In the Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial, the social and digital media trail proved that many boys were complicit in the rapes of Jane Doe — not just the two who were found guilty. Chillingly, these boys seem like they could be anyone’s son. As a result, today, many parents are asking: How can I raise my boy the right way — to become a young man who will neither rape nor be a casual bystander to rape?
It’s an important question to ask, but a difficult one to answer. The Steubenville boys’ families likely thought they were doing a great job raising their sons. But something is wrong with our society: girls are so sexualized and dehumanized by our culture that unless it is directly and regularly addressed at home, boys can easily internalize the attitude that girls are sub-human; Sex objects, rather than respectable subjects. And as the Steubenville case shows, once this attitude is internalized, boys think raping girls is not the problem, but rather getting caught. Consider even the judge’s words, which according to an AP report betrayed this kind of perspective:
"In sentencing the boys, Lipps urged parents and others 'to have discussions about how you talk to your friends, how you record things on the social media so prevalent today and how you conduct yourself when drinking is put upon you by your friends.'"
Talk about being tone-deaf! As the mother of two sons, this is not my takeaway from the case. The issue is not how the Steubenville rapists and their peers recorded their criminal actions on social media and therefore were caught, found guilty, and sentenced for their crimes. It’s that they raped in the first place.
Even CNN committed a major gaffe in their reporting on the sentencing, focusing not on the victim’s vindication and the possible outcomes for her, but rather on how difficult it was to watch the young rapists’ lives falling apart. According to The Huffington Post’s report on CNN’s coverage:
"[T]he effects of the rape on the victim seemed to be an afterthought: 'It was incredibly emotional, it was difficult for anyone in there to watch those boys break down,' Harlow said. '[It was] also difficult, of course, for the victim’s family.'”
The victim shouldn’t be an afterthought in the media coverage. Her vindication despite our broken culture of rape, her prognosis for a recovery from her trauma, and the possible consequences she and her family may face in their small town as they move forward should be central to the coverage.
With a culture that has such a messed up attitude towards rape that even the judge and CNN are making major missteps, how do we answer the question posed earlier? How do we raise our boys into young men who will neither rape nor be casual bystanders to rape — who understand both that “no means no” and, more importantly, that consent requires an enthusiastic “yes”?
The answer is to begin teaching boys about two concepts — consent and respect — from an early age, in age-appropriate ways.
For example, my four-year-old son loves to hug and kiss his friends. He is sweet and affectionate, and when he first sees a friend or when it’s time to say goodbye, he wants nothing more but to wrap his arms around that friend and give him or her a big kiss.
Sometimes, his friends reciprocate, but sometimes, they clearly don’t want the physical contact. So, since about the time when he turned four-years-old, and he seemed old enough to understand, we’ve told him that he needs to ask his friends for permission first. We taught him to ask, “Can I give you a hug and a kiss?” We’ve also told him he needs to respect their answers, even if it’s disappointing, and I’m glad to see that this is now his usual approach. He gets their consent.
Then, there’s the matter of respect. When my son was three-and-a-half, he became interested in wearing nail polish on his toenails and fingernails after seeing me get a summertime mani-pedi. I agreed to paint his nails, but before sending him off to preschool, I prepared him for the possibility of pushback from his friends or even his teachers. “Some people at school might not like your nails,” I warned him. “But you like them, right?”
Admiring his shiny blue nail polish, he told me, “I really do!”
“So,” I coached him, “if anybody says they don’t like your fingernails, you tell them: ‘It’s MY body!’ Because it’s your body, and you get to decide what happens to it. No one else does. Can we practice? I will pretend to be another kid who doesn’t like your nails, and you can tell me, ‘It’s MY body!’ Okay?”
A few practice scenarios later, and he was great at saying, “It’s MY body!” as a confident response to comments that disrespected his right to make decisions about his own body.
This was a great lesson for him to learn, because a few months later, when we set the rule that he needs to ask his friends for permission before hugging and kissing them, this helped us to foster an empathetic perspective. We were able to explain: “It’s HIS [or HER] body, and he [or she] doesn’t want you to hug and kiss right now. So you have to respect his [or her] wishes.”
All this is helpful in the present. I’m glad my preschooler has a basic, age-appropriate understanding of respect and consent, even if he doesn’t know those words yet. Everything we do now paves the way for future conversations, and I know that as he approaches adolescence, it will be easier for us to discuss consent and respect with him.
Since the broader culture gives such terribly mixed messages to our boys, I want to make it clear: consent and respect are not options. They’re necessities.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rebecca Hains blogs at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.
Clint Eastwood celebrated his daughter's wedding this weekend, according to a number of news sources. His daughter, Alison Eastwood, married Stacy Poitras — an outdoorsy, lumberjack archetype. Mr. Poitras is known for making sculptures with chainsaws.
