Do Your Kids Know About Chris and Rihanna? | Mary Beth Bonacci | Ignatius InsightDo Your Kids Know About Chris and Rihanna? | Mary Beth Bonacci | Ignatius Insight

If they do--and they probably do--it's time to talk to them about dating and abuse.

Don't you just love it when the misdeeds of pop culture icons threaten to undo everything you're trying to teach your kids?

In this case, the culprits are 19-year-old R&B singer Chris Brown and his 21-year-old pop star girlfriend Rihanna. On February 8th, Brown turned himself in to police after allegedly beating the stuffing out of Rihanna. The fight apparently began when she discovered a text message from an ex-girlfriend on his cell phone. According to a police affidavit, he punched her repeatedly, tried to push her out of a moving car, bashed her head against the car window, bit her ear and fingers, and choked her until she nearly passed out. He is now free on $50,000 bail while awaiting trial on two felonies in connection with the incident.

Here's the kicker—they're already back together. A source close to the couple says "They are definitely together and care a great deal about each other."


[Editor's note: The two appear to have recently ended their relationship.]

You may not have heard of these two, but if your children are attending any non-Amish school anywhere in the free world, I can almost guarantee that they've heard about it from their classmates.

Kids--especially girls—love pop-star romances. And why wouldn't they? Beautiful people, glamorous lives, all wrapped up in the hazy veneer of being "in love"—the whole scene plays on every young girl's romantic fantasies.

So what do they think when they see that, less than three weeks after this violent assault, the beautiful Rihanna has invited young Mr. Brown back into her life, and they're holed up in Sean "Diddy" Combs' beautiful beachside Miami mansion patching things up? What's a parent supposed to do? You tell your boys that it's never, ever okay to hit a woman. You tell your girls that it's never, every okay to tolerate it. And yet, one paparazzi photo of these two back enjoying their jet-setting lifestyle will probably be enough to convince a starry-eyed kid that "love can conquer all."

Plenty of people are trying to mitigate the damage. Rihanna's friends are publicly voicing their opposition to the couple's reunion. Oprah dedicated a show on domestic violence to "all the Rihannas of the world," warning women everywhere that "if a man hits you once, he'll hit you again."

So what are you going to tell your kids?

You want to tell them all of the standard stuff, of course. It's never okay. Someone who hits once will mostly likely hit again. Explain to them the warning signs that might signal a man could be an abuser (insecure, controlling, etc.) Explain that women can be abusive in their own way, and help them to understand what that can look like. Give them a deep and profound sense of their own value and dignity, so they will see any potential for abuse as the horror that it is.

But if it were me, I'd probably go deeper.

Any woman (heck, probably any person) who has ever dated can probably relate at least a little to "the gap" between what we imagine a person to be and what he or she really is. We all, to a certain extent, fall in love with an illusion. And to the extent that the actual person fails to live up to the illusion, we're disappointed. We want our illusion back. We've grown attached to the illusion. The illusion made us feel secure and loved and accepted.

I've never been abused, but I can imagine that the moment when the abusive side of the personality emerges would be pretty darned frightening. The mean guy was not part of the illusion. It would all seem very "Jekyll and Hyde." In that kind of situation, most people would desperately wish for the return of the person they "know" and love.

And when that "person" returns, all remorse and apologies and expensive gifts and promises about the future, the temptation would be very strong. He's back! That bad, mean man won't be coming around again. The guy here who loves me will see to that.

There's one other factor that doesn't get a lot of play here—the effect of sexual activity on these relationships. I've been preaching for years that sexual activity causes the release of the hormone oxytocin, and that oxytocin causes a strong bond to form between the two people involved.

But here's what I just learned lately—part of what oxytocin does to the brain is to manufacture intense feelings of trust. Yes, trust. Sex causes people to trust each other—whether or not that trust is earned or justified. Oxytocin isn't rational. It doesn't ask "is this person trustworthy?" It just manufactures the feelings.

That's great when two people have gone through the process of dating and getting to know each other and determining their mutual trustworthiness and pledging their lives to each other and getting married. It's not so good between two people who might have reason not to trust each other.

I think kids of both sexes—before they begin dating--need to be warned explicitly about these phenomena. The greatest danger comes when they experience strong feelings and don't have a better explanation than "I must be in love." If they know what to expect, they'll know better how to react. They need to know that the relief of seeing the return of a more familiar personality in a violent loved one does not signal that they are hopelessly in love. It just means they're human, and anyone would probably react that way initially. The correct response is not to go back and try to rebuild. It's to leave, grieve, heal and find someone who doesn't abuse. They also need to know that sexual activity will cloud their emotional "vision" substantially, and will compromise their ability to recognize and escape a bad situation.

Parenting would be a whole lot easier if your kids weren't exposed to the travails of pop stars and their love lives. But, short of keeping your kids locked up in the basement (which I don't recommend), there's not a lot you can do to keep them from hearing about these things. And so, you need to make sure they can view these situations realistically. Make sure they have enough age-appropriate information that they aren't blinded by the Hollywood "bling."

Because in parenting, as in life, the best defense is often a good offense.

This column originally appeared on on March 10, 2009. Click here to read more of Mary Beth Bonacci's columns.

Related Links/Articles:

Do We Really Need Gardasil To Protect Teen Girls? | Mary Beth Bonacci
"What Do I Say When My Kids Ask Me About My Past?" | Mary Beth Bonacci
Parenting From the Teen Years Backwards | Mary Beth Bonacci
Focus Groups and Marriage: A Match Made for Heartache | Mary Beth Bonacci
Viagra: It's Not Just for Old Guys Anymore | Mary Beth Bonacci
God Writes Straight With Crooked Lines | Mary Beth Bonacci
My Imaginary Funeral Homily | Mary Beth Bonacci
Do All Catholics Go Straight to Heaven? | Mary Beth Bonacci
Be Nice To Me. I'm Dying. | Mary Beth Bonacci
Teens, Sex, and Real Love | Interview with Mary Beth Bonacci | Mary Beth Bonacci

Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.

Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.

Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!