You can talk about anything, but just in a particular way.
Parents are the first educators of their children. “Since parents have given life to their children, they have a very serious obligation to raise them and, as such, must be recognized as their first and principal educators. The educational role of parents is of such importance that, in the event of failure on their part, it can hardly be replaced. It is up to the parents to create a family atmosphere, animated by love and respect for God and people, that promotes the well-rounded, personal and social education of their children” (Second Vatican Council, Declaration Gravissimum educationis, § 3).
This education is transmitted to a great degree through what is talked about in the family, whether in casual conversations around the dinner table or in more intimate discussions between parents and children. The more serious a subject is, the more important it is to discuss it as a family. If a child — especially a teenager — can’t talk about everything with his or her parents, he or she will look elsewhere for answers to their concerns, which is often unfortunate and sometimes even catastrophic.
You can talk about anything, but not in just any way
It is not a question of having answers to everything, but of being attentive to everything that affects your children and listening to their questions, even if they come out sounding aggressive or provocative. Refusing to talk about certain topics — “We don’t talk about that!”– is to fail in our mission as parents and to leave others free to listen and answer for us … not necessarily in the way we would like.
We should be able to talk about anything, but not just in any way, and not just at any time. But everyone knows that children are geniuses at asking the most sensitive questions at the most inappropriate moment: waiting in line at the supermarket, for example, or when it’s time to leave for school when everyone is already late! And in a family where the children are of very different ages, an older child might bring up a subject that may upset the younger ones.
Parents need to know how to manage the situation, to show the child that their question has been heard, while making it clear that you will come back to it later. If, in fact, we bring it up as soon as the opportunity arises, no problem! All children are able to understand that we may need to postpone giving an answer. But be careful: if we “forget,” voluntarily or not, to come back to the subject, their level of confidence in us will be seriously diminished!
What is said at home should stay at home
Some conversations can only take place face-to-face, either because they touch on very intimate matters that cannot be discussed with other family members (even if it is a family matter!), or because the question calls for a more personal listening and response. This is particularly the case when you think that behind the seemingly insignificant question there is a more serious concern. Here again, it is necessary to know how to provide an opportunity for dialogue away from indiscreet ears (with everyone in the car, for example), even if it means firmly “encouraging” the brothers and sisters to go elsewhere. Sometimes this must be done on the spot: a teenager who feels ready to talk may need to be attended to immediately or we might risk him or her closing off their worries and questions.
What is said at home should stay at home, at least with regard to certain subjects, especially when the children are small. We can explain to them clearly, from the age of 6 or 7, that not everything has to be repeated to school friends or little neighbors: “It’s not secret, or something to be ashamed of, but it’s something you discuss with your parents, not just anyone. We trust you not to talk about it.” For teens, it’s different: they’re confronted with everything and anything anyway, so it’s good for them to be able to acquire arguments and reference points in the family that will allow them to confront points of view that are opposite to their own. They need parents who are attentive, open and peaceful, ready to guide their thinking in all areas, including the most delicate.