Poitras decided to ask Mr. Eastwood, the star of shoot 'em up movies like "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" and "Dirty Harry," for his daughter's hand in marriage. No report published about the wedding so far has failed to include, usually as the article's conclusion, Eastwood's response.
"He looked at me for four or five seconds, which felt like 15 minutes, and then he said, ‘You’re going to have to take that up with her,’” Poitras told Westlake magazine last year. “I said, ‘Is that a yes or a no?’ And he said, ‘That’s a yes,’ and he shook my hand.”
With marriage customs constantly in flux, the tradition of asking a father for his daughter's hand in marriage seems unshakable. But is it?
A study reported by The Associated Press in 2007 showed that 73 percent of men said asking a father's permission to marry his daughter is necessary while 68 percent of women said it was not necessary to ask their fathers.
A report published in The Christian Science Monitor in 2003 describes the changes that popping the question to the wife-to-be's parents has gone through over time.
While some couples interviewed, regardless of age, considered the question a legitimate step in the marriage process, others considered it a formality, they rejected it outright, or, within the context of divorce, multiple parental figures, and changing gender roles, confusing.
Tom Branigan, a public-relations executive in Whitefish Bay, Wis., estimates that only 35 or 40 percent of his friends posed the question to their future in-laws. "That's a shame," he says. "That action says to the family of your bride-to-be, 'I want to be part of this family, and I want to build a relationship.' It also lets them know that it's important to me that you agree that we are a good match."
[M]any men are no longer very concerned about the answer.
"It's been about 50 years since Dad held the ultimate veto power,' says Lisa Daily, author of "Stop Getting Dumped!" a dating book. 'Today, if the father says no and the daughter says yes, the marriage (minus Dad) is likely to go forward."
Other couples reject the idea of seeking parental approval. John Potter of Maplewood, N.J., and his wife were 26 and living on their own when they married in 1990. "I did not ask for permission first," he says.
In an age of divorce, seeking permission can get complicated. One woman recalls that her boyfriend asked both her father and stepfather. In another sign of changing times, Justina Grubor of Takoma Park, Md., proposed to her boyfriend, Dennis Fleming. "I didn't ask his mom first," she says.
So while we celebrate the wedding of Eastwood's daughter, and applaud the courage shown by Poitras to ask a man who often seems like the gritty, conservative characters he portrays on the big screen, perhaps the custom should be followed through on a case-by-case basis.
But if the potential father-in-law is the "Man with No Name," yeah, you should ask.
Greek soccer star Giorgos Katidis apologized for giving the Nazi salute on the field, allegedly without knowing what the symbol meant, and actor David Hasselhoff defends the last bricks in the Berlin Wall from demolition so that future generations may both honor the dead and learn from a nation’s history. In both cases, it’s a furor over the German "fatherland" that reminds us to think globally; parent locally.
It also takes us to understanding the difference between parenting lessons to be found in objects versus in the everyday actions of people. An inanimate object, such as a remaining fragment of the Berlin Wall or the beams left standing after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center that resemble a cross, serve as memorials and lessons.
However, actions speak louder than bricks and steel. Seeing the Nazi salute on television and YouTube is an ongoing action insinuating itself into our kid’s lexicon of everyday gestures, with disastrous result.
The story of AEK Athens midfielder Mr. Katidis, 20, is a cautionary one. According to Reuters, Katidis gave the traditional stiff-arm Nazi salute after he scored his team’s winning goal. AEK's German coach Ewald Lienen told Reuters, "He is a young kid who does not have any political ideas. He most likely saw such a salute on the Internet or somewhere else and did it without knowing what it means."
That’s not entirely impossible to believe as the mother of four boys who I have occasionally caught saying something socially offensive that they were just parroting from a YouTube video. That’s what that PG rating is all about in film and TV, parental guidance is required for much of what our kids are absorbing.
My maiden name is Goldenthal, my father’s side of the family is German and Russian Jewish, and seeing the news today has a very personal effect on me because of what my father taught me about history and our heritage. However, I realize that my sons, all raised Roman Catholic like me, with a name that does not immediately garner attacks from the anti-semitic, may not understand the deeply troubling nature of the neo-Nazi salute.
As a parent, it’s my job to educate them and call this to their attention so they can understand the gravity of what may seem like a funny or popular “new” gesture. I believe we need to pick our battles about what to address as silly, rude, and mildly inappropriate versus gestures, symbols, and sayings that our kids may use innocently and find themselves branded as something they’re not.
The upshot for Katidis: he was given a lifetime ban from all national teams by the Greek football federation and lambasted by the media and fans alike. He apologized and asked to be dropped from AEK's first team saying, "I would like to confess that I am totally unacceptable and I feel terrible for those I upset with the stupidity of my act," according to The Associated Press. Katidis reiterated numerous times that he was not a fascist or racist. He simple took his social cues from someone who was both of those things, and Katadis has paid with his career.
