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SkyMoms > Parenting Tips

6 Tools Instead Of 13 Reasons Why

My Facebook news feed is flooded with conversation about a controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. Until our Middle School Guidance Counselor wrote a blog post about it, I hadn’t focused on the content of this show, nor did I know it was wooing the attention of kids in middle school and high school. When I read her words describing the plot, I was physically ill.

For those who don’t yet know about this show, it revolves around a high school girl, Hannah, who commits suicide as the result of a series of demoralizing circumstances brought on by kids at her school. A box of cassette tapes reveals 13 reasons why Hannah chose to end her life. The show is laced with themes about sex, drugs, bullying, and rape, and is rated “TV MA.”

I decided I couldn’t watch this show given the disturbing content, so I can’t make any recommendations regarding if it’s ever age-appropriate. I will only offer that we won’t be showing it to our children, the oldest of which is 12.

We live in a culture where media is all-too accessible. I know that if my oldest child wants to watch this series, she can. Even with all the parental controls we have in place, and even though she rarely has sleepovers, if she really wanted to watch it she could find a way. Nonetheless, my husband and I have decided we can’t allow the possibility that she might devise a plan to watch this show dictate that we expose her to it at home.

But we can’t stick our heads in the sand either.

We can’t ignore the issues confronting our children today. Instead, we must engage our kids in healthy conversation as they navigate the ups and downs of youth. More and more, I’m hearing from parents that they struggle to communicate with their kids.

I’m certainly not an expert in this area—and I don’t always get it right—but I am a mom of three, and I know what’s working for our family. So in light of the narrative surrounding this Netflix series, my heart has been burdened to share our approach regarding communication in this space. Here are six tactics we’re using to engage our kids in important conversation:

  1. Listen. It’s critical that we listen to our kids at all times, but we’re finding the car is a particularly good place to tune in. We’re less intimidating when our eyes are on the road, and our hands are on the wheel. So when the kids are in the car, we turn the radio off and turn our ears on. Opportunities abound!

  2. Ask Lots of Questions. “How was your day?” will get a “good” response exactly 100% of the time. So instead, we try asking more specific questions to get the conversation going. Things like: Who did you sit by at lunch?, What was fun at recess today?, and Tell me your high and your low.  If we keep asking questions, important topics bubble to the surface.

  3. Maintain a Non-Anxious Presence and a Judgment-Free Zone. This one is hard. I don’t know about you, but when one of my children shares something negative that happened at school, my mama bear instincts may rage and my insides may squirm. But we need to be trustworthy. Our kids need to know that when they confide in us, our response will be thoughtful and measured. We can be dying on the inside, but we absolutely cannot show it on the outside.

  4. Let Their Questions Be Our Guide. Many parents have shared they feel unequipped to talk with their kids about important issues like the ones raised in this series because they’re unsure how much information to reveal. When our children were much younger, our family faced difficult circumstances that caused them to ask hard questions long before their peers. A child psychologist told us that if they’re asking the questions, they’re ready for the answers (presented on a level they’ll understand). When they change the subject, they’ve had enough. This gem has served us well. If they ask a question, and we’re not sure how to answer it, we’ve learned to say: “This is a great question. It’s so important that I want to make sure I get it right. I need to take some time to think about it. Let me get back to you.” Just be sure to get back to them! We’re building trust, here, remember?

  5. Follow Up. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone only to discover something you should have asked after the fact? Our kids are no different. Their brains can only process so much information at once, so it’s likely when we engage them in tough topics, they’ll have questions well after the conversation takes place. We’re wise to follow up by re-introducing the topic when the opportunity presents itself. It can go something like this: “What you’re saying reminds me of a conversation we had the other day about _______. By the way, have you thought much about that since we talked? I’m always here if you want to visit.”

  6. Engage our Empathy. And finally, when they’re hurting, a wise mom told me years ago to say, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting. I want you to know that when you hurt, God hurts with you, and so do I. In our family, you will never hurt alone.” When I say these words to our daughter, she melts into my arms. Every time.

There’s certainly not one right way to maintain good communication with our children. These tools are just a few of many we’ve used along the way. Regardless of differences in our approach, our goal should remain the same. We want our children to have these important conversations with us, not someone else, and certainly not with the TV. We will only achieve that goal if we create a safe, approachable environment where there’s space for deep conversation to take place. My prayer is that these tools might serve us all well as we navigate the tough issues kids face today. You are in my prayers!

What tools have you discovered to create good conversation with your kids?