Even with e-mail, social media and smart phones, parents still have a difficult time communicating with their children, said Adam Krieger, president of Healthy Communities, Healthy Youth Gurnee-Warren Township.
During October, Healthy Communities, Healthy Youth, a partnership between schools, governmental bodies, businesses and faith based communities within Warren Township, is sharing conversation-starting ideas through social media. They call October Let’s Talk Month.
“Let’s Talk reminds people to slow down and make time to talk to their kids,” Krieger said.
Decades of research have shown that the more parents engage with their kids, the fewer problems the kids have and the healthier they are, Krieger said.
“Parents are amazed that studies show that kids – even teenagers – overwhelmingly say the biggest influence in their lives is their parents,” he said.
Krieger said he’s been participating in Let’s Talk Month with his own kids, an 8-year old and 9-year old. He chooses questions for Healthy Communities, Healthy Youth’s Facebook page.
He was surprised his kids’ response when he asked, ‘Who’s the coolest adult you know?’
“One of my kids identified a teacher as the coolest person they know,” he said. “I’ve noticed that as they get older they’re less likely to identify a superhero, and more likely to identify an adult they know.”
To keep the conversation flowing year-round, Krieger said, “I’m a news junkie, so I look at things in the news and ask them what they think,” he said. “I ask them questions like how do they choose their friends, what’s important to them. Because I’m a therapist, I probably drive them crazy with questions.”
Noreen Reese, deputy director of Warren-Newport Public Library and vice president of Healthy Communities, Healthy Youth, said Let’s Talk Month moved online this year.
“When we first started Let’s Talk Month about eight years ago, we handed out jars of paper [with questions parents could ask] to first and second graders in [school districts] 50 and 56. Last year we handed them out in Chinese take-out boxes. This year we’re doing it all online, mostly through social media,” she said.
The Healthy Community Healthy Youth Facebook page posts daily questions in English and Spanish through October, which are shared by the school districts and Warren-Newport Public Library, Reese said.
Krieger said while the take-out boxes weren’t made this year, more than 600 parents are participating through social media.
Krieger, who worked as a family therapist before becoming executive director of youth services for Warren Township, said an easy place for parents to talk to their kids is the car. At the kitchen table, kids can feel put on the spot, he said.
“Sometimes the best environment is during in-between times or traveling, when it feels natural,” he said.
He said besides the fact that there’s no escape from conversation, the car creates a comfortable environment.
“You can’t minimize the fact that [parents and kids] aren’t looking at each other. It’s less intimidating, they can just look out the window and talk,” he said.
Amy Doyle, early childhood teacher at Woodland Primary School and Gurnee resident, said the car is usually part of her strategy to communicate with Riley Doyle, her 13-year-old daughter. She said she takes a very matter-of-fact tone with her daughter when it comes to heavy subjects like sex and drugs.
“She knows she can come to me with any questions. We have a lot of open communication,” Doyle said. “She knows I won’t go against her trust.”
Doyle said parents today have a harder time communicating than their parents did because of a new obstacle: The Internet. She tries to keep the conversation flowing as new apps and social media pop up.
“Ask questions. If your kids push you away, just keep asking,” she said. “I want [Riley] to cherish her independence and privacy but I want her to know she’s supported.”
With smaller kids, Doyle said kindergartners know more about the world than you think.
“You have to gear topics toward the age group. At Woodland, we have resources within the district to go to psychologists or social workers and make programs that help kids understand,” Doyle said.
Doyle said talking to kids openly at a young age makes it less awkward to tackle serious topics when they become teenagers.
Jenna Vecellio, Barrington mother of 10-year old and 14-year old daughters, can relate to that.
“The walls start to close in during teenage years. You have to ask more specific questions, like ‘Who did you sit with at lunch?’ Sometimes getting teenagers to talk is like pulling teeth unless something exciting happened that day.”
Vecellio said she started to talk to her kids about sex and drugs earlier than most parents do.
“There are a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable talking to their kids. Maybe their parents didn’t talk to them, or they don’t know how,” she said. “Since [my kids] were little, I’ve talked to them openly about the human body and human nature. Some families don’t feel comfortable even using the proper names for body parts, but it’s important for them to know.
“When you’re trying to communicate with your kids about anything, start and end on a positive note so when the conversation is over, they know you love them,” she said.
For conversation starters, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Healthy-Community-Healthy-Youth.