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What Messages Are Your Kids Getting From Chris Brown and Rihanna?
Nothing says breakfast like discussing domestic violence with your 15-year-old son. But as the news of Chris Brown and Rihanna's reunion filtered in, I felt I had to inject my values into the conversation. Just because she forgave her boyfriend for his alleged beating of her doesn't mean it's OK, I told my cereal-munching child. He grunted, but I know he was listening. And he should be. He's starting his social life as a young adult, and he must understand that domestic violence is never OK. Ever. Under any conditions.
By now, your kids know that 19-year-old R&B fave Chris Brown has been charged with beating up his girlfriend, 21-year-old singer Rihanna, and leaving her bloodied and bitten by the side of the road. And your kids probably also know that Rihanna didn't press charges. But that didn't stop the Los Angeles District Attorney's office from charging Brown with felony counts of assault and making criminal threats.
1 in 3 Teens Is Abused in a Relationship
When Rihanna reunited with Brown and announced that they were recording a duet, well, that sent a big message about what's acceptable. The consequences seem few; yes, Brown faces felony charges, but he was still a Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards nominee until he removed his name from consideration on March 11. Our kids live in a celebrity role model and reality-TV world where outrageous behavior is rewarded with air time and even more fame. In this world, they routinely see girls getting criticized, put down, and treated as sexual objects -- and being rewarded for "taking it." This affects our kids' sense of what's culturally acceptable. The horrible truth is that 1 in 3 teens is abused verbally or physically in a relationship. This isn't acceptable, and parents must step in and say so.
Talk to Your Kids
- Help your kids understand what abuse is. Even if your teens aren't dating, help them understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Don't be afraid to use examples from real life or favorite TV shows. Help them understand the signs of abuse: serial manipulation that results in fights, tears and capitulation, verbal assaults with continual criticisms and put downs, and physical attacks. Tell them that abuse victims often feel like it's their fault or fear that they'll lose the ones they love if they report abuse. That's part of the cycle.
- Just because Rihanna and Chris are stars doesn't mean abuse is OK. The media acts as a super peer for kids, normalizing behavior that we often find unacceptable. There are very few absolutes in life. Tell your kids that this is one -- they should never sit still for being brutally put down by someone they're involved with. And if anyone lays a hand on them, tell them to get out -- fast.
- If you suspect abuse, let your kids know you won't judge them, you simply want them to be safe. Kids won't open up if they think you'll take away their "love object." Look at Rihanna. She turned her back on her family, friends -- even Oprah. The brutal fact is that abusers don't stop being abusers. It's a sickness. Finally, don't judge your kids -- the worst thing you can do is make them feel like it's their fault they're being hurt.
- Finally, if your teen admits to being abused or if he or she has a friend in that position, get help. Don't make ultimatums and try to force a break-up. Not only will it not work because your teen will probably be in denial, but forcing a separation may boomerang and send your teen back to the abuser. Even if your teen resists talking, keep at it, stressing that your concerns are for their safety.