Monday, October 17, 2016

How I address current events with my kids

From Saturday's Briefing:

I wish we lived in a world in which we didn’t have to read about or hear about or worry about the really tough stuff -- like cancer, violent crime, drug and alcohol addiction, acts of hate, lying and cheating, sexual assault.

Yet we do.

We live in a beautiful, broken world. We are lovely, flawed people.

I’m never more aware of our frailty and vulnerability as I am when addressing current events with my children.

Long gone are the days of sheltering them from news. Instead, I’m constantly equipping them with what I hope are valuable antidotes and coping skills for a challenging present and future.

What’s working so far: an emphasis on our faith, with weekly worship services, daily prayer and conversations and questions about God; constant gathering of facts and opinions to understand issues from multiple viewpoints; and organic conversations that bubble up based on our interests and a whole bunch of events outside of our control.

As I gather advice and opinions, I share what’s relevant. For example, a recent New York Times article by Maia Szalavitz describes four traits that make young people susceptible to addiction: sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety sensitivity and hopelessness.

The article offered a relevant opportunity to talk (again) about illegal substances and taking care of our bodies.

Cooper and Katie already know that there’s a history of addiction in my family, and they know that’s why I’ve chosen not to drink alcohol. Because they have no modeling at home for moderation, we talk about what responsible drinking looks like.

It’s an ongoing conversation, with increasing importance given their ages and freedoms and widening circles of friends.

So, over the weekend I told them about the article on addiction, and we discussed risk factors and consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.

The same day, we had another crucial conversation -- this one about sexual assault.

(Never did I anticipate that a presidential election would take us down such a path, but here we are, and there’s no going back, so now we’ve got to address it.)

I wanted each of them -- one a boy, one a girl -- to hear the same words.

You are the best advocate for yourself.

Your body belongs to you. You are responsible for the food you eat and the exercise you do (or don’t do). You regulate how much water you drink and how many hours you sleep.

You get to control who touches you and who doesn’t. If you don’t want to be hugged, say so (politely, of course). If someone is too close, find a kind way to move away.

No one is allowed to touch any part of you, especially a part that would be covered by a swimsuit, without your permission.

You owe every single human the same respect you want for your own body.

The only body that belongs to you is yours. You are not allowed to force anyone to eat or drink something they don’t want. You are not allowed to force yourself on anyone else. Keep your hands to yourself unless otherwise given permission.

Do you understand? Do you have any questions? Do you promise to tell me or another trusted adult any time you are unsure?

These kinds of conversations are never easy, though they become less awkward the more often we have them. I’d rather have slightly uncomfortable discussions than live with regret of unspoken words.

It’s a tough job, preparing our imperfect children for an imperfect world. Perhaps, though, this generation will grow up to curb dishonesty and violence and to salve the wounds we’re creating today.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Our kids need to face adversity to truly grow

My son has many passions. Running. Hiking and camping. Cycling. Marching.
Every single one of those activities is on hold.
Cooper is in the middle of healing from a stress fracture at the base of his fibula, directly above his left ankle. The pain began at a cross country meet and totally debilitated him during practice a few days later.
So he's wearing a walking boot to give his ankle time to rest, and he's not suiting up with his team, enjoying the outdoors with his troop, riding his bike to school or marching at halftime.
This is when my theories on a growth mind-set are totally tested.
Children need to learn how to handle disappointment, frustration and heartache. They need to develop perspective and healthy coping skills.
I embrace the idea that grit is an essential trait for success.
The trouble with grit, though, is that you've got to go through adversity to practice.
It's a challenge I face daily as a mom and a teacher.
I want my children, the two who live in my home and the 41 who learn in my classroom, to develop passionate perseverance. I want them prepared to tackle big problems. I want them to face challenges with cheerful spirits and happy hearts.
I just don't want them to actually face the pain -- the physical aches, the emotional trials, the mental strain -- that accompanies those challenges.
It's an irrational wish, of course. We all face challenges. We all suffer. We all make mistakes. We can't shelter our children from every stumble -- and we create potential damage when we try.
When a child struggles with a particular reading skill, for example, she deserves to know. We name the skill, indicate where she is now, set a goal for where she needs to go and work toward that goal, one step at a time. It's powerful to watch a child persevere toward a goal and incredibly rewarding to celebrate with her once she's achieved it.
If a child continually leaves homework at home, and you continually deliver it for him instead of allowing the natural consequence of a late grade, he will never learn to bring the homework himself.
It's the same with grief. When a child faces a loss, -- death of a loved one, divorce, broken relationship -- she needs to acknowledge the pain and rely on trusted adults to foster appropriate coping skills. Allowing or forcing the child -- or worse, forcing the child -- to ignore the grief fails to make room for valuable healing and tools for the next, inevitable loss.
The most recent X-ray of Cooper's ankle reveals a cloud of protective cells over the fracture, indicating that the body is working toward healing. He won't be down forever -- just a small blip in a big timeline.
Cooper has handled his injury with grace. He never complains about the clunky boot. He continues to attend band practice and games, albeit with a smaller role. We talk frequently about the long-term goal -- to be completely healed so that he can enjoy an active lifestyle his whole life -- to help him get through the short-term disappointment of missing his favorite fall activities.
He's building inner strength now, and he'll have time to rebuild strength in his leg later. He's got miles to run, mountains to climb, trails to bike and music to play. I suspect he'll tackle them all with gratitude and a renewed zest when time allows.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at