The conversation started like every conversation on the way home from school. “Hey honey, how was your day?” My daughter has been a kindergartner for eight months. She knows the routine. I pick her up from school, she reports back to me the events of the day. She is still young, so often the conversations are easy, sharing the simple and sweet exchanges of the day. Other times I have to poke and prod a little more to get her to share details, particularly if it was a day filled with disappointments or more emotion. Luckily in kindergarten those are few and far between.
To help guide our conversation, I have begun to ask her and my other children, “What was the best part of your day?” The answers usually involve games at recess, interesting craft projects and painting days, or when she had her name moved from green to blue (good to excellent) on the behavior chart.
Then we turn to “What was the hardest part of your day?” The answers usually become a more in-depth discussion of when a little boy kept bugging her on the playground, she made some “not so good” choices during class or she was just a little tired and was ready to come home and spend some quiet time by herself. This has turned into a wonderful time for us to evaluate her choices, talk about her feelings and make commitments on both our ends to change and make things better.
Other children who join us for after-school pickups have become accustomed to the questions and know, even anticipate, the conversations we will have. Some of our more regular pickup friends will jump into the answers before I even ask, excited to report back what has happened in their lives.
So why would I tell you how to have a conversation with your child, one you probably already have or want to have every day? One that seems so simple and maybe even unimportant? I emphasize the simplicity because of the answer that I got just a few weeks ago that stopped me in my tracks.
Me: “How was your day today, honey?”
Daughter: “Good.” (A little more quiet than usual)
Me: “How about, what was the best part of your day?”
Daughter: “We had a guest teacher today and he was really nice. He told us to call him Mr. H and he didn’t speak any Spanish, but he tried and said some words really funny.” (My daughter is enrolled in a Spanish immersion program.)
Me: “That’s silly. What did he say?”
Daughter: “He couldn’t role his Rs, just like you!” (I had volunteered in the classroom the day before and met the substitute teacher. She was absolutely correct; his tragic lack of accent was just as bad as mine.)
Me: “Well, what about the hardest part of the day?”
Daughter: “I had to tell on my friends.” (After some hesitation.)
Me: “What do you mean, tell on them?”
Daughter: “Two of my friends were using the iPads in class today and they were on YouTube.”
Me: “Do you use YouTube on the iPads at school?” (Trying to hold back the shock that kids can even access YouTube from their devices at school.)
Daughter: “We aren’t allowed to… But they got on and they were watching a music video… and a boy and a girl were kissing… and it was inappropriate.”
Me: “And what did the teacher do when you told him?” (As cautiously as possible.)
Daughter: “He took the iPad away and said we couldn’t use them anymore that day.”
You hear from doctors, psychiatrists, experts that your child could be exposed to inappropriate content anywhere: in your home, at school, on the playground. As the author of this blog and a parenting and education reporter for the majority of my career, I have dedicated my life to researching the latest studies and interviewing the parent experts, warning parents it is often no longer if your child will be exposed to things like pornography, but when they will be exposed.
I knew it would happen for my child. I knew it would be soon. But was I prepared for my innocent, 6-year-old kindergartner to see something she deemed “inappropriate” at such a young age? No. I had always imagined it would be later. I imagined maybe a middle schooler’s smartphone on the playground or some kid’s iPad at their home. Never did I imagine my sweet 6-year-old girl would see something in a kindergarten classroom, with a school iPad.
Fortunately, even if I wasn’t prepared for the initial shock, I had done something along the way to teach my child the word “inappropriate”, to not be afraid to stand up for her feelings of discomfort in a situation where she could have held back and been a silent bystander, to talk to a trusted adult (even a new adult) about the problem, and then to share the incident with her mother.
Of course, the conversation didn’t end there. I applauded her for her efforts, asked about her feelings, reinforced our house rules to only use YouTube with an adult and explained that I would talk to her teacher about what had happened and come up with a plan so that it wouldn’t happen again. I could go on and on. But looking back, I realize the moment that created the safe space for my daughter to share that information with me was the daily habit of asking her two questions, “What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the worst part of your day?” Ask your child. Find a time, whether it is after school pick up, before you tuck them in at night, even during the 15-minute drive from your home to soccer practice. And ask your kids’ friends too. Be a trusted adult for every child in your life, so you can be there the first time they encounter the dangers of the digital world and help them feel confident about choosing to say no to them.