Anything viral on the Internet is de facto cool and imitated verbatim without research by kids. It’s yet another great reason to know what young kids and teens are searching online. While I realize this should be something learned in a history class, it is our job to attach the social and moral context to history lessons.
On the up side, I am seeing some great social parenting courtesy of someone my kids know from the Spongebob movie and I remember from Baywatch, Knight Rider — actor David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff.
Mr. Hasselhoff, father of two girls, is trying to stop developers from chipping away at a very important and tangible reminder of society gone awry. He's advocating the protection of a section of the Berlin Wall set for demolition by developers. The developers want to demolish a part of the defunct cold war symbol, which divided east and west Berlin for 28 years, according to the AP. At least 136 people died trying to cross the wall between 1961 and 1989. The wall officially came down in November 1989, however two sections were left standing, a three-quarter-mile stretch was decorated with murals and dubbed the East Side Gallery.
According to AP, Hasselhoff opposes the destruction saying, "It's about people and it's about hearts that were broken, hearts that were torn apart, and lives that were lost. That's what we're talking about today, not a piece of real estate.”
There’s an even more important piece of “real estate” the Hoffs are fighting for and that’s the one between our kids’ ears. That place should not be for sale, or rent, to developers of intolerance, hate, prejudice, and fear.
After looking through the new "Teens & Technology 2013" study issued by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, I'm as convinced as ever that regardless of income or education level, tech parenting is changing.
“The nature of teens’ Internet use has transformed dramatically – from stationary connections tied to shared desktops in the home to always-on connections that move with them throughout the day,” the study’s lead author, Mary Madden, writes in the report. And I'll summarize those interesting findings below. But some parenting context is important to consider first.
It’s difficult to control either the use or the users of an Internet that goes wherever the users go. But was control ever easy either? What replaces control? You might call it a guidance system, both internal and external. Psychologists and game designers talk about intrinsic/extrinsic rewards in learning and gaming. I think what we’re collectively learning now, urged on by the media shift, is that the most effective parenting starts with mostly external guidance (though I think children arrive with all the parts of an internal guidance system already in place; it just “learns” with use) and becomes increasingly internal and increasingly effective.*
My friend, author and teen and parent adviser Annie Fox, calls it our children’s moral compass. The child, their parents, many other people, and life experience activate, calibrate, and improve that moral compass. Those who care the most are there with the child the most when the guidance system hits an unknown. That’s why we need to keep the communication channels as wide open as possible so they’ll seek the external guidance they need to do the calibrating. So, as Henry Jenkins, a professor and friend, says about parenting our very mobile, connected kids, we need to “watch their backs, not look over their shoulders.”
Mobile saturation of childhood
Of the 12- to 17-year-olds living in the United States, 95 percent use the Internet, 93 percent have access to a computer at home, and 71 percent of teens with a computer at home share it with other family members – the biggest explanation, probably, for why teens’ Net use has gotten so mobile. It allows them to keep their connectivity personal.
- Devices used: 78 percent of teens now have a cellphone, and 47 percent of those devices are smart phones – which means that more than a third of all US teens (37 percent) have smart phones, up from 23 percent two years ago. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of teens have a tablet computer.
- Mobile access: 74 percent of teens access the Net on cellphones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally.
- Mostly mobile access: A quarter (25 percent) of teens are “cell-mostly”, meaning they mostly go online using their phone and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer. Of adults, 15 percent identified as cell-mostly and “among teen smart phone owners, half are cell-mostly.”
- Older girls are even more mobile: More than a third (34 percent) of girls ages 14 to 17 go online mostly by cellphone, compared to a quarter (24 percent) of boys ages 14 to 17 (they use Xbox Live more, I figure, but this is purely anecdotal!). Pew says the gender discrepancy is “notable since boys and girls are equally likely to be smart phone owners,” bearing out, I think, the theory that cellphone use is very individual. “Among older teen girls who are smart phone owners, 55 percent say they use the Internet mostly from their phone.”
Mobile digital divide narrower
Pew found that teens in “lower-income and lower-education households are still less likely to use the Internet” – mobile or wired – but they are “just as likely and in some cases more likely than those living in higher income and more highly educated households” to be cell-mostly with their Internet access.
So we might extrapolate that the mobile platform is narrowing the digital divide in the US the way it is between developed and developing countries.
Here are some digital-divide data points:
- 89 percent of teens living in households earning under $30,000 per year use the Internet, compared to ...
- 99 percent of teens in households earning $75,000+ per year.
- 30 percent of teens in households earning under $30,000 per year are cell-mostly Net users, compared with ...
- 14 percent of teens in households earning $50,000-74,999 per year and ...
- 24 percent living in households earning $75,000+ per year (the last three points probably indicate the most free-flowing access on any and all devices).
