Do you talk to your kids?
No matter how old your kids are, these next few paragraphs will save you years of distraught when it comes to communication with your children. The cycle has been passed down through generations of parents and perpetuated across space and time. Seeing your kids when they are just born to that tender age of kindergarten or preschool. We think they are loveable and they will stay lovable forever and ever. We have all of their attention, even the times when we do not really want their attention. They are learning new things like walking and talking. We are their guides through life and we hold the keys to the knowledge kingdom. Because of this, we are able to see what they want and also mold them to how we think so that we can have some kind of equilibrium as they grow. We teach them where to step, how to respond, how to listen, how to sit properly and other various behaviors. We would like to think it is because we tell them and they respond. That is only a fraction of the information they get. Kids actually gather more info from our actions than our words. They are probably the quickest to pick up on our actions not matching our words. We say one thing and then do something else. They are humans and humans are mimicking machines. We mimic the behavior of those around us whether we believe that or not. Our kids do the same thing. More than guiding through words we should strive to guide through actions. Not just one time actions either, we need to be consistent with our actions. Our words and actions should be consistent as well. Sometimes a very hard thing to do and the funniest part is that this inconsistency we possess is simply learned behavior from our parents and peers when we were growing up. Talk about carrying the torch.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
So our actions are what really teach our kids and as they grow they develop their own likes and dislikes. If we start early with them we can potentially mold them into productive members of society. Be careful though, because you will not mold them into what you think a productive member of society is. You can hopefully mold them into making their own informed decision about what a functioning member of society looks like. The generational gap is a real thing, like it or not. I think this is where the biggest breakdown comes between us and our kids. Beyond mimic machines, we are also creatures of habit. Admit it or not most of your day is on autopilot. Take a step back and think about it for a min and you will see what I am talking about. Getting out of bed; brushing your teeth a certain way with a certain kind of toothpaste; washing your hair in a specific direction; toweling off in one specific location in the bathroom; putting on shoes and tying them a specific way; walking patterns through the house; making coffee; driving to work; the list goes on and on.. it may not seem like patterns but if you really don’t believe me go to your favorite walking path in a park and look for the shortcut paths. The paths that were left there over time by regular humans who found that one way to be a little better than the normal path. The signs are everywhere and it’s not such a bad thing. Recognizing it is really the key. Keep the things that work for you and discard the others over time but also understand that our offspring have the same tendencies and the same desire for free will. They will think a little different and want different things in life. They will grow up in a different era with different problems and solutions. Have you seen your kids math homework lately? They do math completely different than anything we were taught growing up. It’s math, it doesn’t change, right? Wrong. Eventually, things change. This is a key point to keep in mind when it comes to breakdowns in communications with our kids as the years progress. I’m not saying that all of our kids will stop talking to us but I am saying that there is an easier way to keep a healthy dialog going with them throughout their journey to adulthood. Here is what I have found.
Stay engaged and stay excited about what they want. Listen to them attentively and ask questions about what they are doing. Try to be on their bandwidth rather than pushing them onto your bandwidth. They will keep the lines of communication open as long as they understand you are paying attention and listening to them. Not just when something extraordinary is going on but also on those off days when everyone is lazy and lounging. Those times at night when they are going to bed but really can’t sleep for whatever reason (not always tied to sugar and tv) and you simply lay down with them and talk about what is on their minds. Being able to listen first and talk second is a basic communication skill that goes way beyond just talking with our kids. Ask them a lot of questions… but be careful what you are asking. Do not ask questions that could be taken as accusative. That will cause problems and shut down communications with your kids. Ask them questions about how they are doing things. Once they open up then you can start to ask the why questions. You must remain open to their responses though. If you ask a why question and don’t like the answer you might find yourself getting defensive with you kids. This will only push them away and teach them that they can’t talk to you because when they do answer you will immediately shut them down or tell them why that is wrong. Be open and be interested. You might find that these same ideas work in everyday life with other people as well. Who knows…
Time is Precious
So why even write this post, this is probably common knowledge and easy to figure out on my own? You probably can figure it all out on your own and I applaud you for doing so. The reason I want to bring some of this to life is that I am in a position where any communication I get with my kids is vital to me. I don’t have the luxury of talking with them all the time and being with them every day. I have to strategically spend the little time I get with my kids very carefully and every second counts. My kids live on the other side of the world and I can’t just drive a couple hours to see them. I also work full time for the military so I can’t just quit and run off to be with them… I guess I could but there is a plan in place for their future and mine as well and I intend on following through with that plan. I am not asking for any sympathy or pity I am simply implying that most of us take for granted the time we actually get to spend with the people we care about, kids, wives, husbands, etc etc. So I have spent a lot of time thinking about all of this and have been able to simplify it for myself in order to keep my sanity. I think what I am doing can translate into any relationship you have in life with anyone but I am specifically concerned with the relationship with the children.
