For better or worse, we live in a media-saturated world. Perhaps you’ve yet to embrace all that is electronic and new, but rest assured your kids are hyper-connected. Within seconds of an announcement, your kids know what celebrity has entered rehab at a shocking 87 pounds, who is addicted to what, who is hooking-up, and each and every step of "Gossip Girl."
Information, both good and bad, forms the core of our kids’ existence. It also holds the potential to help them grow into healthy adults or trap them in destructive patterns of being.
One of the best ways parents and caregivers can insure our kids lead healthy, productive lives is to talk to them on a regular basis about what’s happening in the world around them.
Often parents think the best strategy in dealing with disturbing news (like the admission of their kid’s favorite celebrity into treatment for a drug addiction or an eating disorder) is to pretend that the news doesn’t exist. In my experience, silence around these matters is far from golden. Your kids will be talking, texting and sharing information about the situation online. Make sure you are part of this conversation.
So how can parents engage their kids in constructive conversations around topics they would prefer to avoid or wish would go away? The following tips are designed to help you in this process:
1) Be curious, not judgmental: Your kids have minds and lives of their own. The minute they receive a piece of news, they form opinions about it. Find out what those opinions are. A good way to start this conversation is to ask them with a line such as, “I just heard [celebrity’s name] has entered treatment for an eating disorder. What do you make of that?”
2) Focus on strengths: Once you know where your kids stand on an issue, you can address your comments to meet them where they are - not where you think they should be. If your kid says it makes sense that a celebrity would have an eating disorder because it helps her look fabulous, you can say something to the effect of, “Well, what’s fabulous about [celebrity's name] is that she realized how unhealthy and unhappy this pressure to be thin made her and how strong she is to take action to do something about it. Her resolve to be healthy is what makes her a star."
3) Avoid specific details: Kids are incredibly impressionable. They define themselves more by the world around them then by their own internal sense of being (which has yet to fully develop). When you talk to your kid about a disturbing piece of news, avoid discussing the details. Don’t talk about the methods the celebrity used to lose weight or how much they weighed when they entered treatment. Kids will potentially use these details to “copycat” the behavior. Instead, focus on the overall behavior with comments such as, “[Celebrity's name] almost lost it all by not taking good care of herself. She’s so strong and courageous to admit she had a problem and to do something about it.”
The most important point here is that you and your kids need to talk on a regular basis about the issues that are relevant to their lives. Pretending that disturbing news will go away or that your kids won’t notice denies the reality of their existence. It also keeps you much too far away from their hearts, their minds and the issues that impact them.