Lashing Out at Twerking

Well, there are certainly some things I have to hold against the dad who whipped his teen daughters with a cable (If you have the stomach for watching real-life violence so that you have an accurate context, here’s one place you can find the video).

First, his actions forced me to actually look up what twerking is and to watch some videos of it; I had hoped to avoid finding out what twerking was for at least as long as I avoided finding out what gangnam style was. If you are ignorant like I once blissfully was, twerking means to dance in a way where you shake your hips and ass like a stripper who’s hopped up on a whole lot of Red Bull or triple espressos. It first gained traction among young black women, who tend to have more ample derrieres than most women in the United States.

Second, because this is a blog about my daughter and my parenting and because I address social issues and current events at times here, his actions forced me to watch a video of him lashing out (literally) against his daughters, and hearing their screams and watching them curl up into fetal positions to try to avoid being literally whipped.

I am of a lot of thoughts about this whole situation, and my first attempt to post about it was a huge ramble. This attempt, I’m going to try to be more focused.

I don’t like how the father approached this. On the other hand, I also don’t know what kind of past behavior the daughters have displayed and whether beatings like this are common in that household and, if they are, whether they come packaged with any more reasoned lecturing and discussion of the issue. My wife grew up in a home where corporal punishment was the norm, but I don’t think that she would characterize her father as abusive; there was a spectrum to discipline he meted out and sometimes he used violence to cement a point, but it wasn’t his only tool or his only approach.

Knowing this from my wife, and knowing that she doesn’t resent his approach to her when she was younger, I hesitate to demonize the father who whipped his daughters. I think that act shown on video was brutal and seems unnecessarily harsh, but I can’t judge him in general without a lot more information, and I can’t even gauge how harsh his punishment was without some context of how his daughters behave or how they react to non-physical discipline and guidance.

There were a couple occasions when the little goddess was young when my frustrations were particularly high and I gave her a quick whack to the thigh. Not something I’m proud of, but also not a regular feature of discipline around here, and she hasn’t had anything remotely resembling an actual spanking, beating or anything like that. I do raise my voice quite loudly at times, and I’m not averse to swearing, but at the same time, most of my discipline with her is to take away privileges, or reduce her allowance or find some other non-violent way to render consequences. When I do yell, it’s because it’s the only way to get her attention and drive home how serious the situation is, and I don’t do personal attacks on her by calling her names or demeaning and degrading her.

I know there are parents and child advocates out there that would say even my approach is too harsh and only “natural consequences” should occur; never manufactured ones from a parent. Those people also happen to be out of their minds and I shudder to think how some of the kids being raised with no firm rules and disciplinary measures at all are going to turn out in life. I don’t believe in abuse, but neither do I think we do our children any good by not setting boundaries and not checking their behavior from time to time.

On the face of it, at first glance, the father who whipped his teens seems extreme to me, and my gut reaction is that once he is identified and located, he will probably go to jail and that may very well be what he deserves (not only for the violence of whipping a minor but also the stupidity of posting a video of himself beating his children after getting mad at them for posting sexually provocative videos of themselves online; this man needs an education in irony and perspective). But I don’t have all the facts.

There’s also a good chance that Mr. Cable-Wielding Dad failed even before that beating by not giving his daughters much guidance about Internet usage. Certainly, when the time comes that my little goddess is able to be online and interact with others, she’s going to get a laundry list of what she can and cannot do, most notably never sharing her last name, phone number, email, address, city, or even state with anyone she doesn’t know in person already pretty damn well. Likely this dad didn’t do things like that, which is probably why his daughters didn’t even consider the fact that they were way too young to be posting twerking videos.

What I do know, however, is if my daughter ever did what those two teens did, her ears would be bleeding from the volume of my shouts. It is highly unlikely I’d give her a beating or even a slap, but there is no doubt I’d be angry and lose my cool.

Posting a video of yourself on the