WILL MY CHILDREN GET INTO TROUBLE?
When it comes to the possibility of children getting involved in dangerous activities, there are two mistakes parents frequently make. One is total denial: “My kids are good kids; they would never do anything like that.” The other mistake is paranoia: searching drawers and diaries at will; making kids check in every fifteen minutes. One extreme allows problems to grow, ignored, into serious dangers; the other antagonizes the kids and poisons family relationships.
In seeking healthy middle ground, keep the following points in mind:
Respect Your Children’s Human Dignity
Even preschool children have a right to:
- Hold their own opinions, however different from yours
- Be heard and considered, even when they disagree with you
- Make their own decisions when feasible
- Experiment with new things on their own initiative
- Choose which of their thoughts and feelings to share and which to keep private
- Keep their own rooms and their own property off-limits to unauthorized searching (and even unauthorized “tidying”)
If children doubt you have any respect for them, they won’t feel they owe loyalty to you or your values.
Keep Communication Lines Open
If your children feel free to confide in you, there’ll be far less worry about “what they might be hiding.” Don’t just say, “You can talk to me anytime about anything”: demonstrate it by never being “too busy” to give children your full attention or take their concerns seriously. And set an example by being honest about your own mistakes and concerns.
When Really Worried, Think Before Acting
An all-too-common scenario: Parent grows uneasy over child’s friends or apparent behavioral changes—or over news reports highlighting toxic “fads” among kids in general. Parent begins visualizing disastrous consequences. Parent starts seeking evidence or relief by rummaging through child’s room and reading child’s private communications. Child finds out and is outraged. Cue violent arguments, lasting mutual distrust, perhaps triggering of the very behavior parent hoped to prevent.
If you’re seriously afraid your kids are heading for trouble, ask yourself honestly:
- Has my child actually exhibited any red-flag symptoms? (You may need to look up “warning signs of [addiction/lawbreaking/etc.].”)
- Might “changes in behavior” simply be adolescent mood swings?
- Is my child actually trying to hide anything, or simply exhibiting a normal desire for privacy/socializing with friends?
If you still aren’t sure, ask a trusted third party for an objective opinion. Then, if the third party agrees there may be cause for concern, don’t go behind your child’s back to investigate further. Tell her directly what you’ve observed that’s concerning you, and invite her to talk about it. Resolve in advance that whatever she says, you will respond with empathy and love.
If your initial attempt is rebuffed (which is less likely than most parents imagine), don’t push. Tell your child gently that you’re there whenever she’s ready to get into the subject; then go back to your objective third party to discuss your own next move. Keep this in mind throughout: You can’t force your children to take the right path, but you can do much to improve the odds by being:
- A good example
- Open to listening and sharing
- Positive and optimistic. Expect the best, and that alone will do wonders for your influence on others!