Let me start off with a bold disclaimer.
I am not an expert in any way, shape or form. I’m just a mom trying to figure out how not to screw up her kids.
I’ve heard the hype, read the emails from the school, saw the discussions online and the controversy/concern about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, a show based on a book where a high school girl commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes explaining what drove her to do it, one for each person – or “reason” – for her decision to end her life. For better or for worse, our kids are watching this show and it’s been picked up for a second season so it won’t be going away anytime soon. As a parent, I knew I needed to be at the very least, informed.
I attended a seminar on teaching emotional intelligence to our young kids offered by the school district. When I was there, I realized this was put on in response to our districts trying to navigate mental health issues due to two suicides by students the previous year.
So I went into watching this show with my Mom Hat on. Throughout the entire series, I was thinking, Could this have been prevented? How could her parents have helped? What are we doing with our kids today that things like this go on unnoticed and escalate to such levels that the only coping mechanisms these kids can find is suicide? After finishing the series I accepted; it’s not the parents’ fault. But there are things we can do to help our kids through these challenging times. Will it make a difference? Maybe not. It might be just enough though, so why not try.
Here are 13 things I will try to do, to help my kids through some of their most challenging years ahead.
- Be Present: This show was an unpleasant reminder of how much I only half listen to my kids. Whether it be working on my laptop for work, playing on my phone, talking to another adult, watching my favorite show on TV, I could see myself saying “Just a minute,” “Tell me about it later,” and “What did you say?” And I can see the looks of disappointment on their faces when I ignore them or turn them away.
- Let them know I’m a safe place: I don’t want to be their best friend. I want to be their confidant, their parent, their refuge when they need it. I want them to know they can talk to me without repercussions about things that they are thinking about, feeling, doing etc. Did they try drugs or are they thinking about it? Sex? Bullying or gossip? Let’s talk about it. I will not judge. I won’t say there won’t be consequences, but I don’t want them to feel as they will have to hide things from me in fear of judgment, disappointment or punishment.
- Love them unconditionally: Gay? Straight? Addict? Bully? Smart? Nerdy? Good Grades? Bad Grades? No matter, whatever it is, I will love them and make sure they know it.
- Talk to them: Are we struggling with money? Are mommy and daddy fighting? I will tell them and let them be part of the plan. I will not hide it, because they will know. I will not pretend everything is okay when it’s not. I may not give them all of the details, but they will know enough to not have to bear the burden of the uncertainty that can go with such things.
5. Get them help: If I feel as though their anxiety or challenges are outside of my realm of expertise, I will get them help. There is such a stigma around mental health issues that we are often afraid to make the call. I won’t be. I will find someone who is better equipped to handle such situations, and I will become part of the plan. I will help my child understand that it’s okay to get help. And I will seek help too.
6. Not push my faith on them: I am a Christian and I believe in and all the grace and forgiveness that goes along with it. But that is my choice and it may not be my kids. I will share with them my beliefs and answer their questions, but if they choose a different path, I will let them. We will talk about it, learn from each other and I will support them in whatever path they choose, even if I don’t agree with it.
7. I will know their friends: I will invite them over, I will meet their parents and I will set boundaries when I feel it is necessary. I will challenge my kids to understand why they are friends, whether or not the relationship is healthy and how to deal with it, if it is not.
8. I will encourage my kids to be advocates for other kids: See a kid sitting alone? Go sit with them. See a kid being bullied? Be safe, but stand up for them. See or hear something going around that could hurt someone? Speak up and don’t be afraid. It’s easier said than done, I know. I will do my best to encourage this behavior.
9. Set boundaries as a team: I want to keep my kids safe, but not on a leash. I will discuss with them what they feel is fair and work together to develop a plan around curfew, driving, jobs, parties etc. The plans will include communication, hours, and anything else related to whatever activity we are discussing.
10. Be aware: I will check their phones, and their social media, and their backpacks and whatever I need to and make them aware that I’m always on. It’s not an invasion of their privacy; it’s to keep them safe. And if it’s a problem, they will lose the privilege of whatever it is they have. Currently, we have a policy with phones in my house; if a text is deleted, the phone is mine. That won’t change. If something is happening in the digital world that could pose a threat to my child, it is my responsibility as a parent to be all up in that world.
11. Support them: I will allow them to make choices on their own (within reason) and support them no matter the outcome. If they make a mistake, I will help them learn from it. I will not judge them. If it’s a hard “no” because of safety, I will make sure they understand, even if they don’t like it.
12. Talk: We will have open conversations about controversial topics like feelings, sex, suicide, drugs, cyber bullying, news topics, world issues, homelessness; whatever topic that comes up, that we see on TV. I will not shelter them, I will help them learn. And in some instances, we will learn together.
13. Remember that they are just kids: Life moves so fast these days. Kids are smarter, have access to more information and experience things much sooner than I did as a child. Just because they know stuff, and they say stuff, and they talk about things I may not have thought about many years past their age, doesn’t mean they can process or understand what they have learned or the magnitude of things they might say or do. It’s my job to help them understand to the best of my ability.
This series helped me think more about my parenting. My daughter will enter middle school next year, and I’ve heard that’s where the fun begins. Parents and kids alike are so much busier today and have many more pressures and challenges than parents may have experienced in the past. Information and communication move fast and it is literally at our kids’ fingertips, being given to them at a dizzying pace. It is our job to help them navigate this world and lead them on the right path to the best of our abilities. I will try harder, be real and support my kids in the best way I can.