If you’re like most parents, your to-do list is pretty long. But author and middle-school expert Michelle Icard says you should add something to it — or, rather, 14 somethings.
In her book Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen (Harmony Books, 2021), Icard outlines a process for having a set of essential, ongoing conversations with your kids before they hit high school. The conversations cover some familiar topics — including sex, money and technology — but also broader topics like creativity, fairness and independence.
“I wanted the book to address that being a teenager or being a parent of a teenager isn’t just about being scared; there’s a lot of fun to be had and a lot to embrace,” she tells Scouting.
At the heart of the book is a model she calls BRIEF: Begin peacefully, Relate to your kid, Interview to collect data, Echo what you’re hearing and give Feedback. In other words, she argues, the last thing you should do is tell your kid what to do (aside from situations involving health, safety and other non-negotiables).
“Kids really do not respond well to that,” she says. “They don’t retain that information very well, either.”
If you’re accustomed to jumping straight to feedback, Icard says not to panic.
“My hope is that parents will be really encouraged to keep going, even if the first time they only got to B or they only got to R,” she says. “That’s OK; it’s a long road.”
In fact, she emphasizes, none of the 14 conversations should be a one-off.
“The last thing I want is for someone to rip out the table of contents and tack it on the bulletin board and put a checkmark next to each chapter,” she says. “The nature of what you will talk about will evolve over time. You may have a quick conversation about technology when your kid is 10, but you’re going to have a hundred more at least because there’s so much to cover.”
Keep the conversation going
In addition to the conversation starters, the book includes conversation crashers — things guaranteed to prematurely end a talk with your kid.
“I very recently did one of the conversation crashers with my 18-year-old son,” Icard admits. “I said something like, ‘I just think you’re going to regret it if you don’t,’ and then I was like, ‘Oh, I mustn’t say that to you!’”
In other words, parents — just like kids — are works in progress.