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Guide to Family Conversations on Negative Media Messages
They heard it on the NBC Nightly News (February 6, 2012), a regular evening broadcast in the homes of many traditional families.
Mimi Alford, author of Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and its Aftermath, alleged that at age nineteen (1962) she had been seduced by the president of the United States and lost her virginity to him. To a father and mother listening to the headline, and watching their children focus on the story, the details are not as important as the conversation which needs to follow.
Family Dinner and Conversation
When scenarios in the news are contrary to the principled lifestyle maintained in the homes of responsible parents, the parents need to help the children decipher the contradiction. Stories featuring negative actions are good teaching opportunities to engage the children in discussion and decision making.
Using the Nightly News item mentioned above, we will explore the social and moral benefits of such a conversation between a father, a mother, a teenage son and a teenage daughter.
Questions may arise about the possibility of the daughter finding herself in a similar situation--alone away from home, being seduced by a man of authority, deceived by the notion that he actually cares about her. It would be time to review the values she has set in place to help her withstand the temptation.
Questions for the daughter:
- Why do you think the young woman, still a virgin at nineteen and obviously not promiscuous, gave in to the president?
- Do you think that the satisfaction of being a virgin for her own husband crossed her mind that night?
- How do you think you would react in a similar situation?
The aim is to help the young woman establish prepared responses, or at least consider the possibility of facing the situation. Having this face to face discussion is worth ten times more than a telephone conversation after she moves out. The memory of this conversation and the knowledge that her parents care will help influence her moral decisions in the future.
The son may listen more than talk in this conversation. Even if brothers hurt their sisters in sibling rivalry, they accept their roles to defend them from victimization by others. At first, he may be unwilling to share his thoughts since he may be thinking about hurting the offender, but he may disclose his anger when probed to voice his opinions.
Questions for the son:
- How would you react if the woman you marry reveals a secret like this after you are married?
- How do you presently avoid disrespect and abuse toward women?
- How would you deal with a woman trying to seduce you?
His answers may lead the discussion into the topics of deception, caution and self-control. The parents may gain an opportunity to tell some of their courtship stories, which may provide some laughter to lighten the mood. They may also use this time to tell their children how proud of they are of their intentions, and register their support to help them succeed.
How To Discuss A Media Event
The father might be asked to give his input on how young women can stand up to victimization from men who abuse the authority of their office. It could make a difference for the daughter to hear from her father, what he thinks is the best way to deal with such men.
Questions for the father:
- What do you think would have been an appropriate response to the president when he initiated the affair?
- Is there a way to gain a man’s respect after allowing him to use you?
- Why should a young woman feel or not feel that she hurts the man she rejects?
Having permission from her father to stand up to men of any age and position will give her the confidence to do it. Meanwhile the son watches his father's example of leadership in the home and male appreciation for women. The young man learns that he is responsible for respecting and protecting females.
Media Help For The Early Talk
Society forces women to measure their worth by their relationships, and the mother understands that for a young woman, the idea of a relationship with the president could be very compelling. She might be anxious to stress the importance of permanent self-worth over a transitory, secretive fling.
- What would you do if your daughter succumbed in a situation like this?
- Does this incident make you remember anything you forgot to teach her?
- What will it take to make you comfortable about your daughter leaving home to live on her own?
The mother’s expression of concern or confidence will again pull at the children’s heartstrings and strengthen their resolve to conduct their lives in obedience to the principles which their parents teach.
At the same time, the parents have the opportunity to bless the children with permission to exercise their judgement and develop their individuality. Family support, no matter what, is the whole idea.
This entire conversation may last fifteen minutes around the dinner table, or around the television. It takes time and commitment to build this kind of forum in which the parents become the primary mentors for their children. It can happen if they take advantage of the small windows of opportunity here and there to make communication a habit. There is no shortage of topics in the media. Carpe diem!
Ten Reminders For Parents
There is no one-size-fits-all rule for the family conversation. However, there are some basic principles that all parents do well to remember.
- Begin the habit of family conversations in the children’s preschool years.
- Don’t force conversations; look for appropriate moments.
- Be available when they want to start the conversation.
- Listen as much as speak.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Offer to do research if they ask a question you cannot answer.
- Follow-up whenever you promise.
- Build, not destroy, the children’s courage to deal with situations.
- Include touching, like a hug or pat on the back, to help you communicate love and concern.
- Teach the children that conversation with God, through prayer, is always available even when you are not.
© 2012 Dora Weithers