Can you have grown-up conversations with kids around?

Some tech-savvy parents are turning to texting to prevent little ears from listening …

Theresa Giarrusso is taking a few days off of blogging to tackle a couple of family and school projects.  Keith Still, a mother of three, will be filling in this week.

Since time began, parents have looked for ways to communicate like grown-ups with kids in the room. Whether it’s a naughty suggestion as to what to do after the little tykes are asleep, a nice surprise for the wee ones (ice cream after dinner, anyone?), the occasional curse word, or just a laundry list of things that are none of the children’s business, we all have resorted to little codes or tricks to tell our partners what we’re thinking without informing the kids in the process.

It doesn’t matter when they’re babies, of course. But pretty soon, you resort to spelling out key words. “Should we take Johnny and Sally to the p-o-o-l today, or check out the new D-i-s-n-e-y m-o-v-i-e?”  Spelling will buy you some time – until your crafty kids crack your code, learn to spell or both.  We used to spell i-c-e when we were pondering whether to take the kids to Bruster’s or Ben and Jerry’s. Before they understood that i-c-e spelled “ice”, our girls had figured out the meaning of those three letters.

Some parents use foreign – or made-up – languages to communicate these types of things effectively. All of these techniques would be perfect if the children would just realize the conversation isn’t meant for them and go on about their business.

Whenever I think of these tactics, I am reminded of Vince Vaughn wearing a Baby Bjorn, covering a toddler’s ears, and then proceeding to link together a string of profanities in the movie “Old School”.  Using this “ear muffs” technique was his character’s way of making sure little kids didn’t hear inappropriate grown-up talk. If Vaughn said “ear muffs”, the children would cover their ears, and the adults could speak their minds without employing the use of spelling or Pig Latin. The children acted like they didn’t hear a peep.

That’s not how it works in my house, though. “Ear muffs” would be useless. Spelling words, speaking in German or French, using abbreviated words, whistles or facial expressions merely pique the kids’ interest in our discussion.

We try not to have conversations that we don’t want the kids to hear when we know they are around and/or awake. But with three children roaming the house at any given time, one of whom is in middle school and staying up later at night, it forces us to have all of these talks between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. in our master bathroom – which is not ideal.

So how can adults have grown-up conversations uninterrupted by curious little ears? According to this article, more and more of us are doing what our kids do – texting each other. I’m not the world’s best texter, mainly because I cannot stand the way everything is abbreviated in text messaging. I understand why people do it; I just don’t like it. I will still type everything out fully, read my text message and edit where necessary before I hit send. All of this takes a lot longer to do, and ultimately removes any incentive for me to use text messaging.  I do text a little – mainly quick messages to my husband, middle-schooler, and the occasional neighbor – but I don’t carry on real conversations through texting or instant messaging like many kids do. I think it would be strange to be sitting next to my husband, texting an entire conversation back-and-forth with him.

As our kids get older and all three begin staying up later and later, I may have to reconsider my stance on texting conversations. Or maybe there will be some totally new technology for me to be afraid of using.  

How do you have grown-up conversations with kids around? Have you resorted to texting?  Are you able to communicate as effectively through texting?

What kinds of conversations do you keep from your kids?

66 comments Add your comment

motherjanegoose

May 4th, 2010
7:13 am

Yes, we did spell things when the kids were small….texting was not even a vision in our future. There is not much we can’t talk about now that they are 17 and 22.

My speaking topic is language acquisition/ literacy and a few weeks ago I was mentioning that even pets know words. ( many of you here know what I mean, as you have a pet) The teachers shared a few examples. One lady told us that her dog knew how to spell, as they had spelled a word “does he need to go O-U-T?” so many times that the dog caught on and would be running to the door. I thought of this when I read your blog today Keith. A gifted dog….wow….too funny.
I’ll bet some dogs/cats are more intelligent than some children….LOL. Maybe more trainable. Whaddya think catlady?

Thanks for taking over for the week Keith…hope folks will mind their manners.

DB…glad you met my son ( at work). I hope he treated you well. He is buried in finals this week and, as a mother, I wish I could help him somehow but I am NOT anywhere near bright enough to know a thing about what he has to test on.

Have a super day all!

