January 5, 2015

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.

Part 2 – The Dangers of Fifty Shades of Grey to Your Daughter

Part 3 – MORE Dangers of Fifty Shades of Grey to Your Daughter

Part 4 – The Danger of Fifty Shades of Grey to your Son

Part 5 – How to Speak With Your Child About Sadomasochism

I love getting out there and speaking publicly about this and many other issues.  For information, see my speaking page.



  1. Kathy P - reply

    thank you…I will share this on my facebook page and look forward to the rest of the blogs.

  2. Liu Chu Ying - reply

    I love that.

  3. ingrid - reply

    I have tried to get the arguments against Fifty Shades of Grey sorted so that I could go to charity shops and local bookshops and to give them clear reasons why they should shun this book and refuse to stock or sell it. So thank you so much for being the first public voice I have heard against this book and explaining why.
    Our Women’s Refuges are full of women who have fled such horrendous situations so why do we insist on lying to them and our young girls by saying ‘it’s normal’, it’s your duty/role’?

  4. Jessica T - reply

    While I completely agree that this is a great opportunity to talk with our children about intimacy and the right/wrong things to expect from relationships, I disagree with your vilifying the book series. If you have read the books, you will realize that, never once is Anastasia forced to do anything. She has free will and choice of what happens to her the entire story. There are so many variations on the spectrum of what people are comfortable with in their relationship. Just because one variation makes someone uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I see so many comments referring to these books as wrong…and I wonder how many have actually read them and know the basis for the story. Once you get past the sex, there’s much more to it. The series is obviously meant for entertainment, but I see so many people missing one of the main points of the story because they can’t see past lifestyle choices that don’t align with their own.

    • superwoman - reply

      Hi Jessica, Thanks so much for your comments. What you’ve said is exactly what I’m going to address in Part Two of this series. It’s coming soon, and I wonder what you’ll think of it. I hope you’ll return to post your thoughts again.

  5. udy - reply

    Awesome info, I publish a free CSR magazine KINDLE on behalf of my law firm that focus on preserving and protecting the family.I find this useful and I hope I can use some of this on the magazine with your kind permission.

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  11. J M Reinecker LCSWC - reply

    Considering that no society has ever exceeded the standards of its women we are witnessing a true decline in civilization. May I also suggest the book, Pulling Back the Shades by Slattery & Gresch.

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  16. Amy Irvin - reply

    I get the concern, but keep in mind it is a rated R movie about a consensual, erotic and romantic relationship between two FICTIONAL characters, not a guidebook to what a real relationship should be. It is fantasy and appeals to a lot of women who are in healthy relationships as it is erotic and allows one to fantasize about things that will never be experienced in real life. I read all the books and I used to work with victims of domestic violence, yet I did not have the reaction like you and some have had. The bottom line I that I do not believe that people should be discussing this with children at all, as it is not necessary to expose children to this subject. I would be more inclined to discuss the sex slave trade or teen domestic violence, but leave the movie/book out of it. I am 55 years old and have protected my kids from many a movie that I thought might damage their developing brains. Right now I would be inclined to protect them, if they were still young, from 50 Shades, but also from American Sniper and all war related movies as well as violent video games. I would also be discussing the domestic violence seen in the news regarding football players and Whitney Houston’s daughter. Again, this story is not meant to be anything but an entertaining movie with a little more of what appeals to women in their fantasy life than what we usually see, which is male driven. Making such a big deal about this movie could backfire and hurt young folk more than if it was just allowed to be just a movie in a theater and come and go like so many others.

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  19. flo - reply

    If only 50 year old women were going to see this movie I could see Amys point but teenage girls go see R rated movies all the time. Girls and young women are highly influenced by media and romantising violence, pain and humiliation is very dangerous. I think its even worse to perpetuate the fantasy that you can change a boyfriend. Ha! How many women have thought that and learned the hard way that that is not the case. And don’t even get me started on the young inexperienced girl being stalked and manipulated by a domineering older man! Would you want that for your daughter?

  20. Pingback: 4 Reasons You Must Talk to Your Kids About ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ | International Christian Herald

  21. Carol - reply

    I agree with Jessica T and encourage people to understand what they are talking about when they do. Yes, it is a great opportunity to talk to our kids (mine being 13 & 15), and I have talked with them about it. Anyone who has seen the movie or read at least the first book knows that she does not give in to the control and dominance – and that is one reason I liked it. On the other hand, they are very drawn to one another. How many people have you known that were in unhealthy relationships because of chemistry, subconscious needs, or whatever it is that draws us to people? I believe that it is because we need to learn something from the situation and/or other person. One of our journeys here on earth is to grow and learn and become our true selves. Many of the lessons along the way are painful ones. However, when given the right tools and support (counselors, loving friends/family, books, etc.), most of us come out stronger, smarter and grateful for the experiences that made us who we are.

    Yes, the book is controversial and opens a dialogue about a lifestyle that most see as unhealthy. After reading the books, I did a lot of research on the topic and watched a documentary that led me to believe that some who are in that lifestyle are confident in who they are and what they choose to do. It’s not my thing, but I choose not to judge it as long as the people who are doing it are doing it by their own free will. It’s a completely different thing than forced prostitution or the sex slave trade.

    Thanks for bringing up the topic, but please don’t set it up as a completely negative thing. It’s simply an unconventional love story about two people that help each other work through the demons of their pasts.

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  26. Paul Olson - reply

    Not a bribe when you reward positive behavior. A bribe is rewarding illegal or unethical behavior. Five bucks for teen shutting off phone for 15 minutes is a reward. Reward your childrenoften and generously. It works wonders.

  27. Pingback: 4 Reasons You MUST Talk to Your Kids about 50 Shades | Generations of Virtue

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  31. Tom More - reply

    Thanks for the great resources on your site. We all have the moral duty and challenge to protect and guide the young and protect them from the mindless and horribly destructive manipulation of our spiraling western world.

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