Privacy, timing & location for emotional, difficult, or complex adult conversations are incredibly important - especially when young ears are within earshot.
For some households, there are no barriers, limits or boundaries about what is openly discussed. While I understand that this decision can vary from household to household, I’d like to make the argument for why some topics need to be introduced carefully & with the proper context. The way that grown-ups position a complex topic is under-estimated in my opinion. The who, the how, the when & the what are all elements that deserve some consideration when speaking to kids.
Here are a few considerations about why it’s critical for certain topics and conversations to be held away from all kids.
I’d like to make special mention of our LD kids who hear, see, feel & process things in a very different manner compared to kids who are typical learners.
Let’s consider these:
Protecting Emotional Well-Being: Children are often more sensitive and vulnerable than adults. Some topics, such as violence, explicit sexuality, or intense political debates, can be emotionally distressing for kids. Early exposure to complex ideas is not what we want. Kids’ inability to cope with certain ideas can often present themselves at inconvenient times & in ways that we don’t always understand.
Maintaining a Sense of Innocence: Childhood is a time of innocence, and parents often want to preserve this innocence as long as possible. Discussions on certain topics, such as some of the harsh realities of the world, can erode this innocence prematurely. This could lead to raising skeptic or cynical kids later on.
Family Values and Beliefs: Parents often want to impart their own values, beliefs, and principles to their children. Filtering some conversations ensures that kids are exposed to those that are aligned with the family's moral and ethical beliefs.
Information Overload: In today's digital age, there's an abundance of information available 24/7, and not all of it is suitable for children. Limiting helps prevent information overload about a certain topic and ensures that kids are receiving “just enough” information to satisfy their questions & curiosity.
Teaching Privacy & Boundaries: Limiting conversations can also help children understand the concept of personal boundaries and what is considered appropriate behavior & what's up for discussion and what is not. This can mean different things to different people.
( Sidebar: I think we’ve lost our way when it comes to keeping parts of our lives private. For me, this is a lost discipline that pays dividends down the line. I believe that if we can instill in our kids that not everything needs to be shared, it’s a skill for building peace & fulfillment later on in life. )
Confusion, Inference & Misunderstanding: Kids may not have the emotional or cognitive maturity to fully understand the context, content, or nuances of adult conversations. This can lead to confusion, misunderstanding & wrong assumptions - which may generate many other challenges as they try to make sense of what they've overheard.
Anxiety, Fear and Insecurity: Overhearing discussions about personal distressing topics, such as financial problems, relationship issues, or serious health concerns, can instill fear and insecurity in children. They might worry about their family's stability or their own well-being.
Rumination and Obsession: Overhearing distressing or secretive conversations can lead children to ruminate on these topics, repeatedly thinking about them and becoming obsessed with trying to figure out what's going on. This can heighten anxiety.
Misplaced Responsibility: Kids might incorrectly believe they are somehow responsible for the issues they've overheard. This misplaced sense of responsibility can contribute to anxiety as they feel burdened by adult problems. Kids feel stress often from the prosocial domain - this means they can often adopt other people’s problems as their own.
Lack of Control: Feeling powerless in the face of adult discussions can be distressing for kids. They may not be able to influence the outcomes of these conversations, leading to feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
Communication Breakdown: Overhearing sensitive adult conversations without proper explanation or context can hinder open communication between parents and children. Children may feel unable to discuss their anxieties or seek reassurance.
Impact on Sleep, Appetite & Concentration: Anxiety stemming from overhearing adult conversations can disrupt a child's sleep patterns and affect their ability to concentrate on daily activities, including schoolwork. For some kids, they might withdraw from their activities or their social groups.
A Point of Clarification:
It's important to note that filtering should not equate to censorship or suppression of curiosity. It should be a means of responsible guidance and support. As kids grow and mature, adults can gradually loosen the filters, allowing them to explore and understand a broader range of topics while still providing guidance, context and support. We want kids to remain curious about the world they are living in. But... curiosity does not mean wide-open limits 24/7.
How Do We Get Around This?
Given the list of unfavorable things in the previous section, what's the solution to protecting our kids from adult chats? Here are a few useful suggestions that we could implement...
1. Explain and Reassure: If a child overhears something concerning, take the time to explain the situation in an age-appropriate way and offer reassurance. Let them know they are not responsible for adult issues. Reassure like crazy!
2. Monitor Our Own Content: Be aware of the things we’re watching or listening to (ourselves) when kids are around and make an effort to move sensitive or adult-specific conversations to a more private setting.
3. Teach Resilience & Coping Skills: Help kids develop coping strategies for dealing with stress & anxiety to manage their emotions. Kids need to know how to calm their nervous system & regulate their own emotions when things get dicey.
4. Seek Professional Help When Needed: If a young person’s anxiety persists or becomes severe, consider seeking the guidance of a mental health professional who specializes in working with children.
5. Encouraging Open Communication: By filtering some topics and gradually introducing them as children mature, parents create opportunities for open and honest discussions. This approach allows children to feel comfortable discussing sensitive subjects with their parents.
6. Be Aware of Exaggerations & Embellishments: Teaching kids how to listen critically for "the facts" of the conversation is a tough skill to reinforce. It's not helpful to get caught up in all the emotion, hearsay & exaggeration that can come along with tricky conversations. Emotions aside. Let's hone in on the facts of the matter - by keeping the main thing the main thing.
The benefits to having this “adult conversation boundary” in place for kids are immeasurable. It’s helpful for all adults to strike a balance between protecting kids from distressing or inappropriate information and fostering open, age-appropriate communication to address their concerns and anxieties.
To strike a balance, it's important for parents to gradually expose their children to age-appropriate discussions and provide them with the skills to critically analyze, synthesize, question, process and understand complex topics.
Reminding kids to consider the source of any conversation or information is also a skill worth teaching - on repeat.
That’s all I have for now.
Thanks for reading.