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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 daughterHas 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 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 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.


For media and speaking inquiries, go to my speaking page.

 

22 comments

  1. Pingback: Parents: Talk to your children

  2. Pingback: Parent Survival Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey Part 4: The Danger to Your Son | Miriam Grossman, MD

  3. John Wigg - reply

    Saw the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy on sale at a garage sale the other day: When one man’s pleasure is found in the pain of others he ought to love and nurture, “pleasure for pleasure’s sake” is exposed for the abjectly bankrupt way of life it is.

    Another famous “Gray” in literature is Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in which Gray, the central character finds his personal portrait grows uglier and more sinister with each step he takes into hedonistic debauchery!

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  5. Rachel - reply

    While I agree that this particular book promotes abuse, your statements that psychologically healthy people do not seek pain. BDSM,as strange as it may seem, is a way through which many couples connect. What differentiates BDSM from abuse is very simple. Consent. Without consent, it’s abuse. With consent, however, it can bring people together. Trusting someone enough to give them control over you is a beautiful thing.(granted, it’s not for everyone).
    In addition, your comment that women can just leave abusive relationships is just false. I highly recommend you watch the Ted talk on why women don’t leave.
    Taking a very gray topic and making it black and white doesn’t do any one any good. There’s a middle ground that you are not acknowledging.

    • Paladin - reply

      Over the course of my life, from college on, I have known a few couples that I also knew to be into BDSM in some context or another. In every single case where I’ve been in their acquaintance for any length of time, I have also known the dominant in the relationship to be guilty of sexual assault against some third party – whether molesting girls at frat parties, forcing a kiss on someone who demurred (a person known to him to be a past rape victim, no less), or plying an ex with alcohol until her no became yes. It is fundamentally dehumanizing to inflict torture, whether that’s the intent at the outset or not.

  6. Ann Barton - reply

    Thank you thank you thank you..it is great information…and we need to learn how to debate it instead of just saying “you can’t see it because I said so”. Sometimes I feel very inadequate today talking to grand children…again thank you ..

  7. Brianna - reply

    I agree with the commenter above me. As somebody who is involved in a healthy and comfortable relationship with an active BDSM element, I am honestly revolted and offended by some of the remarks you make in these blog posts.

    Fifty Shades of Grey is about an abusive relationship. There is no denying that, and I have been quick to jump on any posts, articles or essays addressing it as such. That is how I found your posts, but they lost me almost immediately when I realized that you are not acknowledging the existence of BDSM.

    The problem with these novels lies not in the fact that he wants to inflict pain upon her, but in the fact that he uses manipulation tactics and mind games to coerce her into complying. He disregards her limits, he expects her to behave in a certain way, and he sets double standards in which he is allowed to do certain things she is not allowed to do – for example, he doesn’t want her to be in contact with one of her best friends because this friend is male, yet he is always allowed to have women around, including women with whom he has previously had sexual relations. This is abuse masquerading itself as BDSM.

    I would recommend that you read up on BDSM. Learn what it is. Understand the difference between BDSM and abuse. Understand why the BDSM community is rallying against Fifty Shades of Grey even though it is attempting to pass itself off as part of what we do – it isn’t.

    I am a woman in a happy and healthy relationship. I am with a man who loves me and respects me. I feel safe around him. I trust him. He does his best to make sure that I am happy and comfortable. We are open with our communication. When we have disagreements, we talk about them and settle them. We go out for nice dinners, we play video games, and we do silly couple things together. We are the picture perfect happy couple, but we also happen to enjoy sexual activities that you deem “unacceptable”.

    In your article addressing youth and listing off the unacceptable messages of this book, you made many remarks that I took quite personally. When you commented that psychologically healthy women dream about wedding gowns instead of handcuffs, I was quite offended – I certainly like to consider myself psychologically healthy, yet I dream happily about both.

    BDSM is a beautiful thing. Inflicting pain in the midst of pleasure heightens the sensations. BDSM requires incredible levels of honesty, communication, and trust. In a healthy and safe BDSM relationship, a couple can often feel much closer than those involved in a vanilla (non-kinky) relationship.

    Your articles make it appear as though you’ve never even heard the term “BDSM”, so where you see hitting, you automatically see it as abuse. You see a woman consenting to being abused because she’s naive and doesn’t understand. You are correct to see that, but you need to understand that not all women who consent to sexual violence are consenting to abuse. Many of us have a full understanding of what we are doing, what it entails, and what possible consequences there are. Those of us who do are involved not in abusive relationships, but healthy ones with BDSM elements.

    Your article part 4 regarding dangers to young males alludes to the situation with Jian Ghomeshi. This is a situation in which he attempted to claim that he was involved in BDSM to hide the fact that he was being abusive. These very situations are why psychiatrists such as yourself need to understand where the line is drawn and how to differentiate between the two. That same article also remarks that Mr. Grey bought Ana a car. Please remember that Mr. Grey SOLD Ana’s existing car and purchased her a new one that he approved of WITHOUT her knowledge or consent.

    That same article addresses women approaching men with sadomasochistic relationships in mind, and if women do this to men who are inexperienced with BDSM relationships, they don’t actually know what they are doing. BDSM is not something you can do on the first date. It takes time to build up the levels of trust and communication required. Unless the people meet within a BDSM community, such as at a munch or on a site like Fetlife, it is unlikely that it will come up in conversation on the first date, or the second date, or even the third date. It will probably take a LONG time before it comes up. You are right to say not to trust people who approach you asking about a relationship with a BDSM nature, but that is because those people simply don’t understand what they’re doing and that they need to first build up the trust, mutual respect, and communication required.

