Do Your Kids Know About Chris and Rihanna? | Mary Beth Bonacci | Ignatius Insight
Do 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
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
[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
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
Because in parenting, as in life, the best defense is often a good offense.
This column originally appeared on RealLove.net
on March 10, 2009. Click here to read more of Mary Beth Bonacci's columns.
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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.
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