There's Only So Much Wisdom I Can Impart In Between Their Fart Jokes!
October 22, 2013 9:36 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to convey as much wisdom/advice as possible to my kids before they become feral teenagers drenched in Axe and scorn. Please share the best lists/essays/articles you've ever seen on the theme of "Teaching Your Kids About ______".

Over the past few months, I've encountered a whole slew of articles, all of which are variations on the same theme: For the Love of God, Be Sure to Discuss This Important Topic With Your Young 'Uns ("don't play The Choking Game!", "step in and stop bullying, don't just retreat into your damned iPod!", "make sure your boyfriend/girlfriend consents to any intimate activities!"). I've also realized that I have discussed NONE of these with my own personal children.

Obviously, the importance of many of these topics is up for debate... but I still feel as though there are lots of actual-factual Important Topics that I have neglected to bring up. Left to their own devices, the kids would only ever discuss their own obsessions, so it's on me to bring this stuff up.

Lay it on me, HiveMind: please share what you consider to be the best, most-crucial-to-discuss articles/essays/blog posts/etc. for parents of young kids. The topic doesn't matter (studying, safety, growing up, health, the facts of life, whatevs)... it just has to make a compelling case for WHY its message is an important one to convey to one's kids.
posted by julthumbscrew to Human Relations (14 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

Ashton Kutcher's speech at the Teen Choice Awards

(smart is sexy and lots of other wisdom)
posted by rada at 9:51 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The moral of Vonnegut's Mother Night is something that I think would be incredibly valuable to impart to a preteen:
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
If you're not really a mean kid, but you pick on the smelly girl because the other kids are doing it and you want to fit in, and picking on people is mean, well, what does that make you?

And the other side of the same coin: it doesn't matter if you're scared to stand up for what you believe in--if you pretend to put on a brave face and stand up for yourself, then people will believe that you're brave.

You may also find this is a good time to frame their ethical interpretation of the world. If you google, you'll find plenty of ethics quizzes and sample ethics questions (like what would you do in X scenario?). You and your kids can talk through your answers together. Having that framework will make it easier for them to come to you about complicated situations as they get older.

But probably the most helpful thing you can do, aside from any blog posts or articles you can find, is just to constantly remind them that you'll always love them, no matter what they say, even if it's difficult or upsetting. That you'll always support them no matter what.
posted by phunniemee at 9:52 AM on October 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't have an essay, but I can say the most important discussion I've had with my younger sister (on whom I try to impart wisdom). I talked to her about the importance of honesty. As she got older, there were little times when telling a lie might be advantageous. I basically drilled it into her that integrity is most important, and that it's a lifetime practice, in all situations... large and small. Now she even points it out to me if I am thinking of saying something the least bit dishonest. One of the most important things I could have taught her, IMO.

The reason this is an important message is that (like many things that should be taught in childhood) honesty is a habit. The rewards don't start accruing big-time until years later, when you've established yourself as a person with integrity. In fact, it might seem like there are rewards to lying all along the way (which in the long term, I think, is untrue). The reason to teach honesty early is so that it can be ingrained as a deep habit. If it is a deep habit, your kids are unlikely to falter from when they're in a difficult situation.
posted by htid at 9:53 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Y'know, I find this question interesting. I'm now in my 30s and I don't remember much in the way of actual advice my parents gave to me, though I do credit them for just about every good decision I've made. I *do* remember how they treated each other, how they treated others, the things they did with me, the conversations we had, the media they exposed me to... I'm not saying that you shouldn't have important discussions with them about things like sex and so forth, but I would consider telling them things is probably the least effective way of helping them the way you seem to want to help them.

My advice would be to make sure that your involvement with your children extends beyond discussing stuff with them, and that when you do discuss important things with them you make sure that it is a conversation that both you and your children participate in, talking and listening alike. Help them reach their own conclusions instead of trying to stuff your conclusions into their heads.
posted by Aleyn at 9:54 AM on October 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

I just posted this in another question! sliding vs deciding and I really do think the concepts are more useful if instilled early.

The video is an hour long, but I promise it's worth it.

Ellyn Satter's division of responsibilities in feeding children. Heck, just go hang out at the website for her institute.

Other things that I don't have videos or blogs for. Hard work and persistence are more important that being smart, but you have to have a framework for sticking to things. Give your kids that framework and tell them about it.

Be kind to people. Show them the difference that kindness and compassion can make. Show them how much easier life is when we make assumptions from a place of generosity and kindness rather than scarcity and anger or other painful places. And yet, teach them that anger is important and real. Teach them that anger is a feeling, not a verb. Teach them that throwing things is not anger, it is throwing things. They can be angry without throwing things or saying cruel words.

