Guest Blog by Jen Cort
When kids are little, parents know they need trusted adults for events such as picking them up from school in case of emergency or hosting them on playdates. What we may not realize is that trusted adults are perhaps even more important in middle and high schools than in elementary school.
Trusted adults are those adults you feel comfortable allowing your child to be in the care of and/or providing advice to your child in your absence. As your child grows, her/his needs also change. Therefore, it’s necessary to reevaluate the trusted adults in your child’s life on an ongoing basis. For example, social identifiers (such as race, gender and religion) may move into or out of greater importance for your child as a sense of identity develops.
As children grow, the number and complexity of decisions they have to make increases and teens and preteens can find themselves in situations where more guidance on a greater number of topics is needed. Just as we don’t just drop them off at a social event and hope they figure out a ride home, we also need to help them know their resources when making decisions. Understanding that developmentally it is important for kids to begin separating from parents, this does not mean they are ready for making decisions without adult input.
How can you help? Ask your child whom she/he would go to for advice on challenging situations, naming different types of situations may encourage your child to consider more adults. Discuss with those adults named what a trusted adult means in your family. Ask your friends and family members how they would respond to a pre-adolescent or adolescent seeking advice on the topics of greatest concern to you. Let your child know who you feel are trusted adults. Convey to him/her that you care about his/her need for additional input. You recognize you won’t always be the person from who opinions are sought and you support him/her in gathering ideas for decision making. The keys to this process are ensuring the adult identified is comfortable being a trusted adult and establishing confidentiality guidelines that are workable for all involved. Confidentiality guidelines may include not sharing with others what your child confides and if or how you will be brought into the conversation.
Identifying trusted adults may feel like you are letting go, but it is actually the reverse. By expanding the resources for your child, you reduce the feelings of disloyalty and often strengthen the parent/child relationship. You are not letting go, but are expanding the network of support for the growing brain of your child.
You can create more opportunities for you to be a trusted adult to your child through shared journaling, texting and agreements for conversations. Shared journaling involves a journal back and forth between you and your child in which your child can write or ask anything and you agree to answer in writing. This eliminates the often uncomfortable face to face discussions. Agreements for conversation include conveying the topic ahead of time and requesting a mutually convenient time to discuss.
Expanding your skills while identifying other trusted adults can be a powerful process. This will benefit the relationship you have with your child while conveying that you are aware of an increased need for independence and ensuring the necessary resources are available.
Jen Cort’s career blends her experience as a clinical social worker and educator. Her educational administrative experiences are as an assistant head of lower school, head of a middle school and senior administrator. Jen’s therapy background includes serving as a counselor in lower, middle and upper schools as well as private practice. Jen went into consulting after seeing a need for supporting schools to live out their missions regarding diversity and inclusion such that students can be seen and heard while learning to be visible and use their voices in productive ways. If you’d like to learn more about Jen, visit her online at http://www.jencort.com/