'I might speak more graphically with my kids now': What parents are learning from the Kavanaugh allegations

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Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor
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Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo: Michael Reynolds/Pool Image via AP)
Christine Blasey Ford is sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo: Michael Reynolds/Pool Image via AP)

Among the millions of people watching the Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testimonies play out on Thursday were, of course, countless parents — many of whom say their approach to rearing their kids, whether teens or toddlers, was indelibly influenced by the courtroom drama and sordid tales of high school parties.

On social media, some moms and dads lamented having to tell their younger kids of the reality of date rape, sexual harassment, and assault — including writer and professor Fernanda Santos, who noted that she was watching the hearing with her 9-year-old daughter. “I told her that no boy — no one! — has a right to touch her body and that I’ll always, always believe her,” she tweeted.

Others have been responding with outrage to the comments of a Bozeman, Mont., mother of two girls, who stood beside her daughters the day before the hearing as she told MSNBC that guys “groping a woman” is “no big deal.” She added that even if the allegations against Kavanaugh turned out to be true, it “doesn’t take away from his character and his job to do what he needs to do as a Supreme Court nominee.” Tweets pointed out that her blasé attitude toward assault was “sad” and a “lost cause.”

It’s just one of the many ways that the Kavanaugh issue has been playing out in the world of parenting. And Thursday’s testimony from Ford provided, as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) noted during the hearing, “an amazing teaching moment.”

Adds Connecticut-based psychologist Barbara Greenberg, who has a focus of working with teens, “I think Dr. Ford is providing a wonderful teaching opportunity for parents. Most parents do not talk to their kids about what could happen at a party. They mainly just tell girls, ‘Don’t drink so much.’”

She tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “Teens don’t have templates of what could go wrong. I know I was just told, ‘Don’t do drugs,’ and it’s the same with the kids who come into my office — even those who have been raped at high school or college. They were just told, ‘Don’t drink too much.’ The message should be ‘Look for possible scenarios.’” Greenberg adds, “Parents think if they don’t talk about something, then it won’t happen,” although that’s not the case.

Yahoo Lifestyle had conversations with parents of children of all ages on Thursday and found that most had felt strongly influenced by the Kavanaugh accusations and hearing when it came to how they advised their sons and daughters.

“I literally had a conversation about consent with my 2-year-old the other day after daycare sent me a video of him kissing a little girl,” Lindsay Powers, a Brooklyn mother of two boys and author of the forthcoming book You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “At first, I was like, ‘That is so cute!’ And then I was like, ‘Let’s talk about consent.’ In conversations with my 4- and 2-year-olds, we talk a lot about how ‘that’s your body and you are in charge of who touches your body.’ My kids are obviously very young, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to start early.”

New York City father Howie Abrams tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “The Kavanaugh situation, similar to that of Bill Cosby, simply reminds me to educate my 10-year-old daughter that anyone, regardless of what office they hold, what job they have, what position they are in, or whom they are in relation to her, can commit a criminal or inappropriate act, and that there are people she can trust if she is ever victimized or put in such a position. In addition, she should always do her best to be available to anyone needing a safe and sympathetic ear who may need to share something with her.”

On Long Island, Kim, mom to three teenage boys, says, “[My son] left for college last month, and I told him that he should get a signed affidavit from any girl he wants to have sex with. I was only half kidding.” But she adds that observing the hearing as well as the many stories of the #MeToo movement has helped her understand that incidents she’d brushed off as a teen and young adult — being date-raped by a boyfriend and being inappropriately examined by a doctor — were actually major transgressions. “It was not until the #MeToo movement started that I really understood that I had been seriously violated,” she says.

Mara Kanter of Rockville, Md., mom of two boys, 11 and 15, and a girl, 13, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she and her husband have always stressed to their kids that “if they’re touched inappropriately or in a way that makes them uncomfortable, that they need to tell us, or someone.” But, she says, “I might speak more graphically with my kids now. We’d discuss what could or would be considered inappropriate. Kids say stupid things, and my daughter, in particular, might dismiss something that really isn’t OK. I would stress now, in light of the Kavanaugh hearing, what it means to say no. I would tell all three of them to speak up for themselves … and how to contact us if they are someplace where they feel uncomfortable.”

New York City’s Aly Palmer, mom to a 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, says that #MeToo and the issue of politics and sexual misconduct has been influencing how she parents for a while now. “As soon as ‘P***ygate’ began, the communication between both my daughter and younger son changed. They try and cover their ears and run as soon as I say, ‘Kids … you know what’s messed up?’ But I chase them down and tell them things my parents never discussed,” she says. “The last thing on earth they want is for me to talk about any of this. … Lately, I’ve been happy to tell them both, ‘Kids … you know what? Consent is sexy.’”

Another mom of a teenage girl laments that it’s often been a challenge to get that message to sink in, even though her daughter is a confident, feminist New Yorker. “We’ve talked a lot these past few weeks about Kavanaugh and the accusations and how being a ‘dumb teen’ isn’t an excuse for what he did,” Raven Snook tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I just hope if she’s ever in a situation like [those that have been alleged against the nominee], that she tells me ASAP. There have been multiple instances of what I consider sexual harassment in her school, but she doesn’t tell because ‘they’re just kidding.’ It’s so hard to get even my self-declared feminist daughter to speak up because she doesn’t want to be labeled humorless / a prude / a bitch.”

Greenberg stresses that it’s important to just keep having these conversations with your kids, especially teens, and suggests that parents also encourage their kids to listen to their own instincts. “Our children need to learn to trust their gut and intuition, because the body talks to you,” she says. “If you get the sense that something is wrong, it probably is.”

Finally, she stresses that parents should encourage their kids to stay with their friends when heading to parties and other potentially risky situations. “Because friends are supposed to look out for each other,” Greenberg says. “You can even talk directly to the friends. I used to tell my [now grown] daughter’s friends, ‘Look out for each other.’ So Dr. Ford provided us with wonderful teaching moments — about templates and scenarios, and about the importance of friend checks. I wish someone had come to look for her.”

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