This week’s guest post is from author
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Some topics make parents want to become like ostriches and bury our heads in the sand. If only we could block out the world and avoid dealing with tough topics like sex, drugs, and alcohol. But we are not ostriches, and it is up to us as parents to talk about anything and everything with our children, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
There is no foolproof equation that can guarantee our child’s safe passage through life. Love + education + awareness of the facts does not always equal good decisions. You can talk to your child about the implications of having sex, the risks of using drugs, and the consequences of alcohol abuse; but this might not keep your child from experimenting with any and all of these. Still, your child needs to be able to talk with you about all these issues and more, in an atmosphere that allows both of you to speak your views and be heard.
Think through your own feelings on these topics. If you grew up in a family with an alcoholic parent, you know firsthand the implications of alcohol abuse, which makes this an especially volatile issue for you. Your overriding need to protect your child from alcohol may make it difficult for you to handle it when she comes home from a friend’s house smelling of beer. By taking time to talk with your spouse, other parents, and even a counselor (if the topic is especially emotional for you) before you need to have these conversations with your child, you will foster an atmosphere that allows your child to form his or her own opinions. On the other hand, it’s not wrong for your child to understand your position and to recognize that you have valid reasons for feeling the way that you do.
You may be tempted to use guilt to keep your child from experimenting with situations that have the potential to be dangerous. Don’t. Guilt is not a constructive emotion. Guilt may lead your child to skirt the truth or keep secrets. Just as unhealthy, guilt may cause your child to harbor negative feelings about sexuality, for instance, and sexuality and sex are complicated enough with adding guilt and shame to the equation.
Use teachable moments as prompts to talk about important issues. A story on the news, an event that happens in your community, even a sermon that invites reflection on a lifestyle choice can be a springboard into a conversation with your child. A magazine article on teen pregnancy can segue into a conversation on birth control, abortion, adoption. You probably have strong opinions, but reserve judgment. Like guilt, judgment of other people’s choices isn’t necessary or helpful.
If you wait until your child is in her teens before trying to foster open communication, it may be too late. The earlier in life your child knows that she can talk to you about anything, the better off you’ll both be when she has questions or is faced with a situation where your support and guidance are needed. Still, it’s better late than never.
It takes a lot of time and energy to walk with your child through the many issues that he will—and must—face on the road to maturity. Remember to nurture your own spirit as you travel on this journey of parenthood.
Adapted from/excerpted from the author’s 99 Ways to Raise Spiritually Healthy Children (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).