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Voicing concerns about the behavior of a child

YouthZoneDebbie WildeGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Here is a scenario that I have had parents ask about many times. “What do you do if you find out that one of your child’s friends is doing something that is wrong or harmful?”If you find yourself asking this question, ask yourself two more: What is the right thing to do? Why would you not do that?Parents don’t call with this question because they don’t know what is right. They hesitate and seek advice because they are not sure how the parents of the child will react and/or they are concerned that “telling” will jeopardize their relationship with their own child.

Do a safety check first. At YouthZone, we ask the question: Is this child’s behavior a danger to self or others? You would consider a child who was seen waving a handgun in a group of his/her peers as a higher risk to self or others than a child cheating on a test, for example. The first scenario would be approached with a higher sense of urgency.If the child was in a very risky situation, ask yourself if you would want someone to let you know if it was your child. What if you knew about a potential dangerous behavior and never said anything? How would you feel if something terrible happened to that child or another as a result? It gets tougher when the behavior is not as clearly life-threatening. People are concerned that the parents will be angry at them. Parents might get defensive and deny the behavior. Is your concern for the child great enough that you are willing to risk an adverse reaction from the parents?

Much of a parent’s reaction depends on how you present your concern. If you are careful not to be accusing or condemning in your words, your message will be better received. Share how it is you have this information. If you have witnessed it, then say that. If it is something you have overheard, then be clear about that. You might start with: “I am coming to you as one parent to another. This is the kind of information I would hope others would share with me.”What about your own child? He or she may be the source of the information that has caused you concern. Realize that many times our children share such things with us because they are worried about their friends. They are afraid they will lose a friend if they “tell.” If you take the action, then you can take the “heat” if there is any.This is a great opportunity to have dialogue with your child, especially when children are in their teen years. Talk together about what should be done. Have conversation around the questions: “What is the right thing to do? Why would we not do that?”



And one last question for you. Do you let people in your world know that you are open to feedback about your child?Debbie Wilde is executive director of YouthZone.


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