*We probably need more research on what the right conditions are for children to develop their internal guidance system in the digital age, but we have plenty on child development, at-risk youth, and parenting – and a diversity of perspectives on moral development. But I suspect that most children have reasonably useful external conditions and largely unacknowledged inner resources for healthy, meaningful participation in community online and offline.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family andparenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employedor directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.org.
Right now in the crime-ridden, gang-infested section of Newport News, Va. someone who perpetuates that violence is getting a free haircut. Terry Riddick is giving the haircut, but his goal is to cut down on gun and street violence by building relationships to draw offenders to the Unity March where they will hand in their guns, get counseling, and rejoin their community.
For the past eight years, Mr. Riddick and his brothers, Wilson and Randy, all barbers, have held Unity Walks in cities where the amount of violence make it necessary. The walks are held in memory of Riddick's cousin, Eric E. Ralph. According to Riddick, his cousin chose a life of violence and crime and died at age 28 when he pulled a gun on someone at a 7-11 who he didn’t realize was armed. “He was one of those people who didn’t listen,” Riddick told the Monitor. “He spent his time prior to that in and out of jail and gang violence.”
RECOMMENDED: 5 tips for talking with children about violence
“We set up a campsite with counselors, FBI, mentors, and we walk from a point about four miles away through the neighborhoods and to the site,” Riddick said. “People come out and they join us. Gang members come out and hand in their guns. We collected 25 guns over the last couple walks. If they want a free haircut at the end, they have to get a stamp or wrist band from each and every table to show they got the help.”
Lorenzo Sheppard, Newport News' assistant chief of police, said, “We have worked with Terry Riddick before. We all know about the free haircuts he gives and the mentoring he is able to do as well while those haircuts are happening. He does a lot of good in the community and we will be there for whatever they need with this event.”
Why would hardened gang members come out and hand over their guns, don a “Stop the violence” T-shirt, and walk to a campsite full of help?
Riddick laughed when I asked him and said, “Oh yeah! They really do. But it’s not that easy. We are building trust. They do because we are there for them in time of need. We give them the haircut they have no money for, give Christmas presents, or show up at a door with a turkey.”
Since starting in 2005 the group that calls itself Best Kept Secret has performed more than 4,000 free haircuts and given away approximately 2,000 holiday gifts per year, all purchased via donations from a struggling community.
Terrell Wiggins, 25, a former felon who spent his entire childhood since age 10 incarcerated for violence, is now a motivational speaker who supports the walk and the method.
“I hit a teacher in the head with a desk when I was 10,” Mr. Wiggins said. “It was what I knew as a means of getting notoriety. You see you can teach a child in school or rec center and they understand what’s right and wrong but the place they go back to at home in the neighborhood hasn’t changed. The parents aren’t changed. To deal with youth [is] you have to change the people at home in the neighborhood who are influencing them. I been that. I know this to be true.”
What shocked me was when I asked Riddick if he could put me in touch with someone who had been directly influenced as a result of this Unity Walk process to change their life, he said, “You already met one.”
At first I thought he meant Wiggins, but he was referring to a local gospel radio show I had been invited to appear on two months ago to speak about the inner-city chess program I run here. He was also talking about the person who I would have never, ever imagined was a reformed product of the streets and a violence headline-maker I’d once read about.
Kimberly Adams, a mom with two little girls, was in her Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, sensible shoes, and bordering on prim, pastor’s daughter mojo when we met. I remember remarking on the purple chiffon skirt and how beautifully turned-out her kids looked. Meanwhile, my boys looked like ragamuffin fugitives from a Tide commercial.
“She ran the streets as a woman, hung with the wrong crowd before she found the Walk,” Riddick said.
So I called Ms. Adams and asked her to tell me her story, and it turned out to be one of a child growing up with little parenting. What there was, wasn’t positive.
“I was honest and loving and what I got back was not; so I got hard on the inside,” Adams, 27, biological mom of one girl, 7, and step-mom to another, age 6. “I was what you’d call gang-affiliated, but not a gang member. I shut myself off. If you did me wrong or I thought you were against me, I didn’t care about you or how much I hurt you.”
“Being loving and having a moral compass wasn’t getting me what I felt I deserved from my family and that was love and honesty,” she explained. “I was in trouble with the law. I was a fighter. But at the same time I was a defender in school. I was the one the bullies were afraid of, but then I was more like Iron Man, self-involved and destroying, than Captain America doing the right things.”
Adams had been arrested for a brutal knife attack and escaped incarceration due to lack of evidence, she said. “Instead of being afraid, I was excited, like ‘Wow this is cool,' the arrest didn’t affect me to change my ways."
It was seeing numerous Facebook posts about Riddick by others in her community that eventually led her to seek him out and learn about the Unity Walk.
