Particularly as children get older, some subjects arise that need to be tackled properly and confidently in order to avoid trouble later. These things are addressed in schools, but not always in ways that are comfortable for the individual child or which answer all his or her questions. It’s up to the parent, really, to do a full job with these topics. Here are some tips on how to go about it.
1. Discuss money and how it works.
Strangely enough, apart from in the subject of Business Studies, and perhaps peripherally in Maths, money as a subject is rarely addressed directly in schools. And yet it can dominate a person’s life. Competence in dealing with it marks a kind of borderline between childhood and adulthood. But the advice is ‘Keep it simple’. One teacher’s attempt to talk about chequebooks and how they operate lost a whole class in minutes, partly because the subject can be full of its own hard-to-grasp terminology and partly because the teenagers involved lacked any kind of familiarity with what was being talked about. Start with coins and how they are used, then bridge over onto how much money it takes to purchase certain basics in life (toys, food, shelter, a car and so forth). Don’t expect the child to master complex economics or suddenly express a desire to be an entrepreneur, but make sure that basics are covered before someone else comes along and makes the whole topic really confusing.
2. Get work experience organised if appropriate.
Most children spend a lot of time at school. By the time they get to puberty, many are ‘chomping at the bit’ to get out into the ‘real world’ and experience it. Legally in the UK, children must stay in some form of formal education until they are 18 years of age, so leaving school earlier than that isn’t a realistic option. But you can organise work experience. Contact your child’s school and discuss the options. The school may already have a programme in operation, or, if not, might be open to ideas. If not, you can sort something out yourself for after school. Spending part of the week doing a useful job can be a good bridge into the workaday world and for some children it can prevent a kind of school ‘cabin fever’.
3. Include children in important family decisions.
If there is some major change occurring in the family -ranging from a trauma to moving house or even emigrating- make sure that you consult children, especially teenagers. That doesn’t mean that you are always going to get a sensible answer or the answer you want -and as the adult on the scene it is always going to be up to you to make the final decisions - but the mere fact that you are asking for input engages the child’s or the teenager’s better side and shows that you care about their viewpoint. And remember to listen -‘out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom’ as the saying goes. Your child or teenager is a person and, if the matter is important and affects him or her, should have a say. Even if you have to decide differently than they would wish, take time to explain your reasoning so that they don’t feel dismissed or unwanted.
4. Be prepared for sex questions.
These can come at any time, from the age of 2 all the way up to young adulthood. While you are still regarded by them as a source of reliable information and while they still respect your point of view, they will ask about all kinds of things from a simple ‘What is sex?’ through more complex and potentially embarrassing queries which will usually catch you totally off-guard, to very tricky and possibly alarming questions. The first thing to do is make sure that you yourself have your facts straight and know what you’re talking about -then at least you have some semblance of projecting confidence and stability. It’s probably best to start with an open admission that this subject can be difficult and awkward to talk about, rather than launching into a falsely-effusive and potentially cringe-worthy ‘Well, everyone has sex sometime’ approach. The first angle enables you to address the embarrassment your child is likely to be feeling by explaining to them that it is common and not ‘just them’ who feels embarrassed; the second angle can make any such awkwardness much worse and cause the child or teenager to flee the room and never to talk to you about it again.
5. Be prepared for drug questions.
Unfortunately, both medical and illegal drugs have become much more prevalent in society over the last couple of generations and it is unlikely that the subject won’t come up in some way in most households. Again, know your facts and get informed regarding the truth about drugs so that you can sound confident and knowledgeable when questions arise. Taking a hard line against drugs without support from facts and statistics is a dangerous road as some teenagers may want to ‘find out for themselves’ outside your awareness or control. As with most things, it’s much better to talk through the subject long before it becomes a hot topic, choosing times when your child is at their most cheerful and receptive rather than moments when they are embroiled in something or otherwise preoccupied. Get them to see facts and agree to avoid drugs. Even more crucial, have open conversations with them so that you can address any deeper issues which might lead them to want to try drugs as a ‘solution’ to something else going on in their lives.
Tricky and difficult-to-deal-with topics are often the province of the parent, even when the school is tackling the broad issues involved. Only a parent knows his or her child well enough to be able to properly answer any questions or to address any underlying anxieties. Be prepared and use these tips to take the right approach from the beginning.