Don't discount your kids' fears and other emotions. Don't let them discount the fears and emotions of others. If someone says they're scared, don't immediately respond that there's nothing to be afraid of. That's invalidating and has far reaching effects and can lead to an inability to regulate one's own emotions. In fact, you can help your kids learn how to regulate their own emotions. Or rather, you can have a professional that you feel comfortable with teach your kids (and you!) some emotional skills. (I recommend Dialectical Behavior Therapy a lot, but that's because I come from a background of intense trauma. Some people like Cognitive Behavior Therapy.)

Talk to them about how racism/sexism/homophobia aren't special monster traits that only monsters have. Talk to them about how our society reinforces whiteness/gender double binds/heteronormativity, and why you don't (or maybe you do?) agree with those assumptions about how people should be. Model this in your everyday language by telling them that "the person you love should be nice to you" instead of "women should expect the men that love them to treat them well." Because maybe your kids are gay! Set the example now that it's ok so they never have to worry about disappointing you. (And if you think it's the worst thing ever for a kid to be gay, decide now how you're going to handle that.)

Teach your kids to enjoy nature and movement now, by example. Otherwise it will be a battle.

Ditto good food, however simple. Leave the classist value judgements out of it though.

Ditto reading. It doesn't matter if they watch you reading bodice rippers, as long as they watch you read and enjoy it. Talk to them about what they're reading. Within earshot of your kids, ask other people what they're reading, kids and adults alike. I ask kids this a lot and those who read love it because it's not expected.
posted by bilabial at 10:02 AM on October 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

When I was 16, my older brother took me out to a swanky restaurant - swanky enough for us to be the only people there I recall - and bought me a glass of very expensive cognac. His toast was something like, I don't want your first drink to be bad vodka from some lame guy trying to get laid, so here's to quality - in alcohol and men both. It was a genius move, in more ways than one.
posted by rada at 10:05 AM on October 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

I'm not aware of any all-inclusive List of Things to Know that fits everyone. Most of the ones I've seen have been religious/conservative and/or schmaltzy.

You know your kids best; with a little thought, you can kind of tell what conversation needs having by what's going on in their lives.

Not knowing your kids' ages, here's what I thought of:

While watching a commercial: talk about what it's trying to make you think, and how to spot/engage with messaging in media. Tell them about stuff you got super excited about buying from a commercial and whether it lived up to your expectations, etc.

If there is a movie/TV series they love, ask them questions as you watch it with them; why are there so few women in Lord of the Rings? Why is there no democracy, only kings? Is it weird that with all those bullets flying, none of the heroes in action movies ever get killed? Stuff like that. Teach them to watch critically and ask questions.

If they are old enough to be going to a party or hangout with few/no adults, it's time to talk about drinking/drugs/sexual behavior and safety.

When they ask where babies come from: talk about basics of reproduction.

When they hit puberty: talk about what's happening to them and what to expect.

As they start dating: talk about birth control and especially consent and how to treat the other person. These discussions may also hit on things like sexual orientation and gender fluidity, depending on what's on your kid's mind.

Other things fall under the heading "Necessary Skills" and again, think about what you wish you had been taught, or what you were taught that was great, and make sure you pass it along. Making a list might be helpful to you. It should include basics, like dealing with money, basic cooking, washing clothes, grooming, cleaning house, yardwork, repairs, maybe car maintenence, caring for pets, effective studying, etc.

For this kind of stuff it's great to include them whenever you are doing something you want them to learn, if you can, rather than just talking about it.

Your spouse should be doing the same for skills they have that you don't.

And last, listen to them. What confuses them? What questions are they asking you? What books/shows are they reading? What's going on with their friends? Let them lead you to what they need to know, right then.
posted by emjaybee at 10:11 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

yeah, for me it generally wasn't specific planned lessons or the like, just moments that came up which certain adults responded to effectively. Like that time my mom told me I was a better person than Arthur (the bully across the street) right up until I declared myself a better person than Arthur -- the implication being that "better" was kind of meaningless, that being good required constant effort. And then there was the fight incident at school in Grade Six or Seven where one kid broke another's nose, but once the principal investigated the situation, the worst penalties handed out weren't for the kids in the fight but the rest of us who'd egged them both on.

There's also this which I heard a friend telling his 12 year old kid a few years back. "The worst thing you can do is be part of some other person's humiliation. Because that will affect them for the rest of their life."

