Parents! Seek information, not confessions.

Monday, September 7th, 2009

 

It can be an automatic response to defend our children if they are accused of something we believe they did not or could not do..

It can be an automatic response to defend our children if they are accused of something we believe they did not or could not do..

I have experienced it. It can be an automatic response to defend our children if they are accused of something we believe they did not or could not do, or that causes us to fear judgment from others, or our child is being treated unfairly.

The techniques now being encouraged in law enforcement would serve parents and children as well.  In a recent story, “Spotting Lies: Listen, Don’t Look”, offers great perspective. The premise is that if we have already decided that we know what the answer is, we stop gathering information that can lead to the truth.  In the case of police, if they “like” a suspect, they may spend their time and energy getting the suspect to confess rather than collecting information that will offer more about what really happened and can lead to mistakes.

Similarly, parents could benefit from this approach in settling matters of conflict and poor choices. 

In over 20 years of child rearing, I have observed that because do the best we can as parents, we often do not believe that our own children could commit a crime or do something risky or cruel. If that belief is not suspended for inquiry about incidents, we risk making the same types of mistakes of law enforcement prosecuting the wrong person. In the case with our children, we can wind up holding others accountable for their poor choices, or our children can wind up holding the bag for someone else’s bad choices.

One parent wrote to me last year about a situation wherein her child shared information about drugs and alcohol abuse by a friend. She told the parent what she learned, and that parent became very defensive and eventually stirred up controversy with other parents in their circle, with the idea that it’s no big deal – we all did it when we were young. There was an attempt to completely minimize concerns raised that shifted conversation away from concern for the children to keeping children’s secrets. It made life very difficult for this parent and her own child, as the objective was to get her to regret having ever shared the information with the parent who needed to know. In the process, the opportunity to learn more about what is happening in their children’s lives and take corrective and disciplinary action was lost, because the risky conduct was validated by the excuses offered by all the parents in that social circle.

When incidents and situations pop up that cause us discomfort, it is an opportunity to ask our children “What is going on?”  And yet, this response to champion a foregone conclusion is a classic example of what happens when we don’t want to know all the facts about our own children. When we want to shut down information because we have a version of reality that we want to maintain and additional information contradicting our reality makes us squirm. Or simply because we are too busy to stop and listen.

When my oldest son was not quite four years old, his day care provider complained that he struck one of her aides. We do not condone violence in our household, and it was also out of character for our child – at least up until that time he had never been accused of violence. So my husband and I asked him if he did indeed strike the aid, and he replied “yes”. We told him that hitting was wrong, and asked him if he knew this, and he said “yes”. And then we asked him why he hit this day care worker. He replied, “She was shaking me awake”.  When we inquired with the day care provider, the aid eventually admitted to shaking our son and we all very quickly established that any one of us might have come out swinging had someone tried to wake us up in that manner. Later we acknowledged to our son that what happened to him was wrong, and we were told the care provider would never do such a thing again.  Not long afterwards, we moved him to a pre-school where we believed the environment would be more professional.

While we would never condone hitting as a way to solve a problem, for a three-year-old we determined that incident was an act of self-defense. Yet, had we not inquired further about what actually happened, we would have assumed he simply needed to be scolded for hitting and we would not have explored other options for day care that were better suited for our son.

 

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May all your “Banana Moments” be rewarding as well as challenging.

joanna-0071Joanna Jullien jullien@surewest.net

Joanna married her high school sweetheart and over the  past 25 years they have raised two sons. She has a degree from UC Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture) and has over 20 years experience as a professional manager in information technology, manufacturing, energy and environment.  Joanna writes on parenting in the 21st century, as she has observed and personally experienced many strains on the parent-child relationship with the advent of the Internet, mobile phones and popular culture.

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.

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