June 17, 2020
By Dr Kathy Weston
This week, I have been reflecting on particular lines in a book that I read many moons ago, authored by the ex-head of Eton College, Tony Little.
The title, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education, implied an academic tome, when in reality, I found the book to be extremely practical and replete with honest accounts of Little’s experiences of educating thousands of adolescent boys. One of the views put forward in the book, that I often think about, is that our offspring will inevitably disappoint us at some point, perhaps many times, well because they are children.
Lockdown has amplified teenage angst is an unprecedented way. The normal dynamics of teen friendships and identity development have been ripped away and socialising has played out heavily across the digital world. Fuelled by boredom, the desire to entertain their mates and, in some cases, an inability to resist peer pressure, some teens are making disappointingly poor decisions, which can have serious consequences.
In the last week alone, I have been contacted by several parents who have expressed their deep shock upon discovering their teen’s online behaviour. Often, the disparity between a parent’s assessment of their child’s character and the brutal truth, as experienced by peers, siblings or romantic partners, can be enormous.
One loving father was devastated to learn that his 13 year old daughter had sent ‘nude selfies’ to a boy in her class and requested the same, one mother was incredulous upon hearing that her son had made a series of racist jibes towards a classmate on WhatsApp, and one parent of a quiet tween couldn’t believe her eyes when he found his young son had shared pornographic videos with school friends during the school day on their remote learning platform.
Parents in these situations are understandably bewildered, sad and guilt-ridden. But they knew that was wrong.” “But we have had those chats with him or her”. “But they aren’t racist! I don’t know where those views have come from,” are common refrains. It is hard to bear witness to the pain of parental disappointment.
The truth is, as teens, we likely disappointed our own parents many times and our children are set to do the same. No child is perfect and we should expect many poor errors of judgement as they grow and develop. Our job is to do everything we can to minimise the chances of those occurring and ensure that they are not so grave as to attract penalties that can damage our children’s futures.
The key difference between our childhoods and those being enjoyed by our children, is the unprecedented level of engagement with the digital world.
Young people seem very good at accepting the ‘dos and don’ts’ of online behaviour, in principle. However, in the heat of the moment, their choices may not reflect these. What can we do about this? Firstly, I recommend that we all ditch the aspiration of ever being our children’s ‘best friend’, alongside the idea that we can trust them implicitly. Part of the remit of effective parenting is to ensure that we remain as realistic and as proactive as possible.
Acknowledge the pressures that your teens are under and the temptations that they face. Talk to them about your own experiences of peer pressure and create strategies for coping with it. Discuss incidents you hear, see and read about. Ask them what they would do in particular scenarios, ahead of time. Do they have any experience of the circumstances mentioned in the paragraph above?
To help you initiate conversations about some of the issues highlighted here, subscribe to the CEOP You Tube Channel for starters and take it from there!
Don’t be afraid; open conversations at home future-proof children and increase the probability that your teen will make sensible decisions. Weighing up the choice between doing what is right versus what we feel driven to do, happens in a split second.
Before your teen types, posts or shares something that they shouldn’t, how loud will your voice be in their deliberations?
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