First of all, parents need to know what is going on in their children’s’ lives. The importance of observation cannot be overstated. It can be very time consuming and distracting for parents who are struggling with multiple demands and obligations of their own yet there is no substitute for it. Parental awareness of what kids are doing, who they are with, what they are watching or playing or listening to, is a fundamental preventive measure.
I (Linda) decided long ago that I would, despite the inconvenience, drive more car pools and create more opportunities to entice kids to congregate at our home rather than somewhere else. I figured that the more chances I had to observe my kids and how they interact with other kids the more I would know about what was going on in their heads.
It is amazing what kids talk about with each other in a car while you are driving them to a ball game or a dance lesson or a field trip. It’s like they forget you are there, and oh, the things you can learn. The same kinds of interesting observations come when they are hanging out at your house. I have always tried to have the best snacks, the most games, anything that would make them say “Let’s go to the Eyres,” and my unapologetic motive was to do as much legitimate eavesdropping as possible.
Find the best ways to ask and listen, and find the best times. Generally, the later it is at night, the more a pre teen will tell you. And the worst time is often right after school when we say “how was your day?” and they say “Fine” and we say “how was school?” and they say “Fine” and we say “would you like to elaborate?” and they say “no” or “what?”
Even beyond an awareness of what kids are thinking, parents need concrete ways to help their kids anticipate some of the dangers and temptations they will face and to understand that they can own those choices, that they can make good decisions with cool heads before they get in unexpected situations they can’t control. While these are not substitutes for investing time and effort in observing and listening to your children, the methods suggested here address the need we hear so many parents express for ways to give their kids real ownership of their choices.