“So I decided to go see what this Walk was about and, before I knew it, they threw a ‘Stop the Violence’ T-shirt on me, and I was walking with all these people who looked at me like I was a great person. They were not looking at me like I was going to do them harm.”
In that moment, Adams said, “I just suddenly saw myself as a woman. That sounds strange, right? But I was with my daughter, and they had me hold this disabled woman’s hand, and we walked together. I was a woman and a mother and not who everybody saw me as before that moment.”
At that time her biological daughter was age 4 and is now seven with a mommy who works for Norfolk State University’s Community Foundation and is helping Riddick obtain sponsors for this year’s walk.
“That walk was the highlight of my life,” Adams said. “Walking it gave me peace and a sense of pride I’d lost. I want that as a parent for my children.”
RECOMMENDED: 5 tips for talking with children about violence
Her advice to other moms and dads currently living a life of crime and violence is simple, “It’s not about you anymore. Once you become a parent, it’s about your offspring and making things better for them than what you had.”
As a parent who has written many blogs trying to find some solution to the violence and loss of children’s lives as a result of hate, guns, and bullying, I never would have thought to reach peace with a barber’s chair and a T-shirt. However, that method is clearly building a community while deconstructing the destruction of our communities, so I say: It’s time to give violence the chair.
While working parents didn’t need the Pew Research Center study, released today, to tell them modern parenthood is a perpetual stress test, it’s nice to have the formal research and numbers to bolster the argument that hiring a parent is a very safe bet because, while stressed, we are effective, experienced multitaskers with great managerial skills. One thing the study points out is that parents are also worried about not getting enough work opportunities to support their kids.
Because being a parent can be viewed as a negative to some employers, I advise job-seeking parents to put this Pew study in your LinkedIn profile and submit it with your résumé to prospective employers.
“Roughly 60% of two-parent households with children under age 18 have two working parents. In those households, on average, fathers spend more time than mothers in paid work, while mothers spend more time on childcare and household chores. However, when their paid work is combined with the work they do at home, fathers and mothers are carrying an almost equal workload,” according to the Pew study, based on a survey of 2,511 adults nationwide conducted Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, 2012. (The study also included an analysis of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which in 2003 began surveying Americans by phone to measure the amount of time people spend doing various activities throughout the day.)
“At the same time, roughly equal shares of working mothers and fathers report … feeling stressed about juggling work and family life: 56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance these responsibilities.” Of course it’s difficult, so is becoming a chess grandmaster but Susan Polgar did that and has kids, runs a foundation, teaches, and coaches college players to multiple national championships.
I know Ms. Polgar and have seen the stress hit her like a Mack truck on occasion and then she doubles-down and gets her game face on as she heads off to work. That’s what parents do.
The study adds, “Feeling rushed is also a part of everyday life for today’s mothers and fathers. Among those with children under age 18, 40% of working mothers and 34% of working fathers say they always feel rushed.”
I agree that Little House on the Prairie moms didn’t feel the time crunch of modern parents, but time is not the main factor in parenting.
While the numbers may change from poll to poll, the stress over being able to find time and brain space to be good parents remains constant.
I believe good parenting comes down to every moment and can be made or broken in just that time frame. Working and at-home parents make the same minute-mistakes and have the same triumphs. Having played both sides of this fence, I can assure all those in an office from 9 to 5 that you can screw up.
You can work all day, and when your child comes to you with an issue, you can make just as bad a call on what to do in an instant as you would if you had the whole day to ponder and work the problem.
In my book, all it takes is a dad or mom who comes through the door from work with a hug and a smile rather than a scowl and dismissal to get it right.
In our home my husband, a newspaper designer, is paid far more than I, but is out of the house and missing time with our children far more. It’s soul crushing for him. I see it in the hunted look he gets every time our kids hand him a report card to sign or I remark about one of them outgrowing another pair of sneakers.
“I’m failing them he says,” and I see him withdraw from them daily instead of reaching for them.
Overall, 33 percent of parents with children under age 18 say they are not spending enough time with their children. Fathers are much more likely than mothers to feel this way. Some 46 percent of fathers say they are not spending enough time with their children, compared with 23 percent of mothers.
I work from home and feel I am failing them every time they come to me to chat or get homework help or ask to go to the park while I’m on deadline. I’m with them and not with them. It’s better for my personal feelings to be working from home, but financially it’s crippling us and is a bigger stress than anything I ever felt at the end of a long workweek as a parent.
The study has something to say about that feeling too, “While a nearly equal share of mothers and fathers say they wish they could be at home raising their children rather than working, dads are much more likely than moms to say they want to work full time. And when it comes to what they value most in a job, working fathers place more importance on having a high-paying job, while working mothers are more concerned with having a flexible schedule.”
