding a ton of drama while they have more time to hang out with their friends and pursue their interests, hobbies, and passions. And let’s not forget school. And more family time. It’s better to not be dating at all than to be dating the wrong person. Don’t settle!

5.  The best qualities or traits that you bring into dating are your…

  1. Hotness and popularity
  2. Personality and sense of humor
  3. Character and values
  4. Maturity and intelligence

Answer Key: Anything except (A.) is a great answer! Any fisherman will tell you that the bait you use will determine what you catch. Before your teen is ready to get to know someone else, they need to know who they are. They need to value and respect themselves, understand their strengths and growth areas, and have a strong sense of identity. Ask them follow-up questions about their personality, character, values, and maturity. Make them be as specific as possible and cultivate their self-awareness.

6.  “Red Flags” in a dating relationship would include…

The person…

  1. Constantly wants to know where you are and who you’re with.
  2. Tries to keep you away from your family and friends.
  3. Pressures you to go beyond your personal boundaries.
  4. Tells you how to dress.
  5. Tells you who you can be friends with or talk to.
  6. Puts you down a lot, even in a “joking” way.
  7. Blames you for every relationship problem or issue.
  8. Is not dependable, trustworthy, or honest.
  9. Makes you feel like you can’t be yourself with them.
  10. Makes you nervous that you’re going to do something to upset them or make them mad all the time.
  11. Wants to check your phone to see who you are talking to.

Answer Key: There are more “red flags” but those are all some important ones. What you want is for your teen to have healthy dating habits and be able to recognize a healthy relationship, an unhealthy relationship, and an abusive relationship. You want to know that your teen has a strong sense of their boundaries—both emotionally and physically—and can stick to them. The two of you might want to agree on a code word or phrase that if they say it in a call or text while on a date, you know they need to get out of a situation immediately.

You can’t get your teen ready for dating with a quiz. What you want is an ongoing conversation that continues throughout their dating life and sets them up for healthy dating habits. You know your teen better than anybody. You can help them get the fundamentals of dating so that dating is a healthy part of their teenage years that helps prepare them for adulthood. Trust me, you’ve got this!

Check out some other blogs on healthy dating habits here:

When Should I Let My Child Date?

What to Do When You Don’t Like Who Your Teen is Dating

10 Signs of Teen Dating Violence

Tips for Setting Dating Standards With Your Teens

10 Steps for a Low-Risk Teen Dating Strategy

FACT #1: There’s nothing like being the dad of a daughter. 


FACT #2: To a daughter, there’s no one like her dad. 

I’ll be honest: both times my wife and I were pregnant, I was hoping for a boy. I was an only child, and I had no idea how to navigate the world of tutus, dolls, fingernail polish, or Disney princesses. But after my first daughter was born, and even more so after my second, I can tell you I wouldn’t trade it for anything

There is truly a special bond between a dad and daughter. It’s hard to explain. To know what I do—my presence, my attention, my support, my compassion for my daughters—will be carried with them through their entire lives is both a massively overwhelming mission and a wonderfully great privilege.

And if you were to look up the research on dads and daughters, you’d find a warm, affectionate relationship between the two does indeed help a young girl thrive and develop. Fathers leave a legacy with their daughters which positively informs their identity, confidence, body image, assertiveness, mental health, and problem-solving skills. Not to mention, being the first man in your daughter’s life, you are the one who teaches her the level of respect, love, and treatment she deserves from the opposite sex. 

Fellow dads out there, we’ve got a mission. 

How can a dad foster a strong connection with his daughter? Here are five ways to be the best dad for your daughter: 

1. Be present.

Not just in the same room or in the car picking her up from preschool. I mean, be truly present. Engage with your daughter. Talk, interact, ask questions. There’s a big difference between sitting on the same couch and directing your attention toward your daughter. She needs to know you are interested in her. She will beam when you ask her questions and show an interest in the things she is interested in—tutus, Disney princesses, and all. 

2. Take your daughter on dates.

I can’t stress this enough. Even when they are barely walking, daddy-daughter dates hold a special place in her heart. These are the opportunities for your little girl to experience “out there” with you, at the pizza place, the park, the movie theater, fishing, the hiking trail. It gives her the experience of seeing how you operate and behave outside the home, with other people in other places, while knowing your attention is solely on her. So much positive development and socialization results from this kind of quality time with you.

