Book Review: 350 Questions Parents Should Ask During Family Night
In March 2020, I was in a mad rush to leave the United States and return home before the boarders closed. I was privileged to be able to visit the US after a length of time, and thus had taken advantage of “excess baggage costs less than postage” by shoving my suitcase with packets of ranch dressing, Halloween supplies (American ebay), and books. Ya know– all the cool stuff I can’t get at home. One of the book I snatched was this one, 350 Questions Parents Should Ask During Family Night by Shannon Alder.
I am not familiar with Alder’s previous works, but this book looked interesting enough and made it into the suitcase. Where it stayed for the first 12 months of the pandemic as my family and I navigated … everything. This is my way of saying that this is not a new book. It’s been out for a while. And it is VERY Americana. It has all the US stats, and includes 911 as THE emergency number (112 is the designated global emergency number). That being said, I really liked this book.
My tween was the one who pulled it out and began reading. It is a VERY easy book to read, reflecting a series of very short personal stories, emergency statistics, and … questions. The book has four chapters, better described as sections. These sections are (in summary): Peer Pressure & Safety, Personal Boundaries, Emotional Health, and Social Health. Each chapter starts with something along the lines of “What (emergency room doctors / police officers, etc) want you to know.” What follows these headings are a few hundred words that address the statement, then a framed section titled “Did you know.” This sections includes a series of (American statistical) statements, such as “The first use of alcohol typically begins around the age of thirteen; marijuana around fourteen.” (page 8) The statements might be confronting to some, but I found them to be empowering and helped to position me better as a parent to grow with my children in discussing what they are facing at their ages.
The questions follow, are are divided into two sections, “questions for young children,” and “questions for older children.” The questions for younger children are sometimes simple, and other are more complicated. One of the more complicated ones was, “You’re on your bike and a stranger tires to pull you off of it and drag you into a wooded area. What do you do?” (page 19). Yes, it is a terrifying and thankfully very rare situation to consider, but as we discussed this as a family, we felt a new confidence in creating a plan of action in case something like this was ever to happen.
The questions for older children range from addressing bullying, what to do to prevent sexual assault, and more. For example, “Sarah tells Mark she is pregnant and wants to get an abortion. She refuses to tell her parents and swears Mark to secrecy. Mark doesn’t know what to do. What should they both do in this situation?”(page 82) . Certainly this is not a questions to be discussed in the presence of young children, but I was very grateful for the introduction of this topic within our family so we could address the situation with love, addressing the values we hold as family, and embracing mental, physical and emotional health. Better still, each family might have a different ideology in which to address some of the more complicated topics, such as abortion. The book itself does not lean toward judgement, and allows each family to discuss and resolve as fits within their dogma.
In my family, we decided to read and discuss a few questions each night at dinner. Sure, I had the snarky child who said they would do everything wrong, and I had the child who was really surprised that I might know that they had already been exposed to alcohol at friends’ houses (Duh!). Even though many of the topics are very serious, we laughed and had healthy discussions — sometimes even creating enactments and practicing what we think we might do in these different situations. The book is described as a “spiritual” protectant, and perhaps it is, but I found that the way in which the author addresses abortion, rape, addiction, positive mental health and even social kindness to be without judgement or agenda.
I think some conservative LDS families may find this book more confronting that what they would like to believe their children and teens may experience. But as for me and my house, I was very thankful for this and the healthy, mindful and important discussions that resulted from reading this together. This is a great book for addressing the kinds of things that children and teens face now, and I am glad it made it into my suitcase. At less than $10 for a hard copy ($9.89 on Amazon), and less than $5 on Kindle ($4.99), this is an inexpensive investment in your family.