Talking Through Tough Topics with Kids

We’ve all been there: struggling with how to approach a difficult issue with our children or students. It’s hard to determine the ideal time to broach sensitive subjects with kids. As parents and teachers, we want to be there to guide children through situations they are uncertain about, but we may be reluctant to start a conversation about a tough topic that’s not even on their radar yet. Unfortunately, we’re living in a reality where kids of every age have nearly unlimited and unmoderated access to media that may not only be age inappropriate, but that represents themes and ideas in a way that can contradict your family (or community’s) values. So, as parents and teachers, what’s our best approach?

Get ahead of the “trend”. With the recent release of Netflix’s series “13 Reasons Why,” parents and educators found themselves faced with addressing a crucial and controversial topic: suicide. Sadly, many of us have found ourselves faced with this in our schools and communities. This portrayal (which was targeted at young people) raised an important concern – does depiction of self-harm on the screen glamorize an internal struggle that’s better addressed by a professional? Certainly, a sensitive rather than sensational approach is preferable. But let’s be realistic: many of us chronically avoid having these types of conversations with our kids. While it’s normal to feel awkward at first, you will get over it. If you’re not sure how to start a conversation, confer with your child’s educators, school counselors, or if appropriate for your family, religious leaders.

Work to create a community forum that’s proactive, not reactive. We’ve all heard the saying “It takes a Village.” Like it or not, your community will have an influence on how your child learns, their behavior, and the values they develop. Often, it’s a good thing. Being presented with a variety of ideas helps a child develop a curious and critical mind. It’s essential that parents, educators, and community leaders work together to evaluate and refine the environment children are being raised in. It’s much easier to make sure your child doesn’t fall in with a “bad crowd” if proactive measures are being taken to prevent that crowd from existing. Rather than conditioning children to expect punishment when they deviate from our expectations, work towards instilling discipline and respect. Likewise, adults should be modeling self-discipline and good behavior. We need to be prepared for tough topics and difficult situations so we can create a calm and collective forum for our children. If you don’t know what types of protocols your school has in place to handle certain situations, find out. Go to a PTA/PTO meeting and start the conversation.

Establish an open line of communication with children, and respect the parameters you set. All children will make mistakes or defy their parents to varying degrees. It’s up to you to set boundaries and consequences. It’s equally important that your child feels comfortable approaching you prior to – or during – the time they’re making a mistake or bad choice. Remember, as awkward as you may feel broaching certain subjects with your child, there’s a chance that there are topics your child is afraid to bring up with you. Some families have a “no questions asked” policy or limit repercussions for children who are honest and ask for help in challenging or dangerous situations. Figure out what works best for your family, and then do your best to stick with it.

I’d love to hear tips from you on how you’ve dealt with tough topics in a proactive way. Does your community or school have resources or protocols that you find helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.