One of the tools we use at RAVE to help bridge the communication gap between parents and teens/children is #WWWOPK (What We Wish Our Parents Knew). Responses are gotten anonymously from children on anything (good/bad/ugly) they wish they could tell their parents but haven’t been able to and I must say it has proven very effective in hearing the voice of the children.
Something that has come out quite clearly though is that there is a huge communication gap as a number of children are skeptical talking to their parents about various issues ranging from requests they get to send nude pictures (sexting); pressure to “try” alcohol; drugs & sex; depression; unhappiness; masturbation; gender identity issues; bullying & cyber bullying and a myriad of other issues.
While it’s not totally abnormal for children to shy away from discussing some of these issues with their dads or mums, it is important for us as parents to try and position ourselves as effective “First Responders” in case of “emergencies”. Just to be clear, I’m not talking medical emergencies, I’m talking about our children’s “life emergencies” which to you might look like trivialities, after all “it should be a no-brainer that if your friend asks you to send nude pictures the obvious answer should be “no way””. While I agree that should be the obvious answer, unfortunately as you probably may know, “NO” can be such a heavy word to utter sometimes. Let’s be honest parents, how many times have you found yourself saying “yes” to some request when your really wanted to say “no”? Yeah…I thought so! I’ve found myself in that situation a couple of times and while our reasons may vary from that of our children probably because of maturity and life experiences the end result is the same…we said “yes” when we should have said “no”.
According to Wikipedia, “a first responder is a person who is likely to be among the first people to arrive at and assist at the scene of an emergency such as an accident, natural disaster or terrorist attack and has received training for this…First responders must be trained to deal with a wide array of potential medical emergencies…First responders are often viewed as highly valued members of a community because of their important role during emergencies.”
Some of the common reasons children have given for not reaching out to their dad/mum when they find themselves in some of the situations I mentioned above include: “my parents would tell everybody & it would become a family matter”; “they would say I need prayers/deliverance”; “my parents won’t get it”; “They would kill me”; “They’ll think I’m just being petty”; “They won’t listen”; “Even if they knew, they wouldn’t care, so I don’t bother”; “I find it hard to face them” “my mum would get very dramatic” “I’ve tried to tell them things before and it didn’t go very well”.
Before we start judging other parents (why do we humans like to think it’s the other person that has issues?) It’s important we look inwards and ask ourselves is there anything I can do to make my children comfortable to talk to me about any and everything? Yes they may be scared or embarrassed initially and some of the conversations might be very awkward and difficult to have but wouldn’t you rather they get proper counsel from you than from some equally inexperienced friend of theirs?
So what are some of the things we can do to bridge the communication gap with our children? Be available; Be observant; Initiate conversations; Don’t over react – learn the art of absorbing shocks; Don’t be a drama queen (or king); Let them know you’re listening; Be empathetic; Focus on your child’s feelings rather than yours during your conversation.
Communication is key to maintaining a healthy connection with our children and sometimes it’s tough balancing this aspect of parenting with the other pressures we may be facing. However, just like when lives are saved in medical emergencies, the positive impact on our children when we have been effective first responders is well worth it.
RAVE Et Al Limited (RAVE) is a social enterprise that partners with parents, schools, government and other stakeholders, to equip the younger generation for the future, using education and other creative & vibrant tools to reinforce values, attitudes and life skills imperative for successfully & safely navigating the various phases of life online, offline and impacting the society positively. RAVE is the pioneer DQ Ambassador in Nigeria (first in Africa) to be certified by the DQ Institute, Singapore.