Raising kids is no joke. Recently, I read about a former classmate's 16-year old daughter who ran away with a much older guy. The mother was certain that she was abducted, but in the end it came out that the young girl went willingly. In fact, it was her idea.
Every day, I hear or read about a new story regarding a tragedy involving a tween or teen. The list of dangerous behavior is long: sexting, drugs, bullying, drinking and driving, sexual assault, eating disorders, pregnancy, cutting, cheating, STDs, and unfortunately suicide are things kids face every single day. And not just in high school. The risks are growing for younger children as well.
The one common denominator in so many of these stories? They were "good" kids. Athletes. Academic scholars. Volunteers.
And so many of the parents said the same six words at the onset of discovering these disturbing activities their kids were participating in: "My kid would never do that."
The problem with these words are when we believe it about our sons and daughters, we put them above reproach. We stop asking questions. We ignore signs.
When we believe our kids would "never" do something, we stop talking to them about the big things, stop teaching them tips and tricks to get out of sticky situations.
We stop listening even though we think we are. We stop parenting because we believe our job is mostly done.
I always thought I had an open relationship with my kids. I believed they would come to me and talk about what is going on with their lives.
But now that we are in the teen stage, lately I've noticed that the words "fine" and "I don't know" and "whatever" aren't always used as weapons to drive me crazy. They are filler words my kids turn to because they do not know how to express themselves. They do not know how to talk about what is going on in their minds, do not know how to process the ever-changing world around them.
In this moment in time, it is hard to imagine my girls would do any of the things I mentioned above; but just believing that it is possible could save their lives, or maybe it could save someone else's child.
Because although I know the beauty and the softness of my kids' hearts, I also must recognize the demons they face in the world each day and the importance of fitting in and just how easy it is to make one bad choice that can change the trajectory of their life forever.
We need to move our thought process from "My kid would never do that" to "How can I help them understand." We need to stop judging each other's parenting and start watching out for warning signs we see from young people. We need to stop putting some kids -- like athletes or the extremely attractive or wealthy -- on pedestals and others in the gutter because of rumors or appearance or maybe even one mistake.
Don't stop asking questions because you get the cold shoulder. Don't stop snooping around. Don't stop asking to meet their friends. Don't stop monitoring their grades. Don't stop checking their social media. Don't stop chasing after them to try to get them to talk. And don't stop thinking they can make bad choices.
Because as we've seen, one kid's mistake can impact many others for the rest of their lives.
And the only words worse for a parent to utter than "my kid would never do that" is "If only I knew...."