Charlotte author Michelle Icard’s new book is a guide to help parents tackle tough conversations.
by Michelle Boudin
“It was absolutely stunning, like being in a Cinderella tale,” Myers Park mom (and SouthPark contributor) Michelle Icard says of the way publishers went nuts over her second book. Sixty agents rejected her first book, so when her dream agent picked up her latest effort — followed by an all-out bidding war for Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen — Icard was taken aback. “I was just baffled, dazed and delighted.”
The book, subtitled The Essential Conversations You Need To Have With Your Kids Before They Start High School, advises parents on what they should be talking about and, perhaps more importantly, how to tackle those tough talks.
“It’s a guide that includes everything from what turns kids off when you try to talk to them to how to approach these thorny topics.”
Of course, there’s “the talk” we’re all familiar with (the sex talk), but Icard also believes parents should have conversations about money, friendship, creativity, independence and more. Icard has been sharing advice about these conversations for more than two decades. Her leadership curriculum for middle schoolers has been implemented at schools across the country, and her summer-camp curriculum is offered at 20 camps.
Icard went to college to become a teacher but instead went to work in corporate America. “I was always finding ways to teach, even there,” she says. “I was always coming up with reasons we needed manuals. I love to explain things.”
She landed at the accounting firm Arthur Andersen but lost her job in the massive Enron scandal in 2002. While figuring out her next steps, she started tutoring middle-school kids and realized the most rewarding part of the sessions wasn’t so much the teaching but the listening. “The kids were talking to me about the social and mental parts of middle school that they were dealing with,” she recalls.
That’s when the mother of two realized her passion for working with teens. She published her first book, Middle School Makeover, in 2014, guiding parents through that time when middle school and midlife meet under one roof and illustrating how both kids and adults can not only survive but thrive during these years.
In her latest book, Icard says she wanted to give parents a universal way to talk to tweens about anything. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. That’s one of the biggest things I hear from parents — they don’t know how to talk about suicide or other big topics — and this model gives you a format to follow, and that’s comforting.”
She calls it the BRIEF Model: Begin peacefully, Relate to your child, Interview them, Echo what you’re hearing and give Feedback.
“It’s really about building a relationship and showing your kid that you can be trusted and developing that trust over a series of talks, so when your kid is in high school and the world gets bigger and they’re faced with more challenging situations, they can come to you. Your job as a parent is to keep the door open, and your kids’ job is to shut it… so you just have to keep trying to figure out how to balance the two.”
The original plan to promote the book included traveling to schools and speaking to parents across the country. Covid canceled that, but Icard believes something good has come out of the pandemic because parents and kids are spending more time than usual at home together.
“A friend was reading an advance copy and told me she’d normally be trying to squeeze in a chat between baseball, dinner and homework. But there’s more time for meaningful engagement — you’re not trying to cram it in.”
Icard is also working on an online course companion for the book that will include Buzzfeed-style quizzes and conversation prompts.
“It’s one thing to read a parenting book, but this is another tool to get started. It’s all geared toward connecting parents and teens.” SP
Fourteen Talks by Age Fourteen is available at most bookstores, including Park Road Books, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. michelleicard.com