P is for Parenting

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Miriam advises a parent who wants to know how to talk to her son about the latest news in the presidential election.

Dear Miriam,

My ten year old son has been following the election since the party debates started last year. Now we are faced with a parenting dilemma: he wants to know what was said over the weekend that has caused the current uproar. It is language we do not think he needs to know, but we can’t avoid the news forever.

Signed,
P is for Parenting


Dear Parenting,

You’re not alone in asking this question. Since you first asked me on Saturday night, Kveller posed a similar question on their Facebook page directly related to the debate, the Washington Post published a story called, “A 6-year-old asks: ‘What does it mean to grab somebody by the p—y,'” and the first debate question was actually about whether the candidates think they’re modeling appropriate behavior to children.

Just because you’re in good company doesn’t mean there’s a clearer path to know what to do. More than anything, you know your son and you know what sort of conversations you’ve been having all along. Have you already discussed sexism as a family? Has he been exposed to foul language? What is his maturity level to be able to understand that this is not a normal presidential election?

If you think he can understand that sometimes people in power do terrible things, then it’s worth having a frank conversation with him about power abuses, sexism, language and harassment. You don’t need to tell him the exact language that was used, but you can explain that there are some men who do not respect women. You can say that there are disrespectful words that are sometimes used to talk about women. You can tell him that what was said is inappropriate for anyone to listen to, 10 year olds and adults included, but you want him to grow up to be a kind, respectful, understanding man, and so you want to have these difficult conversations with him now.

Since your son is interested in the election, it’s very likely that he’s going to hear what was actually said and will want to understand the implications. You can set your boundaries on language and tell him that he is not to repeat those words. You can even tell him that you don’t want to explain the language to him because you’re so upset by it that you don’t want him to understand. You can tell him that you respect his interest in politics, but this is not a normal year.

The election is in a month. Our access to media is unprecedented. This likely will not be the last time that something controversial is going to surface. I encourage you to figure out what sort of access you want your son to have to the news in the coming days and weeks. I even know many adults who are limiting their own news intake for fear of a totally unhealthy overload of talking heads, rhetoric, bullying and fact-checking. Then, if you can separate the immediacy of this situation from larger questions of parenting your son, you can decide what other contexts you can use to teach your son about respect, equal rights and consent.

Be well,
Miriam

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