Monday, November 4, 2013

Teachable Moments: Miley Creates an Opportunity

Parents naturally want their values to be passed along to their children. But sometimes it is difficult to find just the right opportunities to open the topic of values with teens. Unless you’ve been purposefully avoiding the news, radio, and social media, you know about Miley Cyrus and her infamous behavior during the Video Music Awards. It’s okay if this is news to you. We all need a break sometimes. But, don’t stay in the dark too long or you might miss an opportunity to talk with your kids about your values, relationships, sexuality, role models, and your expectations for them as they get older and make choices that will impact the rest of their lives.

Many parents wonder if their teenager really cares what they think. Rest assured, your child probably cares a great deal about what you think! Teens who recognize that their parents set clear limits and expectations on their behavior and maintain open, honest communication with them are less likely to make choices outside the rules and are more likely to talk to their parents about the big issues. Quite often, parents’ and teenagers’ ideas about right and wrong, future aspirations, and world views are in line with each other. If you want to increase the probability that your teen will share your values, engage your kids in conversation. Taking time to share what we think about the real issues encourages family cohesion – of values and goals.

Adolescence is a critical time in a child's development of a personal set of values and expectations. This time of greater independence and social outreach also provides adolescents with the opportunity to absorb influences and perspectives that their parents may not share. Pat Bassett, former NAIS president, spoke with students, faculty, and parents of GDS about how adults teach ethical thinking and moral courage. His presentation focused on many ways that we, as the adults in their lives, are the models for our child’s choices. But what caught my attention was his discussion of why we need to be counter-cultural  — he even mentioned our friend, Miley.

The problem with Miley is not necessarily that she expresses herself in sexually suggestive ways. Her actions are really only a problem if a parent's value systems, and the values they wish to impart to their children, are not in sync with the popular culture and how Miley expresses herself.

One thing about pop provides us with many teachable moments! Teachable moments are those everyday situations that open the door to conversation...rather than a lecture that follows bad behavior. Teachable moments begin with questions like, “so, what did you think about that?” and almost never begin
with “we need to talk.”

Teachable moments create space for us to learn more about our kids: what they are thinking and how they are thinking about the issues they face. Here’s an example: my psychology class asked what I thought about a news story about a high school girl in Massachusetts who received a 5-game suspension from volleyball and lost her position as captain because she violated her school’s “zero tolerance” alcohol policy. She went to a party to pick up her friend who had become intoxicated and, while she was there the police broke up the party. It was the perfect opportunity to talk about dilemmas and the right vs. right decisions the girl faced AND the ethical dilemma on the part of the school administration. It was also an opportunity for me to learn more about my students.

As I shared my thoughts with them, the conversation moved from that dilemma to some of the choices they make when faced with similar right vs. right situations. What were the values in competition? What do they value? It was fascinating. I learned more about their thought process in discerning the best choice to make. I listened without judgment.

I think that’s the hardest part for me as a parent: listening without judgment. As much as I want my kids to believe and value what I do, it won’t happen unless they are able to come to it themselves. And they probably will if I continue to talk with them about the real world, listen to them as they talk through their dilemmas, and share some of my ethical dilemmas with them. The odds are in my favor.

Bridget Gwinnett,
Upper School counselor