MomsRule

May 4th, 2010
7:26 am

I guess when the boys were young we probably spelled words, I don’t remember much of that. Now, if one of us has an ice cream stop or something to suggest that we want to run past the other adult we just have a look and drop a subtle word or two quietly. For years though, when we’ve needed to have a real conversation, we simply send them about their business, “Mom and Dad need to to talk, go play/read, whatever.” And off they go, no questions asked.

Jeff

May 4th, 2010
7:26 am

I tend to use analogies to keep mine from catching on. Plus, it can be fun with the other adult.

MomsRule

May 4th, 2010
7:32 am

@MJG, I have a totally off topic question that you may be able to answer. Are ALL of the people that work in a pharmacy required to adhere to patient/customer privacy regulations? I’m asking because I had to drop of scripts for my son the other day for a very private issue we are addressing. Unfortunately, I ended up handing them to the girlfriend of a man we know who has 3 youngs boys we socialize with…..It made me very uncomfortable…I had no idea she worked there…..

G.R.I.T.S.

May 4th, 2010
7:33 am

lol…using substitute words or spelling doesnt last long. when my youngest was little her older sister and i would say we were taking a ‘fred’ instead of ‘bath’ so the little one wouldnt want to take it with us…it didnt take a week before she knew what ‘fred’ really was. and spelling only helps them learn to spell earlier lol..its a moot point now because they are all grown…sometime we text between us if one of us doesnt want everyone else there to hear…i am like you keith, i use complete words when i text which does take longer, but i cant stand to see people post for instance on facebook using test language…it drives me crazy. in the online classes i just took one of the rules posted for discussion boards was ‘no texting language, you will be counted off for using text language’ imagine!!! kids are using it for everything. i cant stand it. im sure my 7th grade english teacher is rolling in her grave at the way texting had ruined the way kids write!!! on topic-i text a lot because my daughter hates to talk on the phone..i think its more polite to text than to carry on a conversation in the middle of people (like standing in a line..i hate to have to listen to people’s converstaions) plus we have unlimited texting and use very little minutes…in my house, which has been a single parent (me) home mostly…the kids and i talked about things that i think a home with 2 parents wouldnt have….the dynamics of a single parent home are a lot different than a 2 parent home…not to say better or worse…just different….

motherjanegoose

May 4th, 2010
7:36 am

@ momsrule….I sent my daughter off Sunday, as my husband and I had something to discuss…no fuss here.

@ Jeff….my sister once told me , that she told her husband…”Detour, Charles Frommage ( sp?) on the right…” Her boys were small and she knew if they saw it they would be fussing about going there for dinner….as many kids would!

MomsRule

May 4th, 2010
7:37 am

@G.R.I.T.S – I’m curious, what kinds of things would a single parent home discuss that wouldn’t be discussed in a two parent home?

Andrea

May 4th, 2010
7:40 am

I did spell when the kids were very young but then I resorted to pig latin. Even to this day, my sister and I still use it when the kids are in the room. We also text each other a lot. She uses the abbreviated words but I don’t so she just has to read my longer msgs!

G.R.I.T.S.

May 4th, 2010
7:42 am

im not saying that the same things wouldnt be discussed in a 2 parent home, just that more is probably discussed with the kids that normally would be discussed between the parents. my kids knew way more about my finances for instance than i ever knew about my parents finances and than a lot of my married friends kids knew about theirs, just one example…(i used to be deidre_NC on here in case anyone wonders :) i changed my ‘name’ when tiger got me all paranoid of our names being tracked lol)

JJ

May 4th, 2010
8:03 am

MJG – My best friend and I called it Charles AuGrautin in front of the kids.

Alecia

May 4th, 2010
8:08 am

I speak to hubby in Spanish. We both speak it fluently, but it is not the primary language at home. However, we avoid key words like helado(ice cream)and juguetes(toys). There is a way to make your point with out giving it away.