3. Hug, cuddle, and hold hands.

Your daughter needs a positive, comforting touch from you. She gains a sense of warmth, protection, and security when you wrap your arm around her or give her a big goodnight smooch at bedtime. Many daughters love tickle fights and wrestling matches. (Dads need to be wary of how far these go; always give them an easy “way out” of a pin or hold so they don’t feel trapped. Otherwise, the touch turns from feeling protective to overly vulnerable.) There’s power in a dad’s touch which can be used to strengthen the connection with his daughter.

4. Build her up.

Never miss the opportunity for genuine encouragement, compliments, and praise. Just like there is power in your touch, there is also power in a dad’s words. Your daughter loves to impress you, whether it’s with her artwork, her dancing skills, or her knowledge of Disney princesses. Showing your accolades helps her to develop confidence and esteem. Encourage her to keep trying when she can’t quite get something right, like tying her shoes, learning how to spell a word or learning to jump hurdles; this helps her to build grit and determination. 

5. Tell her “I love you,” often.

Dads, your daughter can’t hear these words enough. As my girls have gotten older, I’ve come to realize I don’t tell them this because I necessarily want them to know it in the moment; I tell them I love you because I want them to remember how true it is when I’m not with them. These words give your daughter security and comfort, especially when you are away. Make a habit of telling them this in the most unexpected moments. 

To a daughter, there’s no one like her dad.

You are one-of-a-kind to her, the first and most important man of her life. Yes, the mission is daunting. But you’ve got what it takes to be a great dad. Your daughter believes in you, so go out there and prove her right. And don’t be afraid to wear a tutu while watching a Disney princess movie every now and then. (You might even get your fingernails painted for free!)

Image from Pexels.com

How do you increase communication in your home and make sure everyone’s connected?

When healthy communication is happening in the family, everyone feels connected and part of the same team. All the gears are synched up, your family is firing on all cylinders and is headed in the same direction. There are regular check-ins to make sure balls don’t get dropped and you aren’t surprised about projects or performances. If there are issues that need to be addressed with the whole family, you are able to get everyone together and effectively address them. You and your spouse have plenty of time to express needs and concerns and feel heard and also have time to chat and stay connected.  

There are two parts to getting connected and bonded together and building those strong relationships. The first is being intentional about one-on-one communication with each member of the family and the other is having good consistent communication together as a whole family. It would be nice to want this, snap your fingers and BOOM, life is golden. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. You’ll need to be intentional in your efforts and it will probably take some time to turn the ship. But the payoff can be life-changing for your family. This is so totally doable! You just have to tweak a few things.

1. One-On-One Communication.

Start here. Make time to hang out. Watch your kids play some video games, ask them to go run an errand with you, or take them out for ice cream. Car rides are magical communication times—the ride to school, practice, a friend’s house—these are all primo talking opportunities. (Some family members are extroverted and will be talking your ears off. Don’t forget your more quiet, introverted family members. You might have to make an extra effort to connect with them.) Some parents make the ride to school a tech-free zone to promote conversation in the car.

The basics of communication are speaking and listening, and there are ways to get better at both of them. They are learned skills you can improve on, but before we even get into that—communication usually happens organically when you are together

2. Family Communication at Home.

Same rules apply. Communication usually happens organically when you are together—it’s just a matter of how do you get everyone together? I know everyone is super busy (maybe that has to be addressed) but try to carve out at least a few times a week when you eat together with phones turned off. (I’m gonna give you some conversation starters so it isn’t just awkward silence.)

Family game nights, family movie nights, family outings to a park—these usually lead to some good ole’ fashioned chit-chat. Check out this Parenting Toolkit: A Family Guide To The Best Summer Ever! It’s filled with ideas for activities, conversation-starters, plus each activity is geared toward learning an important relationship skill. Check out other family resources HERE.

If your family is going in a lot of different directions, weekly family meetings can decrease drama and encourage open communication as you talk about the family calendar, who needs to be where, when projects are due and require parental assistance, etc. Family meetings are also a way to empower your kids and encourage open communication. Anybody can request a family meeting if there is an urgent issue they believe needs to be discussed. In general, family meetings should be fun, short, and involve everyone. You want two-way communication, not a lecture. You are looking for feedback from everyone. Follow it up with a fun activity.

How do you get better at communication in general?

Here’s the insider info to get you communicating like a pro. We covered the need to be together, but now what? (If you have teens, check this out.)

The Speaking Part of Communication in Your Home

So how was your day?

Okay.” 

[Conversation over.]