They’re playing my song with this study. I initially left my rigid, full-time job and took to freelance writing and doing fill-in work for full-time working women on maternity leave or full-timers on vacation from major publications because I made the choice to seek more flexible employment in order to care for our youngest of four boys who has Asperger’s Syndrome. However, now that Quin is nine and high-functioning as a result of all that flexibility and care, I can’t get a full-time job because too many employers view my path as a résumé full of gaps that assumes I’m unreliable or unsuited to the full-time working world.
Fully 37 percent of today’s working mothers say their ideal situation would be to work full time, up from 21 percent of working mothers in 2007.
Something I found key in this study was the fact that: “When asked how difficult it is for them to balance the responsibilities of work and family life, 16 percent of working mothers and 15 percent of working fathers say it is very difficult. Overall, 56 percent of working mothers and 50 percent of working fathers say it’s either very or somewhat difficult for them to balance work and family.
Sure we find it difficult, but we are still doing it. As the most overused Friedrich Nietzsche quotation in modern parenting says, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Personally, I prefer Lao Tzu as a modern parenting résumé builder, “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”
The Pew study shows that working dads and moms are mastering others (their children) and themselves as they dig deeper daily to find the kind of determination, confidence, and courage to keep taking care of business.
When actress Jada Pinkett-Smith took to Facebook to thump the media for cyberbullying young artists via the endless ridicule and flaw-finding expeditions, the media instantly downgrade her concerns by virtually dismissing her as “a Mama Bear.”
The actress wrote on Facebook: “This last week, I had to really evaluate the communication in regard to our young artists in the media. I was trying to differentiate cyber-bullying from how we attack and ridicule our young stars through media and social networks. It is as if we have forgotten what it means to be young or even how to behave like good ol' grown folk.”
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“It seems very much like this was written from a Mama Bear and less from a celebrity,” said Alicia Mendez of Huffington Post Live during a discussion on Ms. Pinkett-Smith’s lengthy and well though-out Facebook posting on the subject. Alicia Menendez is a host and producer at HuffPost Live, The Huffington Post's streaming video network. According to her bio and that little shiv in the collective maternal ribs, I’m guessing she’s not a mom.
“I get what she’s trying to say, but they are public figures, and, being that, you have to report the news to all their fans. But we could do it differently,” added Huffington Post media reporter Leigh Blickley.
With all respect to Ms. Blickley and Ms. Menendez, I realize they were trying to walk the tightrope between injured party – as members of “the media” and entertainment reporting. Sadly, they were also far from the only media to take this approach to Pinkett-Smith’s comments.
I strive not to be one of those people who uses being a parent as a means of dismissing the opinions of those who aren’t, so this barrage upsets me and puts me in the position of having to go to the “Well you’re not a ‘Mama Bear’ so maybe you can’t ‘get’ it” realm.
It’s just not acceptable to dismiss, relegate, and downgrade a woman’s remarks by playing the “oh that’s just the mom in her talking” card. The mom in a woman is probably the part everyone ought to be coming from, even if that “mom voice” talking is the memory of one’s own mother.
This is doubly true when the topic is something as harmful and potentially life-threatening as bullying. It’s a not hard to see the problem when the audience for this parade of intolerance and denigration is our non-celebrity children who read and watch it online.
Pinkett-Smith has clearly met and exceeded her personal limit as a human (not a mom) for the mean-spirited way in which some online infotainment media attack young celebrities with the kind of ferocity that generates lots of page views by our kids and lots of snarky thinking too.
Therein lies the lesson in the actress’ posting. Our children may never become celebrities, but they are all exposed to the constant barrage of unfiltered, cyber nastygrams posted by some in the entertainment media. Their unchecked bullying of celebrities influences kids to bully the non-famous in much the same way.
When The Onion posted an Oscar night tweet aimed at Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, 9, using what I consider to be about the vilest slur on the female anatomy, their social networking skills jumped the mama shark and that’s a pretty dangerous stunt indeed.
The actress asks the same questions we, as parents, rhetorically ask schoolyard bullies: “Do we feel as though we can say and do what we please without demonstrating any responsibility?” In Pinkett-Smith’s anti-bullying manifesto she adds, “…simply because they are famous?”
“Why can't we congratulate them for the capacity to work through their challenges on a world stage and still deliver products that keep them on top?” Pinkett-Smith asked on Facebook. “We all know how hard it is to keep our head above water, even in the privacy of our own homes let alone on the world stage.”
The reason a bully can’t congratulate people who work through their challenges is because the challenges often come from the bullies themselves.
Let me pass what I once did when people were throwing stones at my autism spectrum child, both literally and figuratively. I picked up one of those rocks and took it home with us. Then I wrote a little thank you card and had my son give it back to one of the kids the next day in front of the boy’s parents who had watched the bullying and done nothing.
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The note we gave back with the stone read: “Thank you for being my rock, the one in my road. The one I had to dig deep to get past. The one who taught me to climb in order to get over you. The one who marked my body and my way. This is so neither one of us forgets.”
