Don't Blame Slender Man, Blame the Death of the Family Dinner

I don't even know what Slender Man is aside from another fictional pop culture figure that people will want to blame for the actions of the two 12 year old girls from Wisconsin who lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her in an attempt to win the affections of this character. As I write this, it sounds even more incredibly stupid than when I first heard it. It's easy to just blame the writers of this character and its story. The fact is, there will always be characters, stories, pop culture, etc, that kids will take too seriously.

It's harder to determine who is really to blame. In fact, trying to determine blame is just a waste of energy - energy that could be put to good use.

Parents, put your energy into an important call to action: Get close to your kids. Get in their business. Be nosy. Find out what they like, what they are in to, what games, books and movies they are involved with. Read their Facebook pages. What are they spending time doing? Check it out. Don't assume anything. This is important. And I have one more simple idea: eat dinner together.

We're so busy as a society that many of us don't eat meals together anymore. We frequent the drive through too frequently. How many "meals" consist of energy bars, or bags of chips? Don't underestimate the importance of the family mealtime. Mealtime is a golden opportunity to get a peek into your child's life. Research indicates many benefits can be reaped during the family dinner:

1) Kids who sit down to dinner with the family have better eating habits and fewer eating disorders.

2) Kids who eat dinner with the family get better grades.

3) Kids who eat dinner with the family have better relationships with their parents.

4) Kids who eat dinner with the family have lower incidents of drug abuse, teen pregnancy...and many more.

(There are many articles written by reputable sources on this, to name a few: WebMD, North Dakota State University, USA Today)

Thirty short minutes a day (or at least a few times a week) and a couple of conversation-starting questions and you can open the door to your child's life. I know this isn't easy, I've heard all the conversation stopping responses to the usual questions: "Fine." "Good." "Okay." "Yeah." "I dunno." The key is asking open-ended, probing questions that do not have a Yes-or-No answer, along with follow up questions in case you do get the short answer.  Don't ask "How was your day?"

Ask questions specific to a class - "What are you studying in Science? Gym? What are you reading in English?"

Ask about their favorite activity: "Who else is going?" "What do you like about it?"

Ask about their friends "Where do they live?" "What do they like to do?" "How did you meet him/her?"

Ask about their interests: "What's your favorite song?" "What's your favorite TV show?"

Or...tell them about your day.

There are also conversation cards you can buy at the store, or check this website for ideas.  We need to know what our kids are up to, we cannot be their friends, we need to be their parents.

Update: I found a site that rates media for parents: www.commonsensemedia.org/

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