October 2, 2012

No More Sting

Jeanine M. Swenson, MD, FAAP, FACC, LMFT
Pediatrician, Pediatric Cardiologist, and Family and Systems Psychotherapist

This parenting journey is certainly an interesting series of changes for both children and parents.  One of the more nerve-wracking transitions for parents as children grow and approach the teenage years can be the area of relationships.  Even mentioning “birds & bees” can make many parents sweat.  Naturally we want to make sure that our teenagers enter the real world with the “big present of love” – information and lessons regarding health, safety, respect, nonviolent conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, relationships, and their bodies.  One of the harder parts of this mission is imparting this message gradually when teens are developmentally ready and in the best place to hear our caring and concern.  Rather than a single event where we sit down and give kids “the talk,” a series of discussions, when kids are ready, may be a more fruitful and rewarding process.  Our schools do a fine job of teaching the facts about sexual education. However, one extra needed ingredient may be the connection of all of this information with patience, your knowledge of your child, and our guiding beam of family values.  

For many parents, the world today seems very different and scary from the one we inhabited when growing up in the twentieth century.  Media and screen time fills more space for our children and youth, and much of this entertainment contains more sexualized and violent content.  Esteemed family therapist Dr. David Walsh calls it a culture of “yes,” where parents are given the difficult task of saying “no” – the job of balancing instant gratification with lessons about hard work, safety, consequences, and the real world.  Sadly, it seems like an unbalanced tug of war as media companies have billions of dollars and we are short on time and energy these days.   There seem to be so many forces out there pushing our children to grow up quickly.  We really want to be helpful, but may have few examples or models to turn to when it comes to these personal conversations. 

A new school year often brings a unique opportunity for families. We may find renewed energy to think about where we all stand in our family life.  This thoughtfulness allows us to take stock of current family needs and choose the family life that we want to live. 

Many good families are trying to do their best, but different times may call for different and new strategies.  As the experts on our kids, we hold the secret when it comes to understanding their personality, learning style, temperament, and the ways that they are motivated.  This relationship and our bond with our children has proven in countless research studies to be the most important factor in long-term success. However, we may need new information in this new century to combat the growing influence of media in our children’s education in many areas.  I encourage you to cultivate this rich soil.