One of our jobs as parents is sharing information with kids; things that they don’t know but we do. In fact, it could sum up the job, it’s what we are always doing right from the start. We’re telling them about the world constantly, what they are allowed and are not allowed to do, how things work, what’s happening next, why something’s not OK…
The thing that adults have, which children don’t, is perspective. Adults are able to step back from a situation and view it from the outside, we can put it into a context and see a bigger picture. As children get older they become more able to see wider connections and patterns and contextualise their experiences within a larger framework of understanding, but even as teenagers, their ability to do this is limited compared to ours.
When we share the kind of information which puts a child’s behaviour into a wider context, from a position of our more experienced perspective, we’re just helping this process of growth along.
I like the whole concept of sharing information with kids, I like it much better than the idea of lecturing, teaching, cajoling or enforcing my views angrily onto them. Sharing information is emotionally neutral so what you say is unclouded by any confusing undercurrents of feeling which your child has to decode (in place of, say, understanding your message).
Once you know that, it makes it much easier to go on sharing information with kids confidently and unapologetically, and far less likely that you will be tempted to do all the other stuff. You can be matter-of-fact, blunt, careless, bright or humorous, and when they get to the teenage years you can be even more sophisticated with your range, and do subtle things like ironic or world-weary, or over-the-top thundering and blustering to make them laugh. I still have this idea that when I share information with my kids it’s a gift, and this has stood me in good stead with my teenagers. I still believe they are extraordinarily grateful to get my wider perspective on life.
Over this term I’ve been watching my sixteen year-old daughter failing to live up to her own stated commitment to settle down and work in her GCSE year, so I’ve done a lot of checking how it’s going and empathising with her about the pressure, and quizzing her about homework, the usual stuff. But it’s the times that I’ve shared information with her that she really listens, times when I’ve said things like this:
“You know those friends who suddenly disappear from Facebook, and they stop coming out, and you think they’re boring, and you’re the one who’s always available and everyone can count on you to be there, well you know, DON’T BE THAT PERSON. When it comes to GCSE results time, you suddenly get it, because you’re the one that now everyone feels sorry for, and you realise that the kids who disappeared were the ones who were really looking after themselves because they’re the ones who are really happy with their results, and it’s like WHO’S LAUGHING NOW.”
I think when you get to the teenage years it becomes even more important to say things in a way that you yourself find really entertaining and worth listening to. The occasional well-placed unleashing of a really interesting piece of useful information is worth far more than the constant low-level anxious nagging that I’m continually tempted to do.