There are children who tell stories about their days at school, who weave anecdotes out of classroom interactions, who reveal funny incidents that happened on the bus. I know about these children because parent friends tell me about them. These are not my children.
“Did anything interesting happen at school today?” I ask casually as my 12-year-old drinks juice upon her return home.
“Nothing funny? Or unusual?”
I use tactics I’ve read about from experts. I’ve described my day, with funny stories or little frustrations. I’ve been specific, inquiring about maths class or the hockey match.
My husband has gone so far to tell our daughter that one-word answers will not be tolerated. “My-day-was-OK-thank-you-for-asking,” she will count out.
But yesterday I struck upon a surefire way to prompt stories to pour out. Begin a sex talk.
The sex talk approach
The news this week in The Times was all about the rise and dangers of sexting (subscription required), according to the newspaper’s research. Children as young as 12 and 13 are sexting not just other children but adults. The story jolted me into reviving the conversation with my daughter about social media, the dangers, and proper behaviour online. We’ve covered these issues before, but as the use of social media evolves, so must our discussions about it. You can’t just talk about it once.
So I mentioned the study, the things I found surprising such as kids sending naked or sexual pictures of themselves to people they didn’t know, how anything you share online is for all intents and purposes public forever. Then I brought up that even when she starts to like someone, it’s still not a good idea to share those kind of pictures because when the relationship ends, they can get out or be forwarded or…
“Mummy, the funniest thing happened at school today,” she interjected.
That’s how I heard about the game the girls played at lunchtime. I heard about a conversation she had with a teacher. I heard about her decision to eat only vegetarian meals at school.
So the sexting talk? It went OK.
But the “how was your day” reaction-conversation was a huge success.
I’ve finally discovered the strategy for getting my child to talk to me about the quotidian events of her life: Bring up the most embarrassing topic that kids would like to avoid at all costs — sex — and they’ll scrabble around and proffer all kinds of tidbits just to change the subject.
Is it Machiavellian? Yes. But it’s effective.
Now her school has just had their mid-term reports and I’m wondering what she thinks of her results. A great little chat about birth control should reveal all.
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