Here are five things you can ask instead of, “How was your day?” You don’t want to be a criminal interrogator; you want to be a conversation initiator. Big difference. This means open-ended questions, asking “what makes you think that?” or saying “tell me more” quite a bit. It means sometimes answering questions with questions, then listening for what is hiding underneath a question or statement and following up on it. The goal is to understand where your child is coming from. When they feel like you “get” them, they are much more likely to open up to you.

Work on being more observant. Notice I didn’t say, “private investigator.” You want to be a conversation instigator. What are your family members (including your spouse) into? What makes them light up? How do they spend their free time? Where do they put their energy? If you have younger ones, get on the floor and play with them. Step into the world of your family members with sincere questions. Then really listen.

The Listening Part of Communication in Your Home.

Be available for when your family members want to talk to you. Avoid distractions and interruptions. Give your full attention. (Put yourself in their shoes. Ask clarifying questions. Ask questions that take the conversation deeper. Model the kind of communication you want to have. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.) People love talking to a good listener.

There are books filled with conversation starters and the internet is filled with lists of questions for kids of every age and for couples. Invest in a few books or click around for some lists. They’re great for road trips and pillow talk. Just when you think you know all there is to know about somebody, one of these questions will take you into new territory and they are tons of fun.

27 Family Conversation Starters

  1. If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would you go and why?
  2. If I could do one thing to be a better parent to you, what would it be?
  3. What do you worry about the most? Why?
  4. What will you do when you graduate high school?
  5. When was a time that you were kind to someone else?
  6. What is the best thing about our family?
  7. Who is someone you admire right now? Why?
  8. What is the “lesson” or “takeaway” from your favorite book or movie?  
  9. What do you think about tattoos and piercings?
  10. How common do you think cheating is at school? What do you think about cheating?
  11. What is the biggest factor in being successful at school?
  12. Is it better to be optimistic or realistic? Why?
  13. What do you like about you?
  14. Have I ever not noticed when you were sad?
  15. What makes someone popular?
  16. What is one thing you would try if you were completely fearless?
  17. How do you react when your feelings are hurt? Does it help?
  18. What do you think about the drinking age?
  19. Who gets bullied or teased at school? Why?
  20. How should someone handle it if they are bullied?
  21. What do you like best about your friends?
  22. Is there anything you don’t like about your friends?
  23. What is the hardest part about being a kid?
  24. How is love/marriage different in real life than in the movies?
  25. What is the hardest thing about being a girl? Being a boy?
  26. Do you have friends with different religious beliefs?
  27. What do you think about that? How will you know if you’ve had a successful life?

★ Good communication in your home doesn’t happen by accident. But you can absolutely increase the quality AND quantity of communication in your family. You got this!

Image from Freepik.com

You overheard something. You saw something. Maybe you had a gut feeling. So you just came out and asked your teen, “Are you having sex?” You were greeted with a “duh” face and a “yes.” You kept your cool and said, “Can we talk about this? Soon?

Now you are processing a bunch of emotions and running scenarios through your mind. 

And you’re thinking about that talk. What are you going to say? Then what?

You can get through this! Let’s take these in order:

Your Emotional Response:

This could be hitting you in a deeply personal way: Maybe because of your religious values. Maybe because you don’t want your teen to make the same mistakes you did. 

Maybe because you know all the possible consequences. Let’s face it—you may have just found out that you don’t know your teen as well as you thought you did. Maybe you are running through everything you did as a parent and trying to figure out where you went wrong.

You are going to have to sort yourself out first. Feelings of guilt, anger, disappointment, fear, and confusion are totally understandable, but they are not a healthy place for you to camp out and you are going to have to let go of them if you’re going to move forward with your teen in a healthy, productive manner. Remember, your teen might be trying to process a giant payload of emotions right now and you need to be able to help them.

Your Emotions In Perspective:

The reality is that you could have been The Best Parent Ever©  and your teen could still choose to have sex. (Biologically—they are ready, hormones are racing through their body, they occupy a culture preoccupied with sex, their peers might be exerting pressure on them, alcohol or drugs may have diminished their capacity to choose.) 

The flip side is also true. You could be the kind of parent that doesn’t know where their teen is at 11:30 on a school night and your teen could choose a life of chastity up until their wedding day. 🔎 Teens are young adults who make choices of their own despite our best parenting efforts. Let yourself off the hook and let’s start moving forward.