MomsRule

May 4th, 2010
8:11 am

@ G.R.I.T.S., thanks, I see your point. In our home we do discuss finances, etc with the kids. We have our own business so we share all that stuff with them from both a personal and business perspective. Profit, loss, paying taxes, investing, etc. They are far more educated on economics than most of their peers.

motherjanegoose

May 4th, 2010
8:17 am

@ MomsRule…good for you! My kids too know about finances and are light years ahead of their peers. As you may know, one uses Momma’s credit and debit card and has no job. Most do not even know how to figure a tip. My daughter tells me this all the time. I had mine pay the family dinner bill ( with my money) ever since they were 12 or so…this way they knew what to do and how to figure the tip.

I will check in with my son after he has some sleep today. He looks exhausted!

JJ…too funny! Enjoy your daughter coming home this week! i have just a few months before mine is off to college and I know I will miss her but she is on a new adventure.

TechMom

May 4th, 2010
8:25 am

Our son is now 15 and for the most part, we simply tell him we need to have an adult conversation and he needs to leave the room or we go out on the back deck or whatever. If one of us wants to go out to dinner or get ice cream, it was a conversation for all and not just between us. If one of us wants to go and the other doesn’t, it isn’t top secret. Plus it lets him see how we work out our differences (good or bad, it teaches conflict resolution to an only child). The only recent conversations we’ve held in private were what to get him for his birthday but again, he’s 15 so it’s not real hard to find a few minutes when he’s not around to have that conversation.

That being said, my husband works out of town 5 days a week so we end up texting each other or we use IM (instant messenger) in the evening as he lives with family during the week and while we don’t mind sharing what’s going on with our own child, we don’t particularly like sharing every detail with his extended family. And by the way, other than some standard abbreviations, we don’t use texting language. Most phones have auto-complete features and we both have full keyboards so as soon as you start typing a word, it will finish it for you.

G.R.I.T.S.

May 4th, 2010
8:26 am

MJG–i have also always had my kids be part of paying for things. i also would give them my grocery coupon list and let them go shopping for those things, having to figure out if the coupon buy was really the deal or not. i started this as soon as they were able to figure unit cost etc…for one it kept them out of my hair at the store and it sure taught them well. they also paid restaurant bills etc…i may not have taken them to the store with me so often and not out to eat so often either..who knows…..there were a lot of things i think they learned from me being a single mom that they may not have if i had had a husband…not really sure, maybe more 2 parent homes worked like mine did…i can only compare them to my friends and how their families run. i have friend whose kids really are clueless on so many things because the parents have each other to deal with on issues instead of having to include the kids…maybe this would be a good topic one day…

DB

May 4th, 2010
8:28 am

I don’t remember spelling things out — since my husband worked at home, we had plenty of opportunity to talk about adult things when the kids were in pre-school, school, etc. I can remember using French one time when we were talking about a proposed trip to Disney World — drove the kids crazy. And occasionally we’d use French to discuss Christmas gifts right in front of them. But other than that — any grown-up conversations waited until they were in bed or at school.

DB

May 4th, 2010
8:32 am

@Keith — texting is one of the reasons why I HAVE to have a full-keyboard phone — I hate abbreviations, too, and so does my husband, so all my text messages are actually in English, not Text. :-) I love texting — my daughter has texted me random tidbits and observations all through her first year of college — it was fun to enjoy her quips and momentary surprises/shocks/insights.

FCM

May 4th, 2010
8:53 am

Remeber Happy Days? Howard and Marion talked about “frisky”. Parents have been talking code since Eve had Cain and Able. Children have been figuring it out since then too.

A little less talk...

May 4th, 2010
8:57 am

My wife and I email during the day about any household business that may need attending, so we don’t have to have those discussions at home. At home our conversations are almost never inappropriate for small ears.

And sex is initiated by one of us simply grabbing the other and pulling them to the bedroom.

Wayne

May 4th, 2010
9:00 am

@MomsRule: I work in IT in a hospital, with no direct patient care, and I can tell you that I can’t speak to anyone (even my wife!) about any patient related matters. It could be my Mother in the hospital, and I couldn’t tell my wife anything. Without my Mom’s permission.

If I’m going to a patient area and I see someone I know that works in the hospital, I’m not even supposed to acknowledge them – if they are being seen as a patient.

Some things are a bit silly, like the acknowledgement part, but with HIPAA, you can get into really big trouble. If there is any hint that that person shared information about your private healthcare issues, I would let the pharmacy know. I’m not one to make trouble, but like my lawyer said to me once: two ways to get fired from here 1) talk about a client and 2) screw up.

