Thursday, September 27, 2012

Porn & Parenting

Flickr photo by Mely-O
What would you do if you discovered porn on your 13-year-old son's computer?

This dad left his son a compassionate, non-judgmental note. As reported by The Good Men Project (a great site, BTW), the dad wrote his son a note, explaining that the son's visits to pornographic sites were probably what caused malware to mess up his computer. The note explained that porn sites are notorious for malware -- and directed the son toward some more reliable, not-malware-infested porn sites.

Now, that sounds pretty provocative. A dad, pointing his kid to porn? Essentially saying, "Here you go!"?

I think the Dad handled the situation perfectly, though, and here's why: In his next paragraph, he reassures his son. The Dad writes, "I'm not gonna make a big deal out of this. In fact, I'm not gonna make any size deal of this..You have nothing to be embarrassed about." He doesn't shame his son; he says, "hey, I understand."

And he very, very gently expresses concern for his son -- not by telling him that porn will warp his brain, but by saying, "I would like to not be back here so much though. You literally spend all of your time back here. I'd like to see you more often. I like doing stuff with you and miss it." (I"m going to assume that "back here" is the kid's room.)

Why I Think Dad Was Right On

Those messages exude love. The Dad doesn't tell his son that he, the son, is evil or bad or warped or perverted for looking at porn. And he says he wants to spend time with his son!

Some commenters have taken the Dad to task for not talking enough about porn and why/how it can influence and perhaps even damage burgeoning sexuality. I'm not troubled by that, though. As I understand the situation, the son came to the Dad with a problem: a messed up computer. He asked for help with the computer. And that's what his Dad gave him.

When our kids are younger, experts advise us to answer their sex questions as directly and simply as possible. "Where do babies come from?" does not always require a full scientific explanation. Sometimes, kids just want to know that babies come from Mom and Dad, instead of from the stork or cabbage patch or wherever else kids may have heard babies come from. We're advised to figure out what the kid is really asking and to answer that question without a lot of extra info, which may be more than the kid can absorb at that time anyway.

This kid needed and wanted help with his computer. He didn't ask for help, advice or lecturing re porn. Odds are, the son was mortified to discover 1) that his computer problems were porn-related and 2) that his Dad knew exactly what sites he'd been visiting to view porn. The Dad realized all of that. So he focused his response around the kid's expressed problem -- the wonky computer. He fixed that problem, and told his son how to avoid it in the future. Then, he expressed love, understanding and compassion.

Don't you think that son is now more likely to come to his Dad with problems (of all kinds) in the future? I do.

If the Dad had huffed and puffed, and said or implied that the kid's actions were disgusting or immoral or wrong, or, worse yet, issued some kind of punishment or ultimatum, don't you think the kid would be more prone to simply hide his actions in the future? Less likely to approach his Dad with problems and concerns?

Porn vs. Reality

Some commenters expressed seious concern that the Dad didn't spend more time talking to his son about pornography. Porn, as they rightly point out, has very little to do with real-world sex. But does Dad really need to talk about that with his son? At some point, perhaps. But now? At this particular moment? I think not.

I think that our kids learn far more from us than they will ever learn from the computer, TV, video games and other electronic screens. So while it's true that porn often objectifies women and presents a warped version of sexual relationships, I don't think that talking to our kids about the objectification of women is enough to solve the problem. I think we need to show them healthy relationships instead.

That doesn't mean you need to invite your son into your bedroom. It means that how you treat your spouse is important. It means that a son who sees his father treating his mother with respect will know that women are not objects. It means that sons and daughters who see their mothers and father in respectful relationships will know, intuitively and from their emotional core, that respect is the core of a healthy relationship. They may still watch porn, at least sometimes, but they will know that what they see doesn't represent reality.

An update to the original article said that Dad did have a brief, 5 minute conversation with his son after the son received the note, and that the Dad talked (briefly) about the differences between porn and real life. In my opinion, that's enough for now.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Making Connections, Gangnam Style

A deep interest in anything can lead to anything.

That's the philosophy that drove my homeschooling efforts and style, and the philosophy that underlies much of my parenting. It's also the reason I'm writing about Gangnam Style again.

As probably know by now, Psy's song is poised for world domination. The Korean rapper has been on Ellen. And The Today Show. And just about everywhere else. What you may not know is that Gangnam is actually an affluent section of Seoul, and that the song, Gangnam Style, is a commentary of sorts about that region.

Today, the Kansas City Star published an intriguing article that digs a bit deeper into the song and the music video's imagery. Turns out, the catchy song is actually a pretty clever piece of social commentary.

That's how learning works in the real world. You start with one thing -- a popular song -- for instance, and end up learning about geography and history and music and media and globalization.

Want to dig deeper? Here are some ideas for a Gangnam Style unit study:

Social Studies: Locate North and South Korea on a map. Look up and discuss the differences in government and standard of living between North and South Korea. Study the Korean War. What were the two countries fighting about? How and why did the US become involved?