Finally, the one thing I wish I'd been told before I hit puberty etc, and which I try to impart to all the younger kids I know, always with a smile. "Watch out. You're about to enter the craziest time of your life, and it's going to last for at least a decade. And that means that you yourself will be going crazy. Probably not in some horribly obvious way. You're just going to be ruled by hormones and impulses way more than you should be, and there's nothing you can do about it. Except to remind yourself every now and then, that you are stuck in the craziest part of your life, even if your brain is maybe telling you otherwise (welcome to craziness). Which isn't to say it can't also be a whole pile of fun. Good luck. Don't be afraid to admit you're wrong."
posted by philip-random at 10:11 AM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't have kids biologically my own, but I have gotten at least one father's day call, and at least one 1 AM "I can't tell my mom where I am or how I got here but I really need a ride" call, because I make it a point to reach out to the teenagers around me. From that perspective, the advice I've gotten thanked several years later for:
  • Always use lube with latex.
  • If you really want to stand out to your teachers, find the least important restriction on an assignment, deliberately break that rule, but nail every other requirement. ie: If they say "write an essay describing an object, but make it something complex, not something simple like a pencil", write an incredibly detailed essay describing a pencil.
  • Look around you. Note that various people around you have various drugs of choice. Note that many of those people have undesirable traits that are probably correlated with those drugs. I understand that you will be experimenting with many of those same drugs. Pick and choose your symptoms deliberately.
  • Know why you're breaking a rule, and make sure there's an associated benefit.
  • No, really, people misusing cars kill more people every year than people misusing firearms. This is a lesson for two reasons, if you're going to kill someone do it in a socially acceptable manner, and if you feel the need to take risks (and you're a teenager, you will), do it in a way that only endangers yourself.
Everything else will work itself out. Those are lessons that both show you're actually willing to meet them as human beings who are making their own choices and finding their own limits, and that are pretty important.
posted by straw at 10:13 AM on October 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I may have gotten this from somewhere on Metafilter and I would love to credit whomever pointed it out but I do not recall, but regardless of where I saw it, it is good advice. I'm ok; the Bull is Dead
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:23 AM on October 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

Here are basically the things I can away with from my parents: Karma is a bitch, Don't do in the streets and scare the horses, save your money, folk are usually too worried about what they are doing and how they look to worry about what you're doing and how you look(unless you look like someone from People of WalMart), put some lipstick on, perfume is for people to be close enough so that they want to lean in and enjoy more, make-up should look like you don't have any on, travel, no one can make you happy but you.
posted by PJMoore at 11:57 AM on October 22, 2013

Children learn from example. If you are honest, clean, respectful of others' time and feelings, etc., chances are your children will pick up that way of life. Be approachable about problems. Teens distancing themselves from parents (know-nothing fogies) is a part of their growing up to be independent adults.
posted by Cranberry at 2:14 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You want three books: etiquette, life skills and sex ed. How Rude! is pretty good for etiquette, which is has much less to do with table settings and is really about respect, communication and social context.

For life skills, I'd go to a library or bookstore to browse first, but you want something like this: Life Skills 101 or an academic curriculum. This should cover basics like budgeting, applying for jobs, how to grocery shop etc. You probably already have implicitly taught your kids a good chunk of this, but it's helpful to see the gaps.

Then you want a good book on sex ed. Perfectly Normal is awesome for the 8-12 crowd, and there are a whole bunch for older kids. Living with a Willy is highly rated by my teenagers, and I've got a bunch of basic relationship books as well. These you really have to pre-read to decide if you're comfortable with the level of detail and sexual ethics included.

Take all three, and read them with your kids. Read a section, pass the book to them to read and discuss it over dinner or one-on-one. Tell them you want to work through the books with them and you're happy to answer more questions. Keep it short and focussed - lots of 10 minute conversations beat hourly lectures once a week!

In terms of ethics, the news is a great jumping off point. For a while, we made our kids read a story from the paper every day and discuss it, mostly as a reading practice but it was surprising how often we ended up discussing stuff like how to handle stress, what sexual consent meant, divorce etc. This year-end holiday, I'm doing lunchtime religious readings with two of my kids to spark discussions on ethics within the context of our faith. If you don't have a personal ethical framework decided on, this will be harder to convey, so crib a little here and there to figure out the specific values you want them to have.

It's a lot of effort and they probably won't be responsive the way you hope - 50% of the conversations flounder, maybe 20% are really good - but it pays off when you hear them repeating your advice to a friend.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:16 AM on October 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

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