It’s not easy being a parent!
Parent Map panel. Wow. It’s not easy being a parent, and that’s even if you have a great kid. I moderated a panel discussion at Seattle’s Children’s Theatre on ‘Sexy, Too Soon,’ and the influence of the media and our culture on kids and self-esteem. First off, props to Parent Map for taking on a tough topic. The panel was awesome, especially the two 8th grade girls from Seattle Academy. They gave honest, open assessments of the questions put to them on everything from peer pressure and bullying, to dressing to fit in, to the roles of dads in their lives, to Mean Girls (as in the movie). These girls are solid, and their parents deserve a ‘way to go.’
Adult Panelists. The adults panelists were just as impressive. For the first 45-50 minutes, we had questions set up to get things going. And then we opened it up to the audience. It’s a wonder any of us become parents if it’s based on the ‘sex ed’ our parents gave us — virtully ‘not much’ according to the audience. We covered everything from how we got to the point where the media has convinced parents that this ’12 — going on 22′ behavior is okay. (Just so you know, it hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been a 20 year process, because if I think back to what we were doing as teens, things have definitely changed). And we covered how to talk to your kids — at any age— about sex, what’s appropriate, and how kids ‘model’ what their parents do, not just what they see on TV and hear in music. Sexting came up, race in media and how people of color are portrayed, and just about everything under the sun.
It all starts with conversation. I think my biggest takeaway is to talk with your kids. Period. Keep involved in their life as they become older. Tell them your values, and your family’s values, and that what might be okay for other families doesn’t necessarily ‘fly’ in yours. Be open, be honest, answer questions even if it feels awkward, or you feel embarrassed. Do you want your kid to learn about sex from you? Or the boy/girl down the street? Kids at different ages of development need different things. Use TV, music, MTV, reality shows, etc. to open a discussion. Cars and driving your kids around before they start driving, is often a good opportunity to talk, to listen, to learn what’s going on.
Parents need to be educated. And by that, I mean they need to keep up with what’s going on with their kids. Are they online? Know how to set ‘privacy’ settings. Learn what Facebook and Twitter really are and how your kids are using them. What do they show online? Know what video games are popular. How about music and which groups your kids listen to? Can you name which ones your kids like? What’s their favorite movie?
One thing to consider doing differently on the panel. We were pretty ‘whitebread.’ We talked about that, and knew it would skew our perspective. And it did. We answered the best we could, but I think for future panels — people of color, or even a male, or teenage boy for similar topics should have a place at the table. They will have different experiences, and perhaps some more specific advice for the parents in the audience.
Panel discussion. If anything, parents need to know — have the discussion. Talk about things and how you feel and what you believe. There are no hard and fast rules on being a parent. It’s still one of the most challenging jobs there is, but it also has wonderful and great rewards!