The Scenarios Running Through Your Mind:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Was your teen pressured into this?
  • Were alcohol and/or drugs involved?
  • Do they even understand “consent?”
  • Are they or did they get someone pregnant?
  • Do they have an STD now? They think they are invincible!
  • What is the legal age of consent in our state?
  • Is this relationship serious or was it just a “hook up?”

These are all legitimate questions. And you’ll get to them in time. But first and foremost, you need to be thinking about your teen—their mind, heart, body, and that talk.

“That Talk” or “Your Opportunity To Build A Deeper Relationship With Your Teen”

☆ When you feel like you have your emotions in check, your mind isn’t racing, and you can find a time and place where neither of you will be distracted or interrupted, then it’s time to talk with your teen. Remember, this is a chance to build a deeper relationship with them. Some rules: No lecturing. No interrogating. No “How could you’s?” Got ‘em?

You want to be a parent that your teen feels like they can move toward. (Literally and figuratively.) This means paying attention to your body language, the volume, and tone of your voice, reserving judgment, actively listening, communicating compassion for your teen, and having a true dialogue with them.

You need some goals. 

This is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing dialogue. Remember not to interrogate but to probe gently as you actively listen to their responses. Don’t try to cover all of this in one talk and be done with talking to your teen about sex. When it comes to sex, you want your teen to have a healthy mind, heart, and body. 

You want them to understand that once sex enters the relationship everything changes and gets complicated. “Do they really like me or just like having sex?” “This was an expensive date—does it come with ‘strings’ attached?” “If it wasn’t for the sexual part of our relationship, would we still be dating?”

1. A Healthy Mind:

  • What are their thoughts about having sex and how do they believe it will impact their relationship?
  • Do they understand where you stand on them being sexually active and why?
  • Do they understand the risks of and responsibilities that come with being sexually active?
  • Have they thought toward the future and understand the impact that having many sexual partners will have on a future committed relationship?
  • Do they understand how their life would change if they got someone pregnant or became pregnant? 
  • Do they understand consent and the legalities involved?

2. A Healthy Heart:

Do they:

  • Understand the role that sex plays in a relationship?
  • Know the signs of a healthy relationship?
  • Recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship?
  • Know the signs of an abusive relationship?
  • Have smart boundaries in a relationship? Are they strong enough to enforce those boundaries?
  • Know what to do if they feel pressured to do something they don’t want to do? (Do you have a codeword or phrase that they can use in a call or text that indicates they are uncomfortable and need out of a situation?)
  • Understand how to work through guilt and forgive themselves if they regret having sex?
  • Have the self-awareness to recognize the signs of depression, anxiety, and stress in their life?

3. A Healthy Body:

  • Do they understand they need to be tested for STDs & STIs? 

(No matter how much they protest that they had “safe sex.”)

  • Do they understand that they will need a pregnancy test and visit to a doctor? (Again, no matter how much they protest that they had “safe sex.”)
  • Do they know how to protect themselves against pregnancy and STDs, even if you have expressed that you don’t approve of them being sexually active?

Follow-Up:

Your teen might have been in a heightened emotional state while you were having this conversation about sex. It might take a few days for them to process what was discussed. A couple of days later, you might want to ask them what thoughts or questions they have about your talk. Remember, this was not a “one and done” conversation. Keep the dialogue going by being an “askable” parent. Let them know they can talk to you about whatever, whenever. 

★ Make sure your teen knows you love them no matter what. 

First Things First Resources:

Other Resources:

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How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

Help guide kids through worry and fear with these easy suggestions.

As a parent, it never ceases to amaze me that I feel a piece of the hurt that my child experiences—whether it be a skinned knee, a disappointment, or hurt feelings. I’m sure you feel the same way. And unfortunately, anxiety does not discriminate by age. Helping your 8- to 12-year-old child through anxiety is no piece of cake. Many parents are left in the dark as to how to nurture their child through worry, fear, and panic.  

When your tween-ager becomes anxious, how do you help them handle their anxiety? 

Worries and fears are normal for kids, whether it’s being nervous about an upcoming test, a friendship, or feeling uncertainty over a move to a new house. These feelings typically work themselves out in a short amount of time, and life moves on. However, anxiety can become problematic in tweens when it persists and interferes with everyday life. 