I think that some of the stone throwers need to be sent this note and perhaps a pebble as an office paperweight to remind them just what they mean to us. My guess is that some of them would get so many that perhaps they would pave a different, better path to take – one leading to higher ground.
According to an forensic Internet crime expert, parents should Google search their child’s name regularly in order to short-circuit "swatting" attacks such as the case of the 12-year-old Southern California boy who admitted to making a fake emergency call that sent police to Ashton Kutcher’s Hollywood home last year.
“Swatting,” is a new form of prank in which the caller disguises his or her phone caller ID and calls 911 to report a serious crime. In the Kutcher case, the boy called 911 and said there were individuals inside the actor’s home with guns and explosives, and that several people had been shot, a Los Angeles Police Department statement said. In the past, the same boy has called 911 to get out of school, and targeted Justin Bieber’s Calabasas, Calif., home and a bank, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s spokeswoman said.
Dozens of emergency personnel rushed to Mr. Kutcher’s home on Oct. 3, 2012, only to find workers inside and no emergency, police said. Kutcher, who was on the set of his TV sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” also rushed to his home.
Kids began “swatting” pranks – to make a call so serious that a S.W.A.T. team must be called in – as a modern-day extension of the old school prank calls asking, “Is your refrigerator running” or bomb scare calls, says Michael Loftin, senior Internet forensic analyst for the Norfolk Police Department in Virginia,
“Unfortunately, swatting calls are going to get somebody innocent killed,” Loftin says. “When you make a call with a claim serious enough to get a S.W.A.T. team called in, think about the consequences of that for a moment. Imagine being in your bed at night and a flash bomb coming through your window. You get up with maybe a flashlight or something in hand and the team comes in and they’re thinking you’re the threat because of the call. Maybe there are little kids in that house.”
However, parents can do something about this right now, he says.
“It’s as simple as Googling your child’s name to see where he or she has accounts that may be beyond your current knowledge such as YouTube, multiple social media accounts, and especially Google Voice,” Loftin advised me in a phone interview this morning. Google Voice is a publicly available free feature that allows you to set up multiple accounts and make calls that appear to come from different area codes than the one you live in.
“Parents need to go back and sit down with their kids and explain the consequences, but they also have to do some research of their own and know what accounts their children have,” Loftin said. “If they don’t understand how to do this kind or research then call me and I’ll walk them through it.”
I explained to the good detective that the Internet’s a big place and his phone would be ringing, but he wasn’t daunted by that. Although he was careful with his information, “People can contact you and you can put them through to me.” Oh good, now I’m Batmom.
Loftin has been a great resource to me personally as I recently coped with members of a hate group that was targeting me online in response to a blog I wrote for Modern Parenthood. Today, as Loftin headed to the office to file his retirement papers he took one more call to help us all understand how kids are inspired to commit these potentially deadly felonies and what we can do as parents to protect our kids and potential victims.
“I blame the show Crank Yankers for really giving rise to this entire resurgence of prank calling,” Loftin says. “Kids listen to that on the radio, and then other DJs started doing prank calls on the air. Kids think that since the DJ can get away with it on the air that it’s not a crime.”
Because parents of pre-teens and teens may feel the tug of social bonds shearing off on a daily basis, we can fall into the parent trap of trying to be our child’s buddy and not their parent.
“It’s good to be a friend to your child, but it’s also important to establish who’s in charge and to continue to keep those lines of communication open with them,” Loftin said. “Just taking away computer time won’t cut it anymore with smart phones, computer access at schools, libraries, and at friends’ homes.” Also, demanding a kid give you his password doesn’t do much when, as Loftin pointed out, “A kid like the one in the Kutcher case probably has multiple accounts and passwords so it’s nothing to throw one to you. He may have a dummy account where he posts perfectly acceptable comments. Google your child’s name and be amazed at the accounts they have you don’t know about.”
In many cases, those accounts may be perfectly innocent and clean, but the detective told me that in those cases a parent still needs to know where an underage child is online in order to protect the child’s information and the family.
Loftin told me, “I know this is not just parenthood 101 we’re talking about anymore. It’s a modern world and this is modern parenthood for sure.”
In late February, eager to escape winter’s gloom, my wife Judy and I took a quick trip to Florida. We were gone four nights. Albie, our rescue dog, stayed home with our younger son, Noah, and the 20-something daughter of friends, Katie. Left to his own devices, Noah, a high school senior, would likely have forgotten to go to school, eat, sleep, and otherwise do the minimum necessary things needed for human survival. About the third day it might have occurred to him that Albie hadn’t been outside in a while. Hence Katie.
We also engaged the services of Decadent Dog, a local dog walking service that, for reasons that will become clear, deserves 10 stars on a scale of one to five. Since Noah was going to be in school, and Katie at work, we needed someone to take Albie for a mid-day walk.
