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Sit Down and Talk

Sit Down and Talk

How to replace the Internet as your child's primary source of information.


For nearly a decade, I have tutored children online. I began my career with America Online, through their "Ask a Teacher" program, and gradually continued through the ranks until I worked with several of their divisions. One of them involved monitoring chat rooms for child predators. I watched out for underage children, and anyone who was out there looking for them.

It never ceased to amaze me how much information children gave out, and how many parents had no idea that their children were even in a chat room to begin with.

Although there are many filtering programs that enable parents to supervise what sites their children access, a determined and savvy child can bypass most of these hurdles. And in general, children are often exposed to far more than what their parents are aware of.

That's why it is extremely important for parents to talk with their children about a variety of topics. Some of these topics may be uncomfortable, but it is vital to maintain an open line of communication. If a child is raised from a young age with the expectation of discussing their day with their parents, it will not become uncomfortable to discuss more serious, private topics with their parents, as they get older.

It is perfectly all right to ask your child what he or she did during the day, and who he or she spent time with. From the beginning, a child should be aware that he or she will be held accountable for their day. "Nothing" is never an acceptable answer. Obviously, something was done that day. Did you eat lunch? What? Was it good? Bad? Why? Even insignificant questions such as these opens up a line of conversation.

If necessary, contact your child's teacher. They are usually the first ones to notice that something may not be right.

Aware Parent

Parents need to know who their children's friends are. If you are uncomfortable with a peer choice, discuss it with your child and give some concrete reasons. Simply telling a child, "I don't want you to play with "Joe'," but not explaining why, only encourages the child to spend more time with Joe when Mom and Dad are not paying attention. The ability to do something "taboo" becomes exciting. However, if your child understands the reasons for the rules, you'll have a greater chance of maintaining a trustworthy relationship.

Be an "aware" parent. If you are walking in the street or a store, and you observe your child watching something intently, ask. What are you looking at? Do you understand that? Do you have questions? It can be a topic as innocuous as a different kind of fruit that the child has never seen. But this way, when your child has more sensitive questions, i.e. about gender differences, nontraditional family structures, children who are different, etc., you will already have an open line of conversation.

When a child comes with these questions, be careful not to embarrass or shame him, or refuse to answer his questions. Be honest with your children. The choice is between you discussing these topics with your children, or someone else discussing those topics with your children. Today the most easily accessible source is either the Internet, or a friend who more than likely has "mis-information."

It's not okay to say, "That's something you'll find out when you're older."

When a child comes to you with a curious question, it's important to find out why. Where did they see what they are asking about? What do they (not you) think about what they saw? What do they want to know about what they saw? Are they curious?

It's not okay to say, "That's something you'll find out when you are older," or "That's not something good children talk about," because the truth is that your child saw something somewhere, and has a question. That question will gnaw at them, and one way or the other, they will find an answer that satisfies them. Shaming a child because you are uncomfortable will ensure that your children will hesitate -- or perhaps stop altogether -- asking you questions in the future.

Red Flags

I will never forget the 14-year-old girl who was picked up by the local police department after her parents reported her missing. She got on a bus to come meet a man that she'd met online. The girl told the police that her parents never listened to her, so she ultimately found someone who would. Thankfully she was stopped by the police before she met up with this stranger.

An aware parent should be able to detect any trouble brewing before it actually happens. Several things to look out for:

• if your child constantly comes to you with questions and then suddenly stops asking

• if your child never has anything to tell you about school, in spite of prodding, questioning, and remaining in contact with his/her teacher

• if your child suddenly becomes embarrassed, shy, or blushes easily when you ask about friends

• if you allow your child access to a computer, and he/she quickly shuts down when you enter a room

• if your open, extroverted child suddenly becomes secretive and quiet

Any of the above is a red flag. The answer could be as simple as having had a fight with a friend, but it could be something more. So put any embarrassment and discomfort aside. For the sake of your children, make yourself available and sit down for an honest, open chat with your child.

February 23, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 11

(10) suzy, March 1, 2011 11:04 AM

I agree about explaining the reason for the rules so they understand, instead of just no. Parents shouldn't be too much in the child's face or too pressuring. But should just be there for them when the child needs it, while giving them space

(9) Jessica, August 16, 2010 7:00 PM

I have always had an open communication with my father and i now have open communication with my son. I am so thankful that i have kept communication open. We have always been able to sit at the table and talk. One night we were home and he text me and asks if he can tell me something, i am thinking sure we tell each other everything, mind you he is 15. He asked me what bi-sexual was? I will be honest i needed time to think about the answer to come back with. I didnt jump to answer. My answer had to be right or it could screw up his whole life. took me 2 days to answer. I told him first off you no something aint right when you couldnt come face to face with me we ALWAYS talk. through talking i figured out that a brother of one of his friends was trying to make my son belive he was bi-sexual. I told him what G-d says and thats my answer. I have found that you dont beat around the bush with your kids, It could mean life or death.. Thank you G-d for a wonderful son you have truely blessed me.

(8) Mushkie, August 16, 2010 5:10 AM

I read your article with great interest. Growing up in a secular home and trying to raise my children in a frum enviornment I have certain issues I am trying to deal with. firstly, my husband is not as well versed with many religious facts as I am and I am finding myself not respecting him , which I know is wrong. When the kids ask questions I am afraid he won't answer wisely and find myself becoming contentious. I know this is wrong and do not want to break up the family. My responsibility is to my kids , I know that, but how do I handle this issue ? How do I tell my children that their father does not have the right answers and to ask me? I feel they should know things he, being unsure tells them not now.

Miriam, August 18, 2011 11:55 AM

You have to walk a fine line.

Whatever he says, don't contradict him. Just keep doing the right thing and eventually the children will realize you are the address for answers. Build your marriage. A strong marriage is the best gift you can give your kids and will ensure they will want to stay frum when they grow up, much more than the right answers. Give your husband compliments, go on dates with him, laugh with him, do fun stuff together. Decide in your mind he is the greatest guy in the world and you are the luckiest girl in the world to have him. Cultivate this attitude and your kids will love life and yiddishkeit.

(7) I''m a child, May 16, 2008 2:39 PM

Explaining with slight annoyance...

As a teeneager just browsing the web, I find this article quite disturbing because kids who are a little off he derech sometimes need their space to come back and their parents spying on them and trying to find out everything is not helping them because then they have to hide the fact that they are off the derech or they''ll get into trouble! If you remember when you were a teenager (maybe not this personal experience but maybe it happened to a friend) parents are just another reason to top off the whole aggravation and frustration with life. you got in a figth with a friend and she told someone else your secret! You are in the car with your mom and she starts questioning you about your day. you automatically get defencive while you try to hide the friend issue because the secret would get you in trouble. Your mom realizes you are hiding something and runs a whole check on your life! now you don''t have a decent friend or mom! thats just any regular scenario nowadays...

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