Not all kids experience anxiety the same way, and the source of one kid’s anxiety might be different from another’s. According to the National Health Service of the UK, some children simply have a hard time with change, such as attending a different school or moving to a new town. Distressing or traumatic experiences such as a house fire, change in family structure, or the death of someone close to them can certainly spark anxiety. Also, family conflict and arguments can heighten anxiety in children, especially if they experience it often. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, the CDC, and the AACAP, there are some typical signs to look for to indicate that your child may be experiencing anxiety:

  • Anger or irritability.
  • Constant worry, negative thoughts, the nagging thought that bad things are going to happen.
  • Trouble sleeping at night.
  • Bad dreams.
  • Headaches or stomach aches.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling tense or fidgety.
  • Trouble concentrating on schoolwork or other tasks.
  • Avoidance of social gatherings or everyday activities.
  • Lack of confidence to try new things.

Keep in mind that many of these symptoms can be normal in 8- to 12-year-olds from time to time; all kids have a nightmare or show some fidgetiness now and then. However, if you see these symptoms crop up repeatedly, this may be an indication that your child is experiencing some anxiety and needs some help to cope. 

So, what can you do as a parent to help your child during these times? Here are some steps to help your child walk through worry, fear, and anxiety. 

Help your child talk through and name their feelings.

Emotion Wheel

Many kids don’t know how to articulate what it is they are feeling. Putting a label on what your child is feeling gives them a certain power over their anxiety, what some psychologists call a “name it, tame it” philosophy. Tools such as the emotion wheel below can help kids choose words to describe what they’re feeling.

Another side of the “name it, tame it” idea is to help your child give a literal name to the feeling of anxiety. This helps them to call the anxiety out and put it in its place. For instance, they might say, Well,Bruce” is showing up again, making me feel worried about this test. Bruce, you need to go away so I can get on with my class! This may feel a little “lame” to older kids, but it gives them a vocal power over their negative feelings and helps them to regulate tense emotions. 

Teach them to recognize their own signs of anxiety as they begin to arise.

(Such as heart beating fast, trouble thinking straight, sweaty palms, etc.). Anxiety is usually something that shows up progressively before it reaches full tilt, sometimes described as a wave that builds up and then ebbs away. The more your child can anticipate the wave coming, the better they can head it off at the pass with some coping skills. 

Teach your child some simple mindfulness and relaxation techniques for when they feel anxiety coming on.

For instance, they can take three deep breaths, inhaling through the nose on a three-count and exhaling through the mouth on a three-count. Deep breathing helps to slow a person’s heart rate and the amount of stress hormones that get squirted in the brain in a nerve-racking situation. Other very simple relaxation techniques can be found online. 

Help your child talk through what can be and what can’t be controlled in a certain situation.

For example, the fact that they will be attending a new school or that they won’t know anyone the first day or so cannot be controlled. However, they can control whether they open up and get to know other students. They can control whether they ask a teacher for help with finding their way. And they can control the knowledge that they will be coming home after school and can relax better. Direct your tween to make a two-column list, spelling out what can and cannot be controlled in their situation

Encourage your child to keep a “worry journal,” recording what it is that has them anxious and what they are feeling.

Another great version of this technique comes from Young Minds and is called the “worry box.” Kids can take a decorated box and, as they experience worry or anxiety over situations, record what they are worried about on slips of paper and put them into the box. At the end of the week, go through the slips of paper together with your child; have them determine which pieces of paper were worth worrying over (which is usually none of them), and have them tear that piece of paper up and throw it away. This is a great symbolic way of your child showing power over their anxiety

Coach your child to eat a healthy diet and get plenty of physical activity.

(At least 60 minutes a day, according to the CDC). And be sure they get the recommended amount of sleep at night for their age. Our physical health and our mental health are connected.

Avoid “pre-purchasing” anxiety for your child.

In other words, if you are feeling anxious over a certain situation your child is facing, your child will read you and follow suit. Also, avoid persistent family arguments and unhealthy conflict in the house. An environment filled with conflict only serves to increase the anxiety your child will feel at any given time. 

☆ If your child’s anxiety persists or increases despite these measures, be sure to pay a visit to their primary doctor with these concerns. 

Anxiety happens, and you want your child to learn how to read their own anxiety and develop coping skills. Keep in mind that anxiety is something to be worked through. And everyone needs someone else to walk with them through it—especially children. A key concept that 8- to 12-year-olds can begin to grasp is the idea that you have the power to not let anxiety get the best of you. And kids this age can begin implementing coping tools to demonstrate that power over their anxiety. 

Above all, be patient with them. Let them know you are there to walk with them without judging or shaming them for their feelings. A strong, caring relationship with your kids is the biggest weapon you can give them to build the inner strengths to handle anxiety. 

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