Just because she knows you, doesn’t mean she can talk about your personal information to anyone.

Sorry to prattle on, but it’s something that is preached to us – a lot!

That and handwashing. Sheesh.

As for texting – full words please!

MomsRule

May 4th, 2010
9:01 am

@MJG, thank you! I’m certain he is exhausted! Good luck to him :)

Here is a little share you can relate to, my oldest came outside late on Sunday and handed a math packet to his Dad asking if he could check a couple things and help with a couple of others. (Note, he has not asked for help on his homework for over 4 years.) Dad said, “Of course! But next time can you give me a little more time?” It was about 9:30 pm and son wanted to turn it in Monday AM. Son said, “I’ll try but I’ve been working on this for 5 hours and I didn’t know it was going to take me so long.” Our neighbors were sitting with us outside and one said, “See your kid is so easy and self sufficient, he has been doing homework for past 5 hours and mine has been on Xbox the entire time, hasn’t done any homework” — Easy! puhleeze! I find it annoying when people say that about my kids. It wasn’t easy teaching them to do the right things. It took/takes a ton of work, as you well know!

MomsRule

May 4th, 2010
9:05 am

@Wayne, thank you so much for the insight!

motherjanegoose

May 4th, 2010
9:11 am

@ MomsRule…

Mother of my daughter’s friend who has her credit card:

“Your daughter is just way more independent than mine….”

Ya think? GEE I wonder why. Outta here.

@ Wayne….that makes sense to me about the confidentiality!

Keith

May 4th, 2010
9:25 am

Morning guys!

I still haven’t tried the “texting each other while we’re in the same room thing” to have a conversation with my husband. Between his job and three girls’ hectic schedules, we do a lot of texting just to keep up with who needs to be where/when/etc.

Generally, it’s late at night by the time we have an opportunity to slow down and actually talk — so the kids are often asleep. When we do have more time (on the weekends), I find that whenever we start a conversation (in a room other than our bedroom), one or more of our children pops up. Our 12-year-old often thinks she’s grown up and as such should be a part of any conversation going on — which is of course, not the case.It’s not that she can’t handle the topics, but sometimes it’s simply not her business. When that happens, we make her go upstairs/outside — or we go upstairs or outside.

HB

May 4th, 2010
9:50 am

My friends found out the hard way that they need code to keep their 3-year-old from overhearing things even when they think he’s out of earshot. They’re expecting their second child and didn’t want to tell anyone during the first trimester. Their son apparently overheard them talking in another room. He never said anything to them about it, but they found out he knew when the preschool teachers and nanny told them the little guy had told them all about his new baby brother (he just assumed the brother part — turns out, they’re having a girl).

TechMom

May 4th, 2010
9:51 am

@Keith, you know, I was honestly sitting here trying to figure out how much you and your husband would have to talk about that really can’t be heard in front of your kids but then it dawned on me why we don’t really have this issue; we only have 1 child. I’m sure you don’t want to talk about 1 child in front of another. There are certainly still conversations that we don’t hold in front of our son, but certainly this is a bigger issue for families with multiple children.

And don’t you think texting each other while you’re in the same room would get just as many curious comments as the cryptic conversations? I know in our house it’s kind of a joke because I’m nosy about who our son is texting, especially if it is a back-and-forth conversation, that he does it back to me, “who ya texting??” Plus, I know I’d get thrown under the bus if I said it were private because I am always telling my son, if something is private, you don’t text it or email it because it will become public!

Keith

May 4th, 2010
11:05 am

@ TechMom — I definitely think texting back and forth in the same room would draw attention from curious children (especially our 12-year-old)! Another reason why I haven’t gone that route.

Needing privacy for conversations isn’t a daily issue around here, but with multiple kids in the mix, you really notice your lack of it when you do need to have a talk.

Did your 15-year-old go through a stage where he thought he was old enough/mature enough to just join an adult conversation uninvited? Or is this a girl thing? Or more specifically, a Still family girl thing? :-) Our daughter definitely gets told this is not a conversation that concerns her, and we ask her to leave — but I don’t know if that’s typical for this age or not.

