My Dear Readers,
Sometimes we as parents become overwhelmed and conflicted regarding the actions of our children. Our children may engage in behaviors that seem obviously inappropriate to us as adults, but are clearly okay with members of their generation.
What can be even more confusing is that the behavior in question may also be clinically appropriate, given the level of emotional development, and yet may seem inappropriate, illegal or distasteful when viewed through the eyes of the observing parent, who may be influenced by religious and cultural mores, or who is of a different generation.
Below is such a story…..
Dear Visible Man,
I am an African-American woman with two children. My friends know that I am a strong believer in setting guidelines and boundaries for my children. I am proud to say that my daughter has completed her high school education and she is now attending college on the east coast, and my son, who is 14 years old still lives with me and is also doing well.
Recently, I received a telephone call from a childhood friend who was delighted in telling me about her shock and dismay upon reviewing my son’s Facebook page. I trust my son, so I do not review his page as I am confident that he will behave appropriately online.
My childhood friend then informed me of the videos my son had been sharing on his timeline with friends and peers. I was shocked to see live video recordings of women and men performing and engaging in acts of masturbation, oral sex and sexual intercourse.
My son will soon will be returning from his summer vacation visiting with relatives. To be honest, I’ve had visions of choking the daylights out of him. I plan on punishing him by barring him from Facebook, and taking his cell phone away for the next six months. I am so embarrassed.
I have spoken to his father about this. Although he was upset about the sharing of the videos with others, he was mild in his response to our son watching the videos. I am upset with my husband because we are not on the same page.
What can I do to teach him the error in what he has done? As a 14 year old, I do not believe that he is ready for such displays of sexual behaviors.
I am angry as hell. It is one thing to be exposed to this filth when he is an adult; it is unacceptable for him to see this at the age of being a child. What can I do?
Breathing Fire in Seattle, WA
Before you talk to your son, let’s work on your own anger. Processing this within yourself will extinguish the fire, and allow you to have a more productive conversation with your son. Ask yourself what do you want your son to listen to?
- The fire-breathing parent who is shouting and screaming madness, threatening to choke the living daylights out of him? Or…
- The parent who can be the advocate (A) in the parenting role, balanced (B) in mindfulness and show calmness (C) in her delivery?
With #1, your son may see an upset parent, but what he would be hearing is the volume and tonal quality of someone who has gone berserk. With #2, there is an improved chance or likelihood that your son would be listening to what you are saying. With #1 there is a higher chance of sound passing through one ear and going out the other, whereas with #2, there is a greater opportunity for him to actually receive the intended message.
The major question is this: do you want your son to hear and see your reactions or do you want to share with him your response? As I begin to answer your questions this is your opportunity to take in the Five R’s of RELIEF and in by doing to take a breath (respite), own your feelings (reactions), process thoughts and feelings (reflective), share your words (response) and review the incident and actions taken (reevaluation).
It is possible that your friend may have meant well by alerting you to your son’s actions. However, it is also possible that she may have a hidden agenda associated with a competitive relationship between the two of you, or her own issues with your successes as a parent. Either way, your son is the main focus here. Your friend has merely exposed herself as taking pleasure in your misfortune, and as not really being a friend to you.
Let’s look at your son’s actions. Although you may view him as being “your child,” it is now time for you to begin the process of accepting the fact that he is now 14 years old, and is moving into the stage of adolescence.
Ask yourself the following:
- Is it natural that a person of his age would have sexual feelings and explore them?
- As a parent, what should I expect from an adolescent moving through these developmental stages?
- How do I talk to him about his sexual feelings? How do I talk with him about the explicit sexual acts in those videos?
As your son is moving through this developmental stage, the question becomes whether it is appropriate for him to explore his sexual feelings. Regardless of the religious, family or cultural values that the parent may have, it is actually clinically appropriate that individuals of this age level, regardless of their gender, engage in the exploration of their sexual feelings.
As a result, you find yourself in the position of punishing your son for engaging in appropriate behavior (sexual exploration) in an inappropriate manner (sharing pornographic videos over the internet with friends.) But, before you do that, have the willingness to ask yourself the following:
- Am I punishing him for doing the right thing in the wrong manner?
- Was he really wrong? And if so, what exactly was the wrong that he did?
- What if he wasn’t wrong? What if this is really just my own value judgment on what happened?
Rather than focus on “punishment,” I recommend that you focus on “consequences” Punishment for a behavior that is actually normal, particularly at this developmental stage, may send a confusing message to your child. Focusing on communicating the consequences of sharing pornographic materials over the Internet, which is a violation of federal and state law, may be more effective in getting your point across to your child.
Regarding feeling embarrassed, being angry at your child and angry that your husband is not as angry as you are, have the willingness to ask yourself the following:
- I did not commit the behavior, so why am I embarrassed? How do my feelings of embarrassment impact my ability to discuss this important issue with my son?
- Am I allowing my anger to get in the way of sharing my concerns with my son?
- What is the real reason that I am angry with my husband? Is it because he is not as angry as I am or that he doesn’t share my embarrassment?
While you are reflecting, remember your son’s actions are about him, and not about you. When speaking to your son, your focus must be clearly upon him. Any attempt by you to address your feelings will only succeed in removing the focus from him and precluding him from understanding the dire consequences of his behavior.
I hope that this response is helping you to reevaluate how you want to handle this situation with your son. As you move forward, it remains your responsibility to be actively involved in your son’s Internet viewing and usage of social media as much as you are with other aspects of his life. Your son is 14 years old. He is curious, becoming aware of his own sexual thoughts and development. Even given your excellent parenting skills and safeguards, your son will be engaging in behavior that may feel socially inappropriate, but is absolutely appropriate for his level of emotional development.
As for consequences (not punishment), I recommend that you, your spouse and your son sit together and review the same video he was observing. Following the review, have the willingness to engage in dialogue that is meaningful and constructive.
This may be difficult for you. In fact, it most likely will be. However, it will be even more difficult for your son to sit with his parents and be questioned about his actions and behavior. Still, make sure that you focus on the key concerns:
- What are legal, professional, and other consequences that could occur from sharing pornographic information over the Internet?
- Understanding that his peers gossip, how will this impact his relationships in school?
- Affirm that his sexual feelings are appropriate and can be expressed privately with friends and not in public settings as the Internet.
- Explore your cultural, religious or family’s values regarding sexuality and sexual feelings.
Finally, consider the following:
- Maintain clear eye to eye contact
- Express your feelings with concern and love
- Listen to your tone and sound of your voice
- And remember this is really about him and not about you.
Yes, the encounter may be difficult, but it can also be rewarding, as long as the three of you allow yourselves to be:
- Vulnerable-the willingness to come and sit together during difficult times
- Exposed– the willingness to let the others know what truly lies within
- Trust-the willingness to walk together without judgment.
The Visible Man