Phy Ed/Arts: Learn the Gangnam Style dance. Develop your own trademark dance move.

Language Arts: Write your own Gangnam Style song: Pick as aspect of social or popular culture, and write song lyrics about it. Write a paper comparing and contrasting Gangnam with an affluent US city. Identify and discuss other songs/poems/stories that include social commentary.

Math: Compare the cost of living in Gangnam to the cost of living where you live. Compare and contrast average salaries and the cost of living in different areas of the country, or different countries.

Business: Discuss: Why is Psy so popular in the US? How can he capitalize on the popularity of Gangnam Style? Also discuss the firing of the California lifeguards who made a parody video.

Care to add to my list? What has Gangnam Style taught you or your boys?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gangnam Style, Lifeguards & Work Ethics

I never heard of Gangnam style until about 5 minutes ago. But when the word appeared 3 times in a quick scan of Google news -- something about lifeguards, something about Britney Spears and Ellen -- I had to check it out.

Quick update, for the uninformed and un-hip, like me. Gangnam Style is a song, video and dance by Korean rapper Psy. Britney Spears, former teen pop queen and current X Factor judge, tweeted something about wanting to learn the dance, and talk show host and dance fanatic Ellen DeGeneres was all too happy to make it happen.

What does that have to do with lifeguards, work ethics, and Blogging 'Bout Boys?

Well, this: In California, a bunch of lifeguards decided to make a parody Gangnam Style video. They wore their work uniforms and recorded the video at work (but after work hours). Then they uploaded it to YouTube. And Facebook. Then, they got fired.

Apparently, the Internet and the entire world are blowing up over this supposed injustice. But I happen to think that 1) the terminations were justified, at least from what I'm reading and 2) this incident is a perfect opportunity to discuss appropriate work ethics with our sons.

I get it: Gangnam style is all the rage, parody videos are all over the place, and the lifeguards wanted to be part of the action. But what part of not-OK-for-work do they not understand?

Using your place of employment as a prop is not generally OK, unless you've obtained specific permission, and the sooner these kids (and ours) learn that, the better.

Our kids may be growing up in a culture that frequently blurs the line between personal and professional behavior, between private and public. But that doesn't mean anything goes. That means that we, as parents, need to double-down and give our kids some honest talk about what's acceptable and what's not.

Let's face it: our kids are growing up in a culture that bestows popularity on the basis of clicks. Like him or hate him, our kids all know about Justin Bieber, and they almost all secretly harbor the hope of someday starring in their very own viral video.

But...the real world still exists too, and our kids need to understand that employee handbooks still apply in the Age of the Internet. What gets me most about the story is that the lifeguards seem incredulous at what has happened as a result of their video. A Yahoo news story says that, "...most of all, they...are baffled over why they would be fired for doing something fun that they believed would bring positive attention to the aquatic center."

They, apparently, don't understand that concept of "at-will employment," which means that one can be fired at almost anytime for almost anything. They further don't understand why their employer would be unhappy to see that they were using city facilities in an unauthorized manner, after hours, in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with their employment.

So I guess we, parents of today's Digital Natives, need to be explicit about workplace ethics. This is what I hope to teach my children:

  1. Maintain professional standards and behavior at work. When at work, in uniform, or even just talking about your job after hours, always remember that you are a reflection of your company or employer. 
  2. Follow the rules. If the Employee Handbook states that uniforms may only be worn at work, while working, only wear the uniform at work, while working. If you have questions or concerns about rules of conduct at work, ask your boss or someone in Human Resources.
  3. If you think you have a great and fantastic idea for promoting your company, doing business, etc., discuss it with your boss FIRST. The lifeguards are right: an edgy and creative video may have increased business and/or brought positive attention to the aquatic center. But there's a right way and wrong way to do things. If you're not the boss, it's not your call. Take your good ideas up the chain of command, or go work for yourself.
  4. Assume that anything you put online will be seen by everyone. Think HARD before putting anything online! You can restrict your Facebook settings all you want, but once a picture or video goes online, it's very, very hard to control. Assume that your grandparents, your girlfriend, your future kids and all potential future employers will see everything you've ever posted online. If it's nothing you'd want your kids (or future boss) to see, keep it offline.
  5. Popularity and clicks don't really matter. As a professional writer, I understand the importance of cultivating and maintaining a digital presence. I'm told, at every single professional conference I attend, that unless I have followers and an audience, I may as well kiss my dream of publishing a book good-bye. But, while an audience is important, so is treating people nicely, and proving that you're easy to work with. Really, bosses (and editors) want employees (and writers) who play well with others. In the end, the number of views your video or website gets is not nearly an important as how you treat others. Treating people with respect and consideration, completing work on time and working together to achieve goals will earn you far more personal and professional respect than a silly video. Even in 2012.
What are you teaching your kids about work ethics in the 21st century? Do you think the city was right to fire the lifeguards, or do you think the terminations were extreme?