TechMom

May 4th, 2010
11:36 am

@Keith, I think it’s pretty typical. My son always thinks he should know about everything we’re talking about (or who I’m talking to when the phone rings). I do think it’s part of the natural maturation process to want to be a part of adult conversations. Part of it is the desire to be ‘grown up’ and part of it is pushing boundaries (again, something natural with tweens and teens). I think it has more to do with the individual’s personality rather than gender and also a little with their environment. I always wanted to be a part of adult conversation (even at the age of 8 or 9) whereas my brother who is 2 years older than me never cared. He’s not the outgoing or talkative type and even as an adult doesn’t talk a whole lot. I would chalk a lot of my son’s desire to be involved in ANY conversation up to his personality type; he could talk to a brick wall, he’s very outgoing and verbal, but his comfort-level with adult conversations is also partly because he is an only child and therefore has grown accustomed to talking with adults. That being said, yes, we do tell him to go away because there are somethings we don’t need to discuss in front of him and yes, sometimes he gets offended (and so I’m guessing sometimes your 12-year old throws a fit b/c most 12 year old girls do that when they don’t get their way).

P.S. Anyone have a better term for kids ages 10-12 than ‘tweens’? I really hate that term but adolescent is too broad.

TechMom

May 4th, 2010
11:44 am

Hmm, I didn’t re-read what I wrote before I posted it… what I meant was, I’m sure your 12 year old gets offended when you tell her it’s an adult conversation and sometimes throws a fit about it. Not like I know her personally, I just know how kids, especially girls, react to not getting their way at that age (the world is coming to end!!!)

Yes, my child is a boy but my husband and I have worked with youth at our church, mainly middle schoolers, for about 8 years now so even though they aren’t my children, I have gained a lot of insight with this age group.

penguinmom

May 4th, 2010
11:45 am

@Keith, I think jumping into a conversation is just a teenage thing. My 14-year-old son makes comments about our conversations without being invited into the discussion. So does our 10 1/2 year old daughter but with her it’s definitely personality because she thinks she has something important to say about everything.

Our problem is that a lot of our conversations happen in the car where you can’t really send the kids away. We will turn the music up and fade it to the back in order to cover what we’re saying.

We don’t use texting but, when we are at home, we will sometimes have discussions over our computer network.

HB

May 4th, 2010
11:45 am

Once upon a time, I believe they were called pre-teens. I like that better than tweens.

TechMom

May 4th, 2010
11:51 am

@HB – duh! I knew that :)

Keith

May 4th, 2010
11:57 am

Thanks guys. It’s good to know (I guess) that her behavior is typical of the age. Her reaction to getting shut out of the conversation is also typical, TechMom. Hormones and drama seem to race through the bloodstream of every 12-year-old girl I have encountered.

As for tweens, I don’t particularly like the term either — though I have used it for lack of anything else to use. I always think of that preschool show called the Tweenies, though, whenever I hear the term. My 9-year-old loved it when she was younger. I don’t know if it’s still on.

A little less talk...

May 4th, 2010
12:19 pm

Maybe because we have only one child, but I can’t remember any conversation my wife and I have had that we couldn’t have had in front of our son.

FCM

May 4th, 2010
12:25 pm

@ peguinmom–my 10.25yr old is hormonal, making herself known, a running between cuddly and porcupine at any moment. Sound familar? I hear it gets worse! UGH…..

The 8yo has become this weepy soggy mess that I do not recognize. I have no idea what is up with her at all. She could rival a mule on stubborn though.

FCM

May 4th, 2010
12:43 pm

TechMom you made a statement that got me thinking ” My son always thinks he should know about everything we’re talking about (or who I’m talking to when the phone rings).”

How much of that is because when they are toddler or smaller we stop what we are doing to talk to them. We do answer all their questions etc. Or we because as so many of us have admitted when they are little we feel that it is ok to talk in front of them.

