On Monday, you couldn’t turn on the news or go online without coming face-to-face with the horrific video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée while they were in an elevator. And while another video had previously surfaced showing him dragging her unconscious out of the elevator, this was an added information bite that led to an indefinite suspension for the player. It seemed like everyone, including President Obama, weighed in on the incident. It was a heinous act, one that deserved the resulting consequences.
I tried to avoid seeing the video, myself. After all, seeing a man knock out a woman is not anything I want to watch. But, it just wasn’t possible. Media inevitably stokes this type of news for ratings. On Facebook, Twitter, my Yahoo homepage, and every TV channel I flipped through, the video was front and center. I ended up seeing the whole thing in bits and pieces by the end of the day. It was almost inevitable. And it got me thinking: if I eventually viewed the video even though I was actively trying not to, how many kids were exposed to this? More than anyone would want, I’m guessing. One unfortunate by-product of the video’s media saturation is the impact watching this violent act has and will have on our children. Its impact may not be readily apparent until you go on Twitter and other social media sites. While the majority of adults were appalled by the video (and the posting to effect), there were teen boys tweeting things like “going #RayRice on her” and “pull a #RayRice on her.”
The truth is, sports stars are held in high esteem, near blindly idolized for their talents. Kids don’t just look up to them, they want to be them. As Dr. Kate explains in her blog, Justin Bieber’s Wild Ride: How to Talk to Your Child about Celebrity Heroes Behaving Badly, it’s important to talk to our kids when their idols fall. It may even be more important in this situation because it involves domestic violence.
As upsetting and distressing as this situation is, it can be a chance to talk with our kids about things we might not normally discuss, such as why it’s not OK to use physical violence as a way to deal with issues and what other coping skills can be utilized to deal with anger and frustration. You will want to be mindful of your child’s developmental age and take care not go into lecture mode. You also want to be careful not to criticize the person and keep the focus on the behavior. This is especially true with teens. Because of their developmental stage, they are hardwired to defend people they hold in esteem, like friends and people they consider role models. Keeping the focus on the behavior will help avoid this pitfall.
You might start out by asking if your child has seen the video and what their thoughts are around it. This can be a springboard for a deeper discussion around what exactly abuse and domestic violence is. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has guidelines you can use for explaining what domestic violence and abuse is on their website, www.TheHotline.org. It can also be a good time to review with your kids the red flags indicating that they might be in an abusive relationship. After all, most abusive relationships do not start out that way. Helping them to learn the warning signs is another way of giving them the tools for developing healthy relationships. While most people would have this talk with daughters, it is beneficial for sons as well.
I’m not trying to get up on a soapbox. I think we can all agree that domestic violence is an awful, terrible thing for anyone to have to experience or witness. I really wish the world was such that these types of conversations weren’t necessary. But that’s not the world we live in. As parents, we need to help our children develop the skills to be successful adults. We need to be aware of the impact these types of events have on our kids and be willing to talk about them. And even if the conversations are uncomfortable or feel awkward, we still have to have them.
Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.