We loved our short visit to the warm, moist air of the Gulf of Mexico, but we spent a great deal of time pining for Albie. Honestly, I don’t know what’s become of me. A year ago the idea of having a dog was about as appealing as owning an iguana, and now I’m Jell-O when it comes to Albie. It didn’t help when we learned Albie was pining for us, too: He spent the first 24 hours on the window seat looking out the window for our return. I wish we could have explained to him how long we were going to be away and assure him that we were going to be coming back.
Each day, Bob or Sam, the two dog walkers, sent us reports by text plus photos to assure us Albie was OK. They also kvelled about Albie; they swear they’re not just flattering us when they say he’s one special dog that they, too, have fallen head over heels for. Each day, they reported, Albie seemed a little happier, a little peppier and a little less despondent about our absence. Noah, based on the single word responses we got to every text we sent him, seemed to think we were still home. This, of course, is part of why Albie has become such a big part of our lives: he needs us – much more than the kids do.
When we arrived home, it’s hard to know who was more excited to see the other, Albie or us. He hardly knew what to do with himself. His body quivered, he ran in circles, rolled on his back for a quick tummy rub, and started dropping various dog toys at our feet as if we needed to make up for lost time.
It gets you to wondering what dogs make of our absences; how, if at all, they measure the time when we’re away, and if the feeling of “missing” another is experienced as we experience it. So much of a relationship with a dog is deducing what’s going on in that head of theirs, or projecting our feelings onto their emotional palettes. But where I was once dubious about a dog’s ability to love as we understand it, I’m now a believer. And where I was once skeptical about how much a dog could mean to me, well … you know.
Those who have read advance copies of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” fuss over the author’s shifting-sand focus drifting from platitude to attitude and back again as a hodgepodge of feminist manifesto and how-to career guide. Before we, as moms, bury one of us for succeeding let’s see if there’s something relatable about this woman.
It seems to me that we love to make heroes out of women who succeed in traditionally male-dominated roles and then we absolutely glory in being catty about their success as we claw out the eyes that were on the prize.
True, Ms. Sandburg, 43, has gobs of money and degrees from the Ivy League. And while she and I may share a passion for posting inspirational phrases, mine are on fridge magnets, while hers are custom framed on designer walls. I am 47, work freelance in order to be home with my kids and my boots are more UGH!, than Ugg. Meanwhile, my favorite New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called Sandberg a "PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots." Owie.
So as a parenting blogger and a mom, I am about to become persona non-Prada with Ms. Dowd by taking a hike up a higher road to see how Sandburg looks from up there.
I found my lookout’s perch in the Washington Post’s “Lean In Cheat Sheet.” The Post tells us about Sandburg as a real person and mom: “She gained 70 pounds in her first pregnancy and had morning sickness the whole nine months. She got married at 24 and was divorced a year later. It took her a year to find a job in Silicon Valley. She’s been the subject of sexist comments, such as the client who wanted to set her up with his son. She’s cried at work (many times, apparently). And throughout her life and career, she confesses to having felt at times like an imposter. She admits, repeatedly, to worrying too much about being liked.”
Here’s a woman who has spent her life hacking down the barriers that may have barred some of us and the next generation of girls from wearing Prada or any other pair of shoes we might like to afford, putting herself farther out there for us. Here is the target we are shooting for, and we strapped a fellow mom to it and took our shots even as we read that her worst fear is being unliked?
For what it’s worth – and believe me it won’t buy you anything but peace of mind – I’d like to share with Sandburg, and any other woman who has fought her own fears, helped others to be inspired and been taken down by critics, the song “Did You” by my friends Deirdre Flint of Philly, that always helps me get back up. Deirdre’s a school teacher who started writing educational songs for her students and found that she had a gift for teaching us about how to be better to ourselves.
I’m going to post it on my Facebook wall right now with a shoutout to Sandburg.
Another work-a-day is done
A day a week a year is gone
And every breath you're further from
The one you meant to be
You can't recall the moment when
That Someday turned to Could Have Been
But a weak voice in you now and then
Asks what became of me.
A dream so loaded down with hope
It never would have flown
But would the fall hurt this much as this never having known
Did you stop believing just short of your miracle
Did you think a dream come true was the right of someone else
Did you wave the white flag when you knew you had a prayer left
And did you give more chances to a stranger than yourself
Like me? I did. Did you?
You're the first a friend calls when
They need a leap of faith again
You share the burden write the check
You weave the victory crown
Think how far you could have gone
If you'd had you to cheer you on
But the words you save when you're alone
Dig in and drag you down
From time to time you still replay
The moment drives you mad
You turned back moments from the top
And lost the chance you had (CHORUS)
No explanation for some things we do
But I sure would like to know
Why so many of us learn to fly from those
Who clipped their own wings long ago.
Like me. I did. Did you?