From the child’s perspective that is just how it is…they ask we tell. They are privy to things long before we think they are capable of understanding and the TEACHERS on this board can attest it comes out in their play. My Mom relates that two of her students (mixed gendered 3yo) were playing house. The girl said “Oh Honey the TV is broken.” to which he said no problem I’ll fix it. The toy really was broken. All of a sudden he hit the top and said “Ah D@mn”. And that is a mild story

Then all of a sudden (from their perspective) they get to an age and we tell them “get out of here we are talking.” They learn quickly that means “important stuff” is being discussed. They don’t know if it is about going to Disney, Grandma having a stroke, getting dog, or if the parents are divorcing. All they know is something big and very secret is in the works.

I think this creates anxiety and stress in the child.

Perhaps we would do better as parents to do like Vince Vaughn (Ear Muffs) from an early age. Not so much making them cover their ears, but in making sure these conversations are not in front of them from the womb on.

stepmom2

May 4th, 2010
1:14 pm

@ FCM…yes it only gets worse. My 14-year old stepdaughter thinks she should be included in anything & everything and boy does she have an attitude when she isn’t included. Her dad & I text each other when she’s around(she lives with us)and especially in the car, otherwise we have to whisper so low it’s not even worth trying to say.

JJ

May 4th, 2010
1:27 pm

Stepmom, please reassure us, that while texting in the car, one of you isn’t driving while texting????

I cannot believe I am reading so much about...

May 4th, 2010
1:34 pm

…texting between spouses while IN THE SAME ROOM… you have got to be kidding – no wonder this country is in such a mess – please tell me it ain’t so!!!!

stepmom2

May 4th, 2010
1:37 pm

@ JJ- it’s usually me texting him (while he’s driving) with a “don’t respond” as my first 2 words. and then when we get to wherever we’re going he’ll either reply to the text or we’ll try and walk behind her so he can respond.

JJ

May 4th, 2010
1:57 pm

Thanks Stepmom2…:)

Why do we always....

May 4th, 2010
1:59 pm

have to be reassured that people aren’t texting while driving? We’ve had this conversation over and over before. People always seem to forget that lights turn red and that most of us stop for them.

motherjanegoose

May 4th, 2010
2:02 pm

@ momsrule…my son has told me that the violation of privacy has a BIG fine attached to it.
Re: HIPPA….you do not need to worry. I believe Wayne already covered it.

catlady

May 4th, 2010
2:09 pm

MJG–my SIL’s dog knew “I-c-e-c-r-e-a-m” but she was a very bright dog (border collie) who knew “speak”, “sing”, “mumble” and “whisper” in addition to the usual commands.

One of my students, age 5, years ago was admonished to go and play (she was hanging around the teachers listening in) because we were talking “grownup talk” and she replied, “You mean you are talking in cursive?” LOL

A little less talk...

May 4th, 2010
2:34 pm

What are some examples of conversations you would not have in front of your children?

With the obvious exception of sex, I can’t think of anything.

Becky

May 4th, 2010
2:44 pm

We don’t hide anything that we talk about from the little ones..The girl doesn’t pay any attention to anything that we talk about, but the boy jumps right into the middle of it..I might tell him that it’s nothing he needs to worry about or I explain it to him..If I ask him why he wants to know, he’ll say I’m just courious (sp?)..He always tell me that..

JJ asked about...

May 4th, 2010
2:51 pm

…texting while driving – that doding that is a no-no, but READING a text while riding is OK??!?!?!?!?

And, then, when they get to where they are going and, even though walking together, they keep on texting? You folks are freakin’ nuts…..

OOPs...

May 4th, 2010
2:53 pm

…”doding” should be “doing”, and “riding” should be “driving” – I am so confused by this that I cannot even type…and all this time I though stepmom2 was a “normal” mom!

stepmom2

May 4th, 2010
3:05 pm

@ JJ asked about…. Is he not allowed to read at a red light?? and yes, sometimes we do still text if she’s in ear shot even if we are walking..usually though we lag behind so we can talk quietly about whatever it is, which is usually something crazy her mom has said to her (like if you move back with me I’ll marry my boyfriend- which was last weeks conversation). Don’t think she needs to hear our thoughts on that.

FCM

May 4th, 2010
4:07 pm

@ a little less talk…how about the neighbors divorce, Cousin Sue’s DUI, Grandma’s Upcoming Heart Surgery, if the dog/cat needs to be “put down”, how the doctor appointment went……Really do the kids need to hear ALL of that?