So here is my #1 tip for everyone out there. Be where your kids are in order to understand and communicate with them properly. That’s it.
When I say be where they are I mean mentally be where they are. They are online and with friends, shopping, playing sports, playing music, watching shows, running around being kids. Be where they are mentally and at the same time let them be where they are without trying to stop them. I do not want my kids to be around unsafe people doing unsafe things. I guess it’s a matter of your personal level of comfort with danger but I am a firm believer that if you teach them the fundamental stuff up front and moreover teach them HOW to make the right choice rather than what the right choice is then they will be just fine. Do you want someone nagging you about what you should be doing or how you should be doing it? Neither do your kids. Tell them how you feel about situations generally and teach them how to come up with the smart safe solution to problems. Let them know about cost versus benefit and how to weigh their decisions. Maybe you are like me and you have to figure all of this out while trying to teach them. That’s fine, just don’t try to steer every decision they want to make. Let them drive the boat a little and gently guide them when they get a little off course. Remember: Be consistent in your words AND actions. Don’t send mixed signals.
Social Media is Your Friend
Follow them on all the socials. I don’t care if you don’t know what twitter is or don’t like the idea of Snapchat. You better be interested enough to find your kids on there because that is where they are going to be and if you want to contact them it might be the only place they will be responsive. I’m not saying the process is perfect but you have to ask yourself… do I want to be involved or not. I would like to think the answer is I want to be involved. SO be involved. You don’t have to tweet things or post photos to Instagram and Facebook (even though I bet most of you already do). I know kids who hide from their parents on these media because they don’t trust their parents enough to allow access for mom and dad to follow. All of this social media we despise will do one of two things: it will allow us full unfiltered access to the lives of those we love and care about, or it will block all access to the lives of those we love and care about. You have to decide which one of those is more appealing to you. If your kids trust you enough to let you follow them everywhere they go you will know what they are doing and who they are hanging out with. This will also be a filter for them at some point because it is accountability for them to make the right choices when they are posting. Also, it is a gauge of your relationship with them. Are they posting dangerous stuff and doing it right in front of your face? Maybe that should be a red flag that you need to engage them and find out whats going on. REMEMBER: don’t pester them with your moral ramblings and “do as I say” ultimatums, just ask and listen and learn. Be open to them and they will be open to you.
The socials: for the untrained and uninterested
Twitter (twitter.com): WEB and SMARTPHONE accessible. A social posting board where billions of people post their pillow talk to the world. Also, a great place to meet and interact with some of the worlds most influential people directly. Everything you want to say in 140 characters. There is a built in chat and most all types of media can be posted to twitter. The hashtag (#) is a way to find specific topics if you are wondering what your kids are following or what things interest them. Some you will like and some you won’t but remember… the world is only going to get smaller and smaller as we progress into the future. Things you think are taboo are not taboo in all countries.
Instagram (instagram.com): WEB viewable only SMARTPHONE portable. A one stop shop for any and all photos you want to find. This app started off as a photography app and has since blended into the same realm as others. Live video streams (pretty much the standard across all platforms now), photos, videos, and a few words in the caption below. Like Twitter you can follow and like things on Instagram. Short conversations can be had in the comments of each photo. Chat is built in for one-on-one conversations. Recently purchased by Facebook in the last year or so.
Facebook (facebook.com): WEB and SMARTPHONE enabled posting. Still going as today’s most popular platform worldwide. Post almost anything you want as well as web links and advertisements (also done on Twitter). Live video streaming and “chat” like conversations in the comments. A once built in messenger has now been offloaded to a separate app on smartphones so even if you don’t have Facebook on your phone you can still have Messenger (or vice versa). Last I checked Facebook requires an age minimum of 15. This is easily circumvented so be aware. My son (14) has a Facebook account. I asked him about it and he said he just put in a bogus birth year. I have full visibility of his feed because of a mutual agreement. He wanted to get on Facebook and I agreed as long as everything he does is wide open to me. Problem solved.
Youtube (youtube.com): WEB and SMARTPHONE postable: Maybe you don’t think of this as a social platform but it is one of the biggest. Bought by Google a few years back, youtube is where stars are born. Chat like functionality can be had in the comments sections. This is probably the most viewed web content across generations. My kids spend an average of 2-3 hours a day (minimum) on here, not only looking at nonsense but also learning how to build things and break things. I also spend a lot of my social time on youtube because most things I want to fix in the physical world can be taught through a Youtube video. Also, a lot of great content overall in any category you can think of. Also, have access to my kids’ youtube stuff…what they like, what they watch. They send me lots of links to videos and I watch them all. Not because I love all of the things they send me but because I want to be involved in the conversation with them. I also use Youtube video links to mold them with really good information (and to figure out what information really gets their attention and what doesn’t). It’s a really neat tool that I would say is overlooked by parents.
