The hardest conversation

After wall to wall publicity, how do you explain sadomasochism to your child?
Miriam Grossman | Feb 5 2015 | comment  



Mom, who’s Mr. Grey? Dad, what do those handcuffs mean?

Parents, get ready for questions. As the release of Fifty Shades of Grey on February 13th nears, an aggressive marketing campaign is underway that romanticizes sexual violence. Don’t underestimate the impact of the hard sell on your kids. Even if they don’t see the film, they are absorbing its toxic message, and need your wisdom and guidance.

It’s difficult to overstate the dangers. Fifty Shades of Grey teaches your daughter that pain and humiliation are erotic, and your son, that girls want a guy who controls, intimidates, and threatens. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I consider it my professional responsibility to help parents deal with this difficult issue, so I’ve been blogging about the harm posed by the film.

But there’s a silver lining to this dark cloud that is Hollywood’s gift to us this Valentine’s Day. While the ideas promoted by Fifty Shades of Grey are vile, they present a precious opportunity: to explain truths your children must know, but won’t hear anywhere else. Every image of those handcuffs and each TV trailer holds that chance.

In this post, I provide guidance on how to speak to children – young adults, teens, and tweens if necessary – about the disturbed behaviors glamorized by what could become a blockbuster film.

First, some assurance. I guarantee you will have a significant influence on your child. What you believe matters. Your expectations matter. This is so regardless of any poor choices you may have made through the years. Even if your teen shrugs off everything you say with a roll of her eyes, I promise you, she hears every word.

To prepare, learn about the film’s plot and main characters, Christian and Anastasia – it will give you credibility. Read a synopsis such as the one on Wikipedia.  If you want more, there’s a long, detailed one at thebookspoiler (warning: obscene language).

Identify some opportunities for private and uninterrupted time.  Perhaps in the car, or while working together in the kitchen or garage. Listen, there’s something really important I want to talk about.  You need to turn your phone off for fifteen minutes while we chat.

Note: I’m sure you’ve already talked to your children about genuine love and intimacy. In the interest of time and space I don’t address that here.

Also, as I walk you through these talking points, keep in mind that you’ll be adjusting them based on your child’s maturity, and his exposure to our culture. Finally, this information applies to Moms as well as Dads, sons as well as daughters.

It’s your job as a parent to keep your child away from harm, and you take that job seriously. For example, you’ve talked with her about the danger of junk food and cigarettes, and about bullies.

Now you want to warn her about dangerous ideas.

Ask your daughter: Has she heard about the movie coming out called Fifty Shades of Grey? What has she heard?

You’ve learned about the film from people you trust, and are concerned about the impact it could have on her, even if she doesn’t see it. Of course, you disapprove of lots of movies, but you happen to know that this one is particularly awful, really over the top. So you must discuss it with her for a few minutes.

To begin, the movie is pornography. The destructive nature of porn to the mind and heart is well documented. (There’s enough information on this phenomenal site for several heart-to-heart conversations with your child.)

Fifty Shades of Grey is about a man, Christian Grey, who is very confused about love. In his mind, love is tangled up with bad feelings like fear and pain. Mr. Grey is not able to have a normal relationship; he can only enjoy a woman who lets him hurt her.

It sounds strange, you can tell her, because it is strange. You wish she didn’t have to know about all this, but sadly, she does.

He meets Ana, who’s young and immature. She falls head over heels for Christian, and allows him to treat her badly. By the end of the story, they are married and have a family. We are led to believe that with Ana’s love, he has changed.

Your daughter doesn’t need to know more details. She needs to trust you that it’s dark, horrible stuff. Part of growing up is recognizing what she doesn’t want to know, then turning and staying away from it.

This movie is dangerous because it might lead her to think:

  1. abuse is sometimes ok, even romantic
  2. with love and support, an abusive person will change

You want her to know that physical or emotional abuse are never ok, even if someone consents. There’s no room for confusion or doubt here. You want her to be one hundred per cent clear about this.

A relationship that includes violence is disturbed. The people involved have emotional problems. A psychologically healthy woman avoids pain. She seeks a relationship that is safe, supportive, and trusting; she wants to feel cared for and appreciated. If there is any hint of danger, she runs.

It’s a mistake for an intimate relationship to be a “project”, in which she hopes to save a man from himself. In general, people don’t change.

When Ana agreed to be abused, she made a terrible, self-destructive decision. Only in fiction would such a “romance” end happily. In the real world, Ana would pay for her poor choice of a partner.

You know your daughter is smart. But you also know that even the most brilliant mind can be manipulated. Ideas can be planted. Doubts can be planted. That’s what Hollywood does best!

You have these hot movie stars, music by Beyonce, and Hollywood megabucks, telling this story like it’s a fairy tale. It’s not. People like Christian Grey end up in jail. Girls like Anastasia end up battered or dead.

It goes without saying that she should not see this film. But you’re saying more than that – she should be able to recognize and flatly reject the dangerous ideas it promotes.

One last thing, parents, about the anxiety you may have about discussing this with your son or daughter. It could be a good thing. Your child will grasp that this is a big deal. More important, she’ll think, “My Mom is explaining all this even though it’s tough for her. Wow, she really loves me.”

There’s a lot more I could say, but I think this is getting too long.  I hope my suggestions here and in other parts of the Parent Survival Guide ( Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4) help you connect with your child and have some meaningful discussions. Please let me know how things go at your house; were you able use Fifty Shades of Grey to your advantage? I love to hear about adults protecting the young people in their lives.

Miriam Grossman is an American medical doctor with training in pediatrics and in the specialty of child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry. She is also the author of Unprotected and You're Teaching My Child What? This article has been reproduced with permission from her blog. 

Other posts on Fifty Shades of Grey by Miriam Grossman

Parent Survival Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey – Part I

Is this relationship healthy or sick? Part 2 

More danger to your daughter: Part 3 

The Danger to Your Son: Part 4




This article is published by Miriam Grossman and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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