Have you ever wondered what your kids really hear when you tell them something? As a parent, we do everything we can to keep our kids safe. Teach them to look both ways before crossing the street. Fire is hot. Drugs are bad. But do we teach them to listen to their gut? To set healthy boundaries? When to say No? Recently I learned my parental score in a few of these areas.
When my middle-school age daughter comes home she will often Skype with her friends and talk about their day. Yesterday was no exception. She was sitting at the kitchen counter chatting away with her friend, when I walked in. Her friend was telling her that a boy in her class was asking her VERY inappropriate questions. Graphic sexual questions. “Would you ever…” questions.
I pretended not to hear what was being said and quickly retreated out of sight to observe how my daughter was going to handle the situation. Yes, I continued to unapologetically eavesdrop. That’s part of my job as a parent.
As I listened silently, my daughter emphatically told her friend that she needed to block this boy online and avoid him in the halls. If he approached her, she should confront him directly about how inappropriate his questions were.
Later that night, my daughter, husband and I were watching a TV show called Catfish. It’s a show about online relationships where one person is often not who or what they appear and the host brings the two parties together to reveal the truth. In this episode, a young man was essentially stalking a girl and being very obsessive. During the confrontation scene the young man was very socially awkward. His mannerisms and body language made everyone on the show very uncomfortable. I closely watched my daughter’s reactions. She winced and recoiled in places. She was wide-eyed in others.
At the commercial break, my husband asked her what she thought of the whole interaction. Her response surprised me.
She recounted the young man’s behavior.
- He didn’t read any clues about the girl’s refusal to meet him
- He seemed clingy and didn’t read social cues
- He would wring his hands and dart his eyes erratically
- He was awkward and made everyone uncomfortable
After recounting all the reasons she was repulsed by this guy, she looked at me and said “You taught me how to see all that” with a “duh” tone that every teen girl has perfected. I was taken aback. I don’t ever remember teaching her to look for those things specifically but she was certain that I had.
The conscience of children is formed by the influences that surround them; their notions of good and evil are the result of the moral atmosphere they breathe. – John Paul Richter
As a mother of a daughter, I worry constantly about all the traps that young women fall into. Wanting attention, wanting to fit in, not speaking up for themselves, not setting healthy boundaries, etc. I have never sat down and said “here’s a list of behaviors to look for” but I have always tried to help her recognize how she feels in response to things. To be aware of her surroundings and things that didn’t look or feel right. Apparently she was paying attention.
Twice in one day, I saw my daughter respond in the way I had hoped. She recognized inappropriate and uncomfortable behavior, then responded accordingly. It’s moments like this, the trial runs, which help her to practice for the bigger events later in life. Refining these skills and testing her boundaries now will pay off later. My hope is that these moments will help her recognize the erratic man who means her harm, the obsessive boyfriend or date that is too aggressive. I hope it gives her strength to ask for what she needs and walk away from things that aren’t healthy.
We can teach kids the obvious stuff but it’s the fuzzy stuff that’s harder. Some of it is definable, some is more instinctual. Intentional instruction is more than a conversation. It’s not a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s woven into everyday events. It’s practicing a skill and building confidence. Teaching my daughter situational awareness or setting healthy boundaries is a series of conversations – every day. It’s setting an example for her in my own behavior – sometimes, what NOT to do and admitting my failures.
Whether you are a parent or not, you influence people every day. The question is – What are they learning from you?
Nothing is so potent as the silent influence of a good example. – James Kent