When kids turn 18, they find themselves in an entirely new world. On one hand, they’re legally adults, ready to live alone, fend for themselves, and make decisions they were never able to before. On the other hand, they’re just beyond high school, have yet to discover what it’s like to actually fend for themselves, and the decisions they’re faced with can have consequences unlike any they’ve faced before. Consider the implications of the students whose acceptance into Harvard was rescinded because of their recent actions.
Without spending too much time focusing on the specific details of these students actions, it’s important for kids and parents alike to understand the gravity of the situation. It took four (or more) solid years of studying, acing tests, padding extra curricular schedules, and volunteering to become a student capable of attending one of the most prestigious universities in the country. All to come falling down after a few posts on social media.
This situation provides an unparalleled opportunity for parents to address topics that kids often push aside. “Mom, I know not to post those kinds of things!” Or, “I have location settings turned off, Dad!” It’s typical for kids to avoid tough conversations with their parents. But, as parents know, tough conversations need to be had.
For parents looking for a way to bring up events like the one at Harvard with teenagers, here are a few suggestions:
Make It Seem Casual
Start off with a few simple questions that could peak curiosity. Try, “Did you hear about what happened at Harvard?” This gives teenagers a chance to tell what they already know. Perhaps even offering their opinions on the subject without the need to pry. But, if the answer is a simple yes or no, try to go a little deeper with more qualifying questions like, “Did you know that sort of stuff could happen?”
Show genuine interest into what teens have to say around the subject. Ask open-ended questions and be gentle when looking for more from them. A great place to do this is in the car, where kids don’t have to make eye contact and risk feelings of discomfort.
Do Your Best to Avoid Judgement
Once kids are freely discussing heavy topics, allow them to elaborate on their thoughts without inserting any ideas of your own. Jumping to conclusions or immediately saying things like, “Well, you should be careful when…” can lead to ineffective communication.
Inserting forms of criticism or trying to exert control over the situation causes anxiety in kids. It’s a way for them to tune out (loving) warnings because they know they’ll just be constantly reminded of potential shortcomings over and over. Help lead kids into adulthood by having two-sided conversations at this stage in their life. Sure, you’ll always be their parent and do your best to help them, but sometimes help is lost in the weeds of warnings.
Follow Up With Simple Words of Wisdom
Maybe a conversation starts because of something that was discovered on a kid’s social media profile, not because of a newsworthy event from the media. Perhaps it’s a general inquiry into how social media is being used. Either way, it’s a great time to impart some wisdom into a teenager’s life.
Parents already know what it’s like to be looked into – references are used when applying for jobs, Google searches done to check out colleagues, and Facebook has given everyone a look into the life of an old friend. It’s important to know that social media posts are permanent, and that just about anyone can find exactly what they’re looking for (or something they’re not looking for) if the right terms are inserted into a search bar.
Take time to be sensitive and available teenagers when things happen that might have some effect on their life. Or, maybe if it just applies to that time in their life. While the Harvard students may have thought their posts were in a private group, never to be found by school officials, they quickly found out that their choices resulted in consequences well beyond their expectations.