When your kid says they know it all
Is this your child?
Your child is going on a playdate to a friend’s house, and you want to review the rules of safe play, including the rules around private parts…and your child impatiently brushes you off.
Your teen is off to a party, and you want to talk about drugs, sex, and alcohol…and they roll their eyes, exclaiming, “I know, mom, I’m not an idiot!!”
You initiate a conversation about porn with your preteen…and they say, “I already know all about it. What, you don’t trust me?”
They feel confident. You know darn well that this conversation needs to happen. How to navigate the impasse?
We, the adults, need to attune to them, because they aren’t attuning to us. We need to slip into the saddle beside them and create some safety.
Imagine how shut down you’d feel if you had to go to some professional presentation about stuff you don’t enjoy and have already mastered. When that happened to me, I was all resistance and resentment. That’s where your child is. Can you relate?
Be super clear that you have a ton of faith in your child. Yes, my dear, you are soooo capable. I see it every day, and I do trust you. I’m not trying to micromanage you.
Recount a story of when you were genuinely and truly proud of how they handled a tricky situation. Love them up with praise and warmth. Turn on the charm and melt their icy defenses.
When they say they know it all, we can validate: “You know so much! You are so capable and competent. AND, there are times when things don’t go as you’ve experienced them.”
Maybe you have a story you can share from your own life. I do: Not long after I graduated from high-school, I gave a guy a ride home, and he pulled out a crack pipe and lit up in my front seat. Not what I was expecting! I can’t say I handled it well either.
They don’t yet know that most transgressions aren’t confronted, that most failures aren’t learned from, that most crimes are not punished. We know that’s the world they’re stepping into. It’s not the world they have experienced, where in school, for example, everything has been policed down to the smallest detail.
Here’s the kicker: we have shielded them from all of that, so they don’t know what they don’t know. They truly feel like they’re proficient, because, in their day-to-day life, they are. It’s a false sense of confidence and we know it, but our warnings don’t ring true to them. When your child is exposed to all the variability out there, all the ways things can go sideways, they’ll have much more humility.
Acknowledge that you trust them in a controlled sheltered environment, like home, school, anything adult supervised – but this is something else, more freedom, a less control, where things can really go wrong.
So you share a story, maybe yours or maybe one from the news, to say this did happen to someone else, this can happen to kids just like you.
Take it to the next level
Ask: When you’re faced with this situation, what are you going to do? How will you lead? Will you have the courage to do something socially risky? To confront instead of going along and hoping that things will get better? What will you say?
Because what you might actually have to do – to earn respect, to be proud of yourself, to not regret being a bystander – is to be brave and confront. Or call it quits and leave if you truly have no leverage over the situation.
What’s your exit strategy? If it’s bad enough that you need to get out, you’re going to be too overwhelmed for creative solutions. This needs to be worked out beforehand.
Talking about all this is great. Role playing it is even better! Can you make it safe enough and fun enough to get some improv going?
Getting to this point is key. When you see that your child is competent, you can trust them out in the world.
If they’re not quite there yet, help them understand that having these conversations – doing this role playing – is what’s going to allow you to say YES to giving them more freedom, more of what they want.
What about this feels doable? Challenging? Where do you flat out disagree with me? I’d love to hear to your comments and questions below.
In support of you,
P.S. If you like this and want more, check out the group program starting this month, Attuned. We’ll be focusing on how to shift the climate at home so that more of these conversations about sex, relationships, and boundaries can happen. Regular registration ends June 15th.