Recently my 15-year-old son asked me what I thought was a simple question: “Can I stay with some mates for the weekend out in the country?”
The occasion was a friend’s birthday - and fair enough too. But I hesitated.
One problem was I didn't know the mates’ family well, nor exactly where they lived. (Boys aren’t big on details or specifics. Or at least my four aren’t!)
Another problem was remembering what I was doing at that age - and why I avoided giving my mum details of my plans, too.
So I said all the normal mum stuff. “Don’t drink alcohol! Don’t smoke weed! Don’t go out driving on farm bikes in the dark!”
Then I had a second thought.
I hadn’t mentioned “Don't sext anyone, don't ask for any sexts, don’t cyberbully anyone, be aware of strangers talking and messaging you (they may not be the young girl they claim to be), don’t play horrible, violent online games …”
Boy, that’s a mouthful! Have I left anything out, I wondered? Should I add more? Where does it end?
Seriously, how do we raise these issues with our children? What's the right thing to say to get through to them?
When should we start, and what age is best? How do we get them to understand the consequences of their online actions? Is scaring them with the dangers the right way?
What conversations can we have that won't end in eyes being rolled and shoulders shrugging?
We all know some (if not all) of these topics are awkward and uncomfortable. But isn’t awkwardness and discomfort part of being a parent?
I guess parenting in any generation is hard, but raising kids in the Age of Screens takes those normal challenges up a notch. Or several notches. And heaven knows there's no updated instruction book. In fact there's no instruction book at all!
Our kids may be quiet and hidden behind the smartphone screen, but how safe are they? We read in the news and hear on the telly about horrific car accidents or teens having alcohol poisoning . But more and more we are hearing of cyberbullying and sexting as well - not to mention privacy issues and the digital footprint that will follow them for life.
Do I say 'Be good”'and hope that covers it all?
Where is the class in school that not only covers sex education but also texting and social media education? And if there were such a class, who would teach the teachers to teach it?
Is it even the school’s job to take this on, or is it the parents’ responsibility? How and what can we do to make these transitional years into adulthood easier for both us and our kids?
SERIOUSLY, WHERE IS THE INSTRUCTION BOOK ON ALL THIS?!
All I can hope for is that my words of wisdom over the years - all those one-sided conversations - managed to sink in. That if and when issues arise, the sound of my gentle nagging voice will be at the back of my son’s mind, leading him back to the family values and morals I’ve tried to instill in him.
That’s all any parent can hope for.
UPDATE : He came home all in one piece, happy, muddy and with a pile of dirty clothes.
Guest blogger Amy James and her brood.