    I would advise you to educate yourself on BDSM. It will allow you to connect even more with clients and to truly understand where the line exists. It will allow you to understand what abuse really is. It will also allow you to understand how to differentiate between abuse and BDSM – many abusers try to claim that they are simply involved in BDSM to try to avoid getting in legal trouble for abusing their victims, and somebody with an understanding of BDSM will recognize when this is and isn’t true. Men involved in BDSM do not wish to cause harm – pain and harm are different things – to the women they sleep with. Men and women who engage in BDSM are as disgusted by domestic abuse as you are.

    Please, take the time to learn. Learn that it is possible to have healthy relationships that involve sexual violence – but we don’t call it that. Learn that it is morally wrong to group all of us together or condemn us for our actions because you believe them to be the actions of another group. Learn what BDSM is.

    I apologize that I seem to have written a book all in itself here in your comment section. This is a topic about which I feel strongly as a feminist, a woman, a submissive, and an advocate of the dangers presented by the Fifty Shades phenomenon. I could go on and on, but I will end this post here.

  8. alex - reply

    Rachel,

    what makes this “a very grey topic” in your view?

    For example, is there middle ground involved in telling youth to take drugs that damage the mind and body and have an enormous impact on all of society?

    This is being turned into an ideology, where just about anything can be justified under the guise of ‘consent’. If I give someone consent to physically punch me in the face, does this mean it is no longer an act of assault or a harmful thing?

  9. Cheri - reply

    As a mother of three teens, the youngest is the daughter, I find this information very helpful. I was never impressed when the book came out and it sounded as though even Christian women were romanticizing this pornography. After googling some about Fifty Shades I found that it was exactly as I had suspected and have stayed out of any discussion and wanted nothing further to do with it. Now it’s out and accessible to anyone in theaters. Your blogs from part 1-4 are very informative on how to approach these topics. As a mother of multiple children, I always say it’s been our blunt and open communication that has saved us from unwelcome influences over the years! It’s unfortunate that there will be so many mom’s who will not be able to have this discussion with their children’s as they will be in the lines to watch the movie. Thank you again for publicizing your information.

  10. Pingback: 50 Shades of Too Much Information? | Extreme Mom

  11. cal - reply

    Degradation is never love. It reduces a human person to an object to be used as another sees fit. Consent doesn’t change that fact.

  12. CRYSTAL - reply

    Alex,

    Of course this a very grey topic. Free and consenting adults can do whatever they feel like (sexually) and they should be told its “wrong” or “unhealthy”. You can’t tell people that what they like is wrong just because you don’t like it or agree with it. Everyone has their own sexual preferences.. These preferences should be respected and not shunned.

    You’re missing something, and that thing is context.
    The things you are missing are sexual pleasure and consenting adults.

    Yes, participating in a BDSM lifestyle does come with risk and can lead to serious physical harm. But what doesn’t?

    You choose to walk out on the street everyday, you run the risk of being stabbed by a random crazy hobo or run over by a drunk driver.
    You choose to eat food everyday and run the risk of choking to death.
    People skii and snowboard all the time and injury rates are pretty high. How come I don’t see anybody talking about how bad it is that such sports are being promoted in society? It is not “harmful” like you said? Do sports players not technically “consent” to be hurt during the activity?

  13. Pingback: A Parent’s Survival Guide To ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

  14. mat newton - reply

    BDSM is not just about male on female abuse. It is never about abuse. Abuse is abuse, BDSM is BDSM. It’s like saying that chocolate and cheese are the same thing and you shouldn’t eat chocloate because cheese is bad.
    Imagine if the roles were reversed. There are way more female doms than male ones. BDSM is about consent (real consent), trust and exploring your fantasies together in a safe, nurturing environment.
    Check out “Bob the Supermasochist” then maybe you can come back and write part six of your blog which you can call “I’m Sorry. I don’t know anything about the wonderful world of pleasure and empowerment”.
    Or maybe “Why letting your kids play Doctors and Nurses is a fast-track to murder” would be more appropriate.
    Also, I think your comments about the author’s motives: “the author was focused on one thing: making a lot of money.” are quite probably libellious. As far as I know “50 SOG” started out as a fan fiction blog and, due to pupular demand from readers, it developed into a book or 3. The general consensus is that the books are quite badly written, not surprising from a first time author; this does however weaken your argument that the author is intelligent enough to deliberately create such complex characters to malevolently ensnare young people just to make money.
    Having said all this I want nothing to do with this movie or the books; however, I do enjoy consensual role playing as much as the next pervert. I came here in an attempt to find out how to talk to my TEN YEAR OLD daughter about this as she has heard from older kids at school (Lord knows how!). Unfortunately there is very little on here that I feel will help me. I believe in explaining things clearly and simply but there are so many other concepts she needs to understand before we can even start to get onto this subject.

  15. Kate - reply

    Oh my, the total lack of the subject is rather boggling here.

    Degradation and objectification are pretty common sexual hot buttons. That you don’t like it does not change the fact that people have them and there is nothing wrong with them as long as everything done is safe, sane and consensual – a standard that was set up long ago by those same people that you condemn without knowledge. Did you even try to research this? I’m not seeing any evidence of it.

    A doctor that doesn’t do her research is not someone I would recommend for advice to anyone.

  16. Terri - reply

    came home from a night out and NY 13 year old daughter was watching 50 shades of Greg on the internet via a website called movie tube. I was devastated knowing the reality of her innocence was gone. She can’t understand why I am so upset, besides the idea of this movie the fact that she saw pornography at her age really is heartbreaking. How can I turn this around, she thinks I am living in the dark ages. When I told her I am trying to teach her morals and values, she says nobody has morals and values anymore.

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