Ask anyone today, “What are some things you wish your parents had discussed with you while growing up?” and listen to what they say. In some homes, real communication regarding some hard topics is foreign, prohibited, or deliberately avoided. You simply cannot broach certain matters, especially those that make someone feel uncomfortable, are deemed too sensitive to discuss, or are too “mature” for young ears and are better left to adulthood. Children, therefore, are forced to pick up information from many sources including friends, movies, social media, or parents themselves, indirectly and never directly, as they grow up. This perpetuates a culture of misinformation, misinterpretation, and confusion.
We asked some young people to share with us some of those hard conversations they never could reflect on with anyone and there appeared some common threads. Some believed certain childhood confusions might have easily been assuaged and they would have also made some better adult decisions if they had been armed with knowledge relevant to life’s complexities and complications. Others wished they were raised in more open homes where their parents were the first points of contact if they had questions, no matter how embarrassing they might have been – questions whose answers they eventually got from elsewhere or deciphered on their own without ever knowing whether they were right or not.
In this article, we explore some of these conversations that according to our subjects would have made a significant positive difference in their lives and the lives of all children as they age to provide insights, guidance, and supporting the building of a strong foundation for personal growth and success.
Sound Money Management and Financial Responsibility
Money management is one of the easily overlooked topics in childhood conversations even though it is vital for preparing children for financial prudence and independence when they become adults. It is never too early to conscientize them about the value of money, the need for saving, budgeting, minimizing unnecessary expenditures, managing debt, and making informed financial decisions. One person who was part of this conversation said sometimes it saddened them that they had grown up to become overly dependent on their parents even for things that they should be able to provide for themselves as a twenty-something-year-old university student. It is not uncommon at all for people in their twenties to still depend on their parents financially, sometimes to extreme degrees and this can defeat the whole purpose of fostering a sense of responsibility towards money and financial independence.
Responsible Sex Education
Usually, matters of sex are like the big elephant in the room. Let a child ask their parents about how they were born, and they will be greeted with several euphemistic words to label their sex organs or describe the very act of sex. As one person said, nearly everything is left to curiosity, peers, the media, and adulthood. True, it is not easy to talk about these issues sometimes because of religious customs or the lack of such orientation by parents themselves when they were much younger. Some said the most words their parents ever said to them about sex were stern warnings such as, “Don’t go and get pregnant or get someone’s child pregnant.” This is disheartening, given that there are many issues surrounding sex and sex education that parents can have meaningful conversations about with their children. These include, well, first of all, the proper names of sex organs. Then there are issues of consent, contraception use, sexually transmitted infections, abstinence, mutual respect, and healthy relationships, among others. Some parents believe that when their children are educated on sex matters, they will become sexually active and so they stick to sounding warnings instead. We humans, however, if anything, are an interesting specie. The things we are told not to do are the very things whose allure we cannot repel. It is better to be armed with the right information with an understanding of the potential consequences of actions than to leave everything to warnings and fears.
Healthy and Respectful Relationships
Age-appropriate conversations about healthy relationships, whether they are romantic partnerships, marriages, friendships, or intimate encounters with regards to setting boundaries and fostering respectful and equitable relations throughout children’s lives are very important. By having these conversations, parents can empower their children to identify unhealthy behaviors and actions that can subject them to painful experiences and toxic affinities. They should be taught from an early age not just how to give love but how to recognize if the love they are receiving in return is not healthy. Several people find it difficult to leave places that stifle them and bring them no happiness because they do not know how to first recognize the wrong to enable them to take the needed action to right it.
Mental Health and Self-Care
This is one of the hardest conversations to have with one’s children, especially, once they are no longer children but young adults with swirling, oftentimes internalized emotions. In today’s fast-paced and exacting world, however, issues of mental health and how to care for oneself are vital areas of interest for parent-child conversations. Openly discussing and addressing such issues as stress and its management, emotional well-being, and how to seek help when the need arises can normalize conversations about mental health which in some homes are like taboos, the same way that discussions of sex can be. A supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere for children to be and express themselves and their emotions will equip them with the tools necessary to help care for their mental health, including seeking professional help as and when that is needed.
Embracing Failure and Building Resilience
It is easy to beat ourselves up when things do not go the way we planned, and it is more difficult to dig ourselves up out of self-deprecation. Some people we have spoken to said they have easily harshly beaten themselves up over academic performance, feelings of lagging, being lost, or that they feel they have untapped potentials that are wasting away and would have appreciated conversations earlier in their lives about taking everything one day at a time. All these form part of the reasons parents must discuss the concept of failure with their children. Our society is so achievement-oriented and competitive to the extent that failure is often feared and stigmatized. Children need to understand the need to build resilience to help them navigate setbacks which are also as integral to life as successes are, and which do not in any way define their capacities. Open conversations about failure initiated at a young age can also communicate the understanding that setbacks are opportunities for learning, growing, and building steadier mindsets for overcoming life’s many obstacles.
Possibly, the hardest job there is in the world is the job of being a parent. Having someone for whom you are responsible is no easy task. Right from before the children are born, to when they say their first words, take their first steps, forge through infancy to adolescence to their teen years, and onwards to adulthood is both rewarding and overwhelming, confusing, and full of questions that sometimes have difficult or no answers at all. Parents must strive to initiate hard conversations no matter how uncomfortable they are. Children should grow up unafraid of failure and be resilient enough to work through setbacks. They should understand the need to care for their mental health and be aware of the tools and resources available to help them care for themselves. They should be able to learn how to make sound financial decisions and become financially responsible. They should also be taught to prioritize healthy relationships and be safe and free enough to come to their parents, understanding very well that they will be met with honesty when they have such a question as, “How are babies made?”