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How to have meaningful discussions with your child

By Mark Ray
Photographs by iStock by Getty Images
Life SkillsMagazineParentingYour Kids

It’s called The Talk — it’s that awkward conversation parents eventually should have with their teens about sex. But The Talk is just one of the many vital discussions between parent and child, says Dr. Tim Hawkes, an Australian educator and author of Ten Conversations You Must Have With Your Son (TarcherPerigee, 2016).
“If good conversations are not held on good topics by good people, our teens will seek input into their lives from other sources that may be less wholesome,” Hawkes says. “Therefore, a priority must be placed on having quality conversations with our young.”
So what should those quality conversations cover? In his book, Hawkes explores 10 essential topics: love, identity, values, leadership, living together, achievement, sex, money, health and coping. But he’s quick to point out that — despite the book’s title — one-time, one-way lectures aren’t enough.
“Ten conversations! You must have many more than 10. You must have thousands — with each delicately nuanced to suit the occasion,” he says.
Here are three suggestions from Hawkes to make those conversations meaningful.

Lay a Foundation

Houses that last are built on strong foundations, but relationships that endure are built on the trivial.
“Gossip, laughter and a lot of time listening and saying absolutely nothing is the necessary platform from which to launch the more serious conversations,” Hawkes says. While it might have worked in Leave It to Beaver to bring out Dad for the occasional stern lecture, real life doesn’t work that way.
Hawkes says all communication occurs on a continuum — from showing and sharing to telling and yelling — and big conversations should fall right in the middle. “This is the sweet spot that can have the greatest impact on propelling a boy in the desired direction,” he says.

Use More Than Words

The word “conversation” implies talking, and parents need to do plenty of that. But Hawkes argues there are other ways to explore important topics. For example, you could work with your son to develop a household code (values), develop your own life-skills curriculum (leadership), or invite family and friends to write letters to your son describing what they admire about him (identity).
In his book, Hawkes suggests the acronym SHARE, which stands for Simplicity, Humor, Activity, Reinforcement and Electronics.
“When talking to their sons, parents can be more effective in conveying a message if they keep it simple, use humor, exchange thoughts when sharing an activity, and reinforce the message using different approaches, including electronic and other contemporary means of conversation,” he says.

Take Your Time

Hawkes acknowledges the ongoing conversations he advocates will be time-consuming, but he’s OK with that. “With the average amount of meaningful interaction between boys and their fathers being measured in just a few minutes a day, and most of our young spending two to five hours a day with peers and on social networking sites,” he says, “it would be fair to say that the internet is raising many of our sons more than their parents.”

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