Help your child to be streetwise
Health and safety

Help your child to be streetwise

Parenting expert Martina Newe looks at the ways parents can help their children to be strong and streetwise.

Help your child to be streetwise

In these days of ever increasing threats and challenges to our young people, how can we, as parents, help our teenagers to be confident and street-wise to the dangers posed to them throughout these formative years?

There are so many dangers and influences on our young teenagers from the internet, alcohol, drugs, sex and more. How can we help them see make good choices when faced with peer pressure and other influences in society? Friends may be telling them to try something – because it is ‘cool’ or telling them that they are stupid or immature because they don’t want to try that cigarette, drink, joint, etc.


The media portrays alcohol as cool and a way to have lots of friends and enjoy themselves – advertisements show scenes of groups of young and beautiful people sipping their drink and having a really great time. The media also portrays being attractive to be very important (particularly to young girls) and they are also being given a strong message that they have to be sexy and alluring to the opposite sex. Children as young as eight are wearing fake bras, t-shirts with sexy or suggestive slogans, encouraging them to be overtly sexual and sending a strong message that being sexy is equal to being attractive. Can we, as parents, protect our young teenagers?

Deciding for themselves

One option may be to keep them at home with you all of the time and never allow them to be in a situation where they have to make a choice or stand on the own two feet without Mammy or Daddy there to make the right choice for them. We all know that that is not possible – sooner or later your teenager will have to stand up for what they believe and you can’t always be there. So, what can you do to help your young teenager make good choices? You can start by help by teaching them to be confident, identify options in situations and be comfortable and assertive with their decision of which option they want to choose.

Learning to say no

When faced with difficult situations, it is ideal if your teenager can feel confident enough to say ‘no’ when they want to. They need to be confident enough not to bow to peer pressure or feel that they have to ‘follow the crowd’ in order to be popular or fit in. Helping your child to be comfortable and self-confident is vital for choices in life. Your teenager needs to feel confident in ‘their own skin’ and to be able to check in with how they are really feeling and listen to themselves. This will help them to trust their own judgement and to develop the skill of generating and identifying options for themselves in situations and choosing effectively.

help your child to be streetwise

This all sounds well and good, but what can you do to help this? The first advice we would offer is to start to build on these strengths and skills with your child from an early age. Decision making for a young child may be as simple as allowing them to decide if they wear the red t-shirt or the green t-shirt on a particular day. As the child grows, the decisions will be more important and as a result of this, have more consequence, each time helping the child to grow in their ability and confidence in making decisions. As parents, we can support all of this learning by embracing some key parenting skills and styles:

Be careful to encourage properly!

Remember, over sweet or flowery encouragement will sound insincere and not give the same message as sincere and personal encouragement. When encouraging, remember to;

• Be sincere and use an upbeat tone of voice
• Notice small details and praise these specifically
• Be personal
• Don’t destroy the encouragement by stating a negative at the end

Help to solve problems

To help a child feel confident in making decisions, it is very important to get them involved in problem-solving with you from an early age. As parents, it is often difficult to step back and help a child to identify and generate the options they have for solving a problem themselves and we are often tempted to ‘rush in’ and solve the problem for them. However, if you can practice stepping back and helping your child to solve the problem themselves, you are teaching them an invaluable life skill. They are learning how to identify the problem, generate options for solving the problem and practice choosing and trying out the options themselves.

Encourage and praise your child

It is vital and invaluable to encourage and praise your child as often as possible. The old adage ‘catch them doing something right’ is exactly what we need to apply as often as possible to our parenting. When your child makes progress or does something well, notice it and encourage and praise their efforts. Even it if it is a tiny step towards a good outcome, encourage that step.


Think back to when you were a child yourself and the first time you cycled your bicycle without stabilisers? There was most likely an adult or older sibling encouraging you to keep up your pedalling, telling you that you were doing fine and thus helping you to believe, have confidence and succeed in cycling without the stabilisers. The same is true for every effort that your child makes. Encouragement and praise are hugely effective ways for you to build your child’s self-confidence and to self-belief.

Keep connected

The importance of keeping a connection open and strong with your child or teenager cannot be underestimated. Take time to get to know them, be interested in the world, listen and chat to them at every opportunity and try to find good times to really connect with your child. How well do you know them? What are their four best friends’ names? What are their opinions on poverty/politics/religion, etc? What is their favourite music, colour? Who do they really admire and why? These are all things that you would most likely know about your friends, so why not have the same interest in getting to know your child/teenager?

help your child to be streetwise

If you have a strong connection with your teenager, they are more likely to feel that they can discuss problems with you and more importantly, you can help them to solve the problem themselves. By talking through a problem such as being asked to take drugs, they can identify their options themselves, be confident in the decision they make and you can always check in with them later to see how they feel.
Remember also, that when your teenager makes a ‘good’ choice, encourage and praise them for their maturity and ability to have worked out the options and chosen one that was right for them. Continuous support and encouragement will help to keep them confident in their own decision making.

Educate yourself

If your teenager wants to talk to you about sex, drugs, alcohol or other issues, try to make sure that you understand and are aware of what the issues are. Get information on drugs – what are the various types, what is the common or ‘street’ name for these, what are the dangers and so on. The same is true for internet safety, alcohol and sex. If your teenager does want to discuss issues that they are facing, then isn’t it much better if they can discuss it with someone who is aware of the subject and how it is presented to them? Your local GP, health clinic or community centre should have information leaflets available. You can also check out sites such as or for more information.

So the key message is, build your child’s confidence in their own ability to identify the problem, generate their options and choices, think these through, trust their own judgement and make effective decisions. Continuous support through encouragement, helping their problem- solving skills, building a strong connection with them and being aware of the dangers and situations that they face will help them to stand up for their own choices and decisions while knowing that they have you to support them when they need it.

More you might like:

How to keep your children safe
Helping children to feel safe
Keep kids safe from abuse


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.