Snapchat: SMARTPHONE only: Probably one of the scariest apps out there because of how it works. You post a picture or video and it is online for a specific amount of time. Once it’s gone its gone… sort of. There is the ability to, sometimes rudely, take a screenshot of the content. The person the content belongs to gets notified when someone does this. Nonetheless, there is some scary content out there and it’s not really filtered (like most of the internet). However, there is chat functionality build in as well. Sometimes, this is the only thing I hear or see from my kids all day. I have a 6 hour time difference and it’s very difficult sometimes to get in touch with them (more to follow on that) so this is potentially the only time I get to see their faces. Lucky for me they post where they are and the people they are hanging out with so I get to see all of it. At a minimum, I know they are safe and with friends. Snapchat gets a bad rap but honestly, it’s just another form of social media. Like it or not, social media is in our lives for the long run.
Live Streaming: there are multitudes of dedicated apps out there just for this purpose and in the last couple years all the other social media tools have built in some sort of live streaming functionality in the form of “Stories”. This simply allows anyone with a phone to turn on their camera and stream whatever they want live. It could be safe or not. That is a matter of the person using the app. The functionality, however, is amazing. Let me explain. A couple years ago when the Paris club raids happened and many people were killed the fastest and most accurate way I could see what was going on was turning to live stream on Periscope. As soon as it happened I was able to search for that particular “type” of feed (I think it was liked to a geographic location) and I was able to see hundreds of people all live streaming what was going on. That can be very powerful. I will admit that most live streaming I see is a mix of advertisement and self-loathing. My kids don’t really live stream but they post video clips. It might only be snippets but to me, it all adds up to that piggy bank of precious seconds.
Video Chat: I want to split off and talk about this as a collection of things because at any given time I find myself using everything I can throw at the problem in order to get a couple hours or even just a couple mins of face-to-face time with my kiddos. I can honestly say that without the invention of video chat and how accessible it has become to people in the last few years, I would not be able to keep in such good touch with my kids as I have. When it is working, it allows me to hang out with them in their room, at the pool, at a party, on New Years, and anywhere else they are able to have internet access. The really cool thing is all of it can be done with a phone. It’s portable and it’s usually zero to minimal overhead cost. Of all the platforms, FaceTime is the only one that does video chat exclusively. Because of this reason I have a lot of apple products so that I can use any one of them to FaceTime with my kids. FaceTime doesn’t always work and it doesn’t give me feedback of their presence online, meaning I don’t know if they are online or not when trying to contact them. This coupled with the quality not always being the best (7-8/10) I would say FaceTime is my #2 go to platform.
My #3 platform:
would have to be Google Hangouts. This is a chat platform integrated into the Google umbrella of stuff. If you have Gmail then you have hangouts. It is like having a second phone line when you have a chat/video platform to call with. 9 times out of 10 my kids will ask to video chat (if I call them on the landline first). Google Hangouts allows me to message them and video chat with them at the same time (think youtube links and interesting pictures or websites I have found that come up in the course of conversations). The video quality is ok (6-7/10). There is also build in filters for those of you who demand dog ears and unicorns on your face when talking. Google will ring on all of my devices at once so I can always seem to use it no matter what I am doing.
Platform and one that I think is simply #1 across all platforms worldwide is WhatsApp. Traditionally a free point-to-point calling/messaging service (think Viber or Skype) mostly for international users, now purchased by Facebook and used by a lot of people domestically, is a one of a kind Swiss Army Knife of communication. I use this app primarily because it was always popular in Germany and has grown over the years to include video chat. Their video chat platform is hands down the best I have ever used. I have spent years and hundreds if not thousands of hours video chatting all over the planet and this one app simply does it all..and does it the best. WhatsApp includes regular chat, audio calls, and video calls. You can also send videos, photos, and web links. You can also post a Timeline with a similar function as Snapchat. You take a photo or video and post it. It stays active for 24 hours then it disappears. You can also create chat groups with people which expand the versatility of this app. Think group chats with a team at work.
These are just a small snippet of whats out there socially but let me digress a bit and bring back the issue at hand: keeping in touch with our kids. Any way I can, I keep track of what my kids are doing. Not the way most people keep track of their kids but for the purpose of simply getting a view of my kids from a very far distance and staying a part of their lives. Remember that this is absolutely paramount. Yes, we can scold them for staying on their devices all day but we could also open up a conversation around these devices in order to break down the communications. You don’t want to talk to people who are not speaking your language. Our kids speak the language of social media. You would be doing yourself a disservice by not trying to embrace and learn this language. Take a little time and re-connect with your kids so that you will not be estranged from them in the future. Be open with them and watch how it reciprocates.
Also published on Medium.