Asking for and giving respect to our kids was easy for my wife and me. The problem was the world around us that never stopped selling disrespect. We had to come up with a plan.
Being a stay at home father, I was around. I met my son, Drew, at the school bus stop one day when he was 8 years old. He told me some older boy said something about wanting to put his penis in the wrong place. Drew asked me what the boy meant. I frowned and drove on, saying it was something disrespectful aimed at the girl. I would sit my son down to continue the discussion when we got home.
I phoned my wife, Judith, and fortunately, she agreed. Our son needed some fundamental information.
So, I explained, very basically, how babies are made. He was young, but what I learned from some older boys when I was his age had to be unlearned later, especially psychologically. As a father, I was going to be proactive. The problem, of course, was my son didn’t seem to be listening. He wanted to go outside and run around.
I kept it simple: “It’s about respect. Do you want people to treat you with respect?”
“The boy was being disrespectful to that girl, even if she didn’t hear him. Just treat everyone with respect.”
He nodded again.
I had repeated the word “disrespect” enough, for now. I concluded. “We can talk about this some other time.”
Ten years later, his younger sister, Abby, saw something on the Internet that prompted my lecture on respect. She was at a friend’s home where they saw some sex online that seemed to be nonconsensual porn. Abby was only eleven.
As a family, we had moved from school bus issues to the World Wide Tangled Web machine. It was the machine that exposed both kids and their parents to endless pictures, videos, and songs that were far from respectful toward women, men, and the rest of nature. The more disrespect, the more money for everyone.
My wife and I could lead by example but, once again, we decided to be proactive.
Any chance we could, Judith and I began to describe to our kids, the lack of art in the past. Being two parents who studied art history and who loved art museums, we had some leverage. Our point was to stand back as a family and be witness to the deluge of audio-visual stimulation—good, bad, or boring—around us. “It’s fairly recent” was part of our theme.
We took our kids to history museums, like Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, and pointed out in the recreations of the homes how few pictures there were back then. The only music people heard was in church on Sunday, the rare concert, or their own strumming and humming.
We talked about the mid-nineteenth century not only introducing the world to mass consumerism, but to mass images through photography. As a family, we discussed the fact that the deluge started then, that men took endless pictures of young women as objects of youthful beauty.
A certain number of pictures can be great. Paintings in the past were often wonderful. But by the late nineteenth century, larger and larger media industries were forming. The consumer age that grew and grew festered more and more around the exploitation of the two-dimensional female sexual image and the tough, intractable male; smoking cigarettes or driving big cars, on and on and on and on; everywhere you looked.
The volume of the medium was the message. Careful introspection was for losers. Mixed into ads, news entertainment needed to yell to be noticed. It did all begin a long time ago. Benjamin Franklin’s Almanac was about entertaining as much as informing consumers. It’s just the volume that’s changed.
We were the parents who announced rules. There were time limits on computers and phones. A few of our adult friends did the same thing with their kids.
We can all endure aberration. But isn’t the deluge of, “art” anathema to a civilized society? The chorus of rancor, righteous or not, does seem to mean we are all in trouble and it’s seldom right to shoot the messenger. But what if the messenger is porn, or Fox News?
What if it’s everywhere you turn and you’re trying to raise kids? We tried to calmly tell our kids that porn is the neurotic, mechanical disrespect of men and women. We even discussed why it was omnipresent, why it’s the scale of it that makes it so obviously demeaning to women. We discussed how it’s so disrespectful of men. Has it turned men into self-indulgent, drooling slobs for whatever the media sells? We’d better hope not.
We discussed the shrill, 24/7 news entertainment industry, too.
Both our kids have grown into respectful, fully functioning adults who can handle the deluge themselves. My wife and I just wanted them to see the giant machine in the room.
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