The following article is reprinted with permission from Miriam Grossman, MD. It was originally published on her website miriamgrossmanmd.com.
As a child and adolescent psychiatrist I’m in a unique position. Young people walk in my office, sit down, and open their hearts. Soon their secrets spill out: I was drugged and raped. I’m sleeping with my best friend’s fiancee. My girlfriend had an abortion. I want to die.
I’ve spent the past thirty years of my professional life listening to these, and many other tales, so I have some expertise about the lives of teens and young adults. Their number one problem? Romance.
There’s a lot for them to figure out, but they’re utterly lost. What do I want, and how do I get it? How do I deal with peer pressure and navigate the hook-up culture? Are there consequences to sex, or is it just about fun? What’s normal? What’s not?
Please know, these are kids who by and large do well in other areas. They’re successful at school and with friends; some of them are accomplished musicians and athletes. But romance? That’s where they’re thrown off-track, and there are lots of tears, anger, and regret.
I often wonder to myself, I know this kid has responsible, loving parents…where are they?
Moms and dads, guardians and grandparents, I urge you: no matter how awkward it is, you must speak to your children about intimacy – what it is, and what it is not. I’m talking not only about teens, but also tweens who are mature, or who hang out with teens.
The perfect opportunity is here. Hollywood’s gift to us this Valentine’s Day is Fifty Shades of Grey. With Universal Picture’s mega million dollar publicity campaign, and a soundtrack by Beyonce, your child is about to be bombarded with a dangerous message about romance.
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. In short, the film portrays emotional and physical abuse as sexually arousing to both parties.
You know these are foul lies, but your kids may not be sure. If the world was a better place, they would never hear such awful things. But this is the world we live in.
The good news is you can turn this to your advantage. Don’t dread all the hype, because it’s a chance to connect with and help your child in a big way. Every billboard, preview, and sound clip is a precious opportunity, a chance to warn your child about being manipulated. It’s a springboard for discussion about disturbed relationships – how to recognize and avoid them.
In the coming blog posts, I’m going to tell you how to make lemonade from lemons. I’ll explain the dangers this film poses to your sons and daughters, and provide tips on how to speak with them. A letter from me to your child, that you can use as you wish, will also be available. You’ll see, your family will not only survive the hysteria around this film, it will thrive!
To begin, two suggestions:
1. Learn about the film’s plot and main characters, Christian and Anastasia – this will give you credibility. Do this by reading a synopsis such as the one on Wikipedia. If you want more than that, there’s a long, detailed one at thebookspoiler ( warning: obscene language ).
2. Identify some opportunities for private and uninterrupted time with your child. Perhaps in the car, or while working together in the kitchen or garage. If you don’t think it’s going to happen, consider a bribe: There’s something really important I want to talk about. If you turn your phone off for fifteen minutes while we chat, I’ll give you five bucks. There’s nothing wrong with this.
My goal is this: by Valentine’s Day, you’re going to say: thank you, Universal Pictures. I used to procrastinate about talking with my child about this difficult subject. But Fifty Shades is so extreme, so over the top, that I had to step up to the plate. And I’m so pleased I did…because we had one of the most important conversations of our lives.
Miriam Grossman, MD is a 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?