Rosalind Wiseman on how to talk with our sons

By Anne Collier

One of the things we ConnectSafely folk often say to parents asking us about online safety measures is, first and foremost, “Talk with your kids.” We say that for a number of reasons, the chief one being that there is no single safety measure – whether it’s a rule or parental-control tool – that’s right for all kids. Internet use, like life (and embedded in it), is very individual. We use that word “with” in there very intentionally. It doesn’t work just to talk to them. There’s no room for engagement in that.

But how do we do that? How do we stay in communication when kids – especially boys, author Rosalind Wiseman recently told my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid in an audio interview – seem pretty reluctant to talk with us?  (scroll down to listen to interview)

Here’s how Rosalind, whose book about boys, Masterminds and Wingmen, has just been released, put it:

“A lot of parenting experts, me included, have spent a lot of time talking to parents saying they should talk with their kids at the end of the day or after school … that the way to express love and interest in your child is to ask a lot of questions. But boys don’t see it as an expression of love and interest. They see it as interrogation. They see it as exhausting. And when the boy shuts down, the parents see it as ‘you are being difficult, you are being non-emotional.’ In fact, actually it’s the complete opposite. The boys have such a strong emotional reaction to the constant barrage of questions that the only choice they feel in their bodies is to shut down.”

Larry asked her how to get them to open up. Rosalind acknowledged that “it’s not like we don’t need information from our children. We do. And we’re in a relationship with these people, so we need the reciprocity. What I’m saying is that the way we’re doing it is often counter-productive.

“So that first moment of seeing them at the end of the [school] day, I would just greet them – relax and create an atmosphere where somebody wants to be with you.” Timing is key, she says.

“If you want to find out what’s going on with your kid, there’s a window of time … when things are calmer, and you haven’t gone to sleep yet and your kids may be in bed. It’s even better when the lights are out. And sit in your kid’s room at the foot of the bed and say to him, ‘Hey, I just want to check in with you. Anything you think I should know? Anything important for you that’s going on with you?’ And don’t expect some deep, four-hour conversation. You just need your son to know that you see [and hear] him, you care, and you’re there if he needs you and wants to talk with you. Then, boys are much more likely to come to us.”

Sometimes a specific conversation that we initiate is needed, but most of the time it’s about being present enough in their lives to know whether or not it is.

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