Rihanna and Chris

My recent discovery of Spotify has me wading back into the world of pop music for the first time since Salt-N-Pepa were on MTV (does MTV still exist?) With the recent sparks flying around Chris Brown and Rihanna’s latest collaborations, I thought I would take a listen to their music. I discovered that I’m not a fan, but you certainly can’t miss the passion in their songs. And yet it’s alarming that this passion sounds a lot like violence. Blogger Yolo Akili is right on when he says “Pop songs about love sound more and more like war every day. And that should be frightening to us all.” Pop music has often been criticized for its portrayal of women and relationships, and most of the time for good reason—but that’s another post entirely.

Today I’m talking about Rihanna and Chris Brown. Maybe it’s just industry smoke and mirrors, or maybe there is still passion and even affection between these two. Either way, I was struck by the lack of compassion for Rihanna as the public opinion swirled around their new collaborations. Here’s a newsflash: people who have been abused often have contact with their abusers after they leave. Sometimes it’s about kids, but often it’s about reconnecting, giving a second chance, knowing the good in a person and hoping for a better outcome.

I’m not in any way minimizing what Chris Brown did. That was despicable. But Rihanna reconnecting with him, whether personally or professionally, does not equal her accepting or condoning the abuse. I’ve heard the outcry that she’s a role model for young women… what is she thinking? What are we thinking that we are holding her responsible for exemplifying the kind of relationship we want for our kids? Why aren’t we saying that it’s Chris Brown’s responsibility as a role model to not use violence to control his partner?

Although I am alarmed by a lot of what is being said, I’m glad people are talking about it. Let’s keep the conversation going. Reese Witherspoon is talking to her kids about it. Talk with the young people in your life and ask them what they think. Did you know a recent study found that most teens said they knew what a healthy relationship looked like, but didn’t expect to be in one? Come on, we can do better than that!

Are my daughters safe online?

As a parent of teenage daughters, I worry that being on the internet itself, and especially Facebook, is leading them to make unwise decisions. Like other parents I know, I said “If you want Facebook, I need the password.” But I often wonder―am I understanding what I read? Do I know what is really going on? And when do I talk to them about what I see? I know my daughters crave their privacy even on Facebook, and don’t want any reminders that I am hovering. I want them to have safe, respectful and positive relationships―everywhere they go―is that too much to ask for?

Dr. Danah Boyd studies how youth use social media. I found her recent article “Cracking Teenagers Online Codes” to be both troubling and reassuring. Using social media in and of itself does not put kids at risk — “Teenagers at risk offline are the same ones who are at risk online.” There is a strong fear of sexual predators online, but the reality is that most sexual abuse involves someone our children know, trust, or love. Issues of bullying, homophobia, teen dating violence, suicide, and substance abuse are around, and we need to talk to our children when we see it on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else.

Here is what I found to be most reassuring in the article: “Teenagers absolutely care about privacy . . . like adults, they share things to feel loved, connected and supported . . . teenagers are the same as they always were.” They are using the internet to check out new ideas, see what other kids are thinking about, find someone to relate to. They are trying to relieve the alien teenager feeling. Okay, so even if my daughters’ online lives sometimes feel like a barrier to our connection, I just have to be brave and ask about what concerns me―and keep asking. If I listen with a lot of patience and silence, maybe one or two questions or concerns will slip out, and I will be there ready with love.

Year in review

First post of the year (again) and I thought I’d take a moment to reflect. Last January, I wished for some simple messages to accompany our collective efforts to end domestic violence, and lo and behold, I got what I asked for! It turns out that “Domestic Violence is preventable!”

It sure is.

While there are lots of explanations for the pandemic of violence against women and girls, there aren’t any acceptable justifications. It happens, but it doesn’t have to.

We actually can stop this violence before it starts―by promoting healthy relationships, shifting culture, building skills, and addressing root causes of violence.

So as a new year begins, I’m excited to reflect on the paths that we laid this past year―paths that will bring all of us closer to a world where boys and girls know that they are loved and know how to love, gender doesn’t define how we treat each other, and everyone experiences healthy, loving, and safe relationships. We made great progress in 2011: highlighting new ways to talk about prevention, learning about teen relationships, talking with our own kids, sharing messages about respect, joining national ventures, and making plans to end violence against women and girls.

We (yes, that includes YOU) are now in a position to make incredible leaps forward. Onward to 2012, huzzah!

Summer camp

Imagine yourself as a teenager. Now imagine spending three days with your mom at a conference on teen dating violence and healthy relationships.

Yeah…we just did that.

Here’s the set-up: so you know how we haven’t figured out how to end domestic violence? Well, a lot of us are hoping the younger generation will get this whole abuse mess straightened out. The theory is that helping young people develop skills for healthy relationships and healthy sexuality will go a long way towards ending violence.

Only one problem: what do we actually do or say to help teens develop those skills? Lots of folks have been trying lots of things, but the truth is we haven’t figured it all out yet. We sometimes (er, often) don’t even know what to say to our own teens. 

So, we pulled some domestic violence advocates and their kids together for a little summer camp.

Three days later, what can I say? I was part of an incredible experiment. We laughed, we cried, we gave free hugs. My heart is still warmed.

What stood out for me:

  • These moms love their kids. I mean, really love them. And these moms have experienced and seen so much suffering, so much abuse, that all they want to do is create a big bubble to keep their kids safe from harm forever and ever. And…they recognize that they can’t do that. They have fancy theories about violence against women and how pop culture can be a bad influence, and they’re trying hard to talk about all this in a way that’ll actually help their kids.
  • Teens, on the other hand, get it (for the most part). They understand the difference between abusive, oppressive behavior in video games and TV shows vs. how humans are supposed to treat one another. And they don’t want to act like jerks. But they do want to have fun, and they don’t want to spend all day talking about violence. A little conversation about these topics goes a long way with teens.

Now I’m back in my office with the happy realization that teens are already on board for doing violence prevention work―and the even better news is that they’re hipper, more creative, and more tech savvy than we are. They will take the baton and run with it. It’s up to us to pass it to them, even if we feel worried about letting go.