1. The penalty for drug offenses is higher than you think.
It may seem that selling a couple prescription pills or delivering a baggie of pot for a friend is not all that serious. A small fine or community service seem reasonable as consequences. Most young people expect a nothing more than a stern warning and a second chance. Thanks to the war on drugs the stakes are much higher than they should be for first-time, minor offenses. We must warn our kids that the the punishment is disproportionate to the crime so they understand the risks. Share these stories with your kids: 10 People Who Received Outrageous Sentences For Drug Convictions Do a little research and make your kids are aware of mandatory minimums in your state and that crossing state lines will lead to federal charges.
2. Christopher Columbus was no hero.
Every kid knows Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. They’ve colored his picture and written school reports on him. While Christopher Columbus may look noble in our kids’ history textbooks, he murdered thousands of indigenous people, stole from them, and tortured and enslaved still more. He sold 9 and 10 year old girls as sex slaves and wrote about it in his journal. Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery documents his atrocities. The continued veneration of Christopher Columbus is a cautionary tale that history is written by the victors. This larger truth is more important than correcting any one historical event in our children’s minds. Use this as an illustration to instill a healthy dose of skepticism they can apply to all history books, facts, alternative facts, and news media.
3. Consent is tricky.
‘No means no,’ but in the real world consent isn’t always that simple. What about ‘maybe’ or ‘maybe later’ or ‘I don’t want to?’ What if one person tells a sexual joke and the other person laughs like it’s okay, but really it’s not? In the murky waters of ‘consent’ one false step, even unintentional, can have far reaching consequences for girls and boys alike. We must teach our kids that ‘no means no,’ but also about all the grey areas in between. Start by teaching your kids about respect and personal boundaries early using this great advice: This Is How You Teach Kids About Consent Our teens and young adults need to heed words, body language, facial expressions, and more to be truly respectful of others.
4. Slaves were not like family members or nannies.
Slaves didn’t contentedly pick cotton then return ‘home’ to warm log cabins and sing negro spirituals by the fire. The myth of the happy slave, perpetuated by white-washed school curriculum, has effectively removed the horror from slavery. Our kids do not recoil when taught about slavery in school – they giggle with friends, and look distractedly out the window as they do for any other topic. This is why I watched the movie 12 Years A Slave with my teens, a brutal and heart wrenching true account with true-to-life graphic violent content. They like to complain that I ‘scarred’ them, but I like to think those scars will make them better human beings. Watch it yourself first, because this isn't appropriate for everyone: 12 Years a Slave trailer I'm convinced that the violence our children should be exposed to is not Mortal Kombat and Call of Duty. It’s slavery, the slaughter of native americans, the holocaust, and the genocides that still raging around the world.
5. You’re not going pro.
Does every little boy think he’s going to make it to the NFL? My boys sure do. According to the NCCA only 6.5% of high school players will make a college team. Of those, 1.5% make it to the NFL. That’s a long chance at less than 0.01%. Here’s odds for the NFL, NBA and more: Here are your kid's odds of becoming a professional athlete For a little perspective, let’s remember that 100% of our kids will need a job, a place to live, food to eat, transportation, and health care. College graduates make on average $1 million more over their lifetime than highschool graduates. I don’t squelch my kid’s dreams of going pro. I sign them up for camps and they play sports year round. They still think they'll go pro, but school comes first.
6. Chicken doesn’t come from cows.
Okay, so maybe this one just applies to us. When my kids were little they thought chicken came from cows thanks to ingenious Chick-fil-a billboards sporting cows encouraging us to “Eat Mor Chickin”. To keep them from embarrassing themselves, and me, I spent their childhood drilling it into their heads: Hamburgers come from cows, chicken comes from, well, chickens.
7. You aren’t obligated to toxic family members.
Why do we tolerate weird Uncle Tom who pats us on our bottoms and nasty Auntie Emm who is flies into rages? We make all sorts of excuses for them: "They didn’t mean it." "Everyone has their own perspective on things." "But, they’re family." Corinne, The Pragmatic Parent blogger, has it right when she says, “Family members are easy targets to toxic people – and emotional abusers – because they can and they will continue to bully and hurt you, fully expecting you to sit and endure it.” For my kids’ sake, toxic relationships stop with my generation. I refuse to tether my kids to harmful, damaging people simply because we share the same DNA and perch near to each other on the family tree. Cut the tether. Set your children free
8. Always question authority, just do it the right way.
A transplant to the South I didn’t grow up calling adults Ma’am or Sir and the terms grate on me. It’s a deeply entrenched social norm here though, so I'll tread lightly. These terms are deferential and set adults up as authority figures. But are all adults authority figures to our children? I’d rather teach my kids respect in context. For example, they should follow instructions from their teacher. My kids have the right to question the authority of adults and I teach them how to do it diplomatically. Teaching Kids to Challenge Authority includes encouraging them to ask questions and to share their opinions. Let’s raise leaders who don’t blindly follow their elders’ way of doing things.
9. You are immortal, at least online.
My son, unfortunate to be named Amias, has only to Google his name to realize how indelible ones’ digital footprint is. His friends have found, mocked, and shared videos of him that I posted on YouTube years ago. That’s how the Internet is: emails, texts, snaps, tweets, pictures, posts, screen names, and videos live on forever. NSTeens has some helpful videos for teens about online safety and privacy issues. Unfortunately, apps like snapchat with self destructing photos, create the illusion of privacy for our kids. I keep track of all my kids’ online passwords and my fingerprint unlocks their iPhones. I give them a reasonable amount of autonomy, but in truth even an amature hacker would be far more invasive. Better to learn the lesson 'there's no privacy online' now with mom than an angry friend or identity thief.
10. You ate fruit loops three hours ago, you’re not starving.
Kids from developed countries like the United States cannot imagine, much less internalize, what life is like for the 1.6 billion people who live in extreme poverty: drinking dirty water, living beside open sewage, and having distended bellies and nothing to eat. When I took my two teenagers, Amias and Kayla, to Malawi it was as unabashed poverty tourists (in my opinion, short term trips like this are not cost-effective vehicles for humanitarian aid). We stayed in an orphanage for 10 days. They watched the power flicker off for hours and the well pump not work. They ate cornmeal mush and played soccer with a ball made of plastic bags tied together. Before we left Amias and Kayla gave their shoes, clothes, earbuds, and ipods to the kids at the orphanage. They returned to America with only the clothes on their backs, but a genuine passion to help eradicate global hunger and poverty.
I live in Charlotte, NC with my family and am working on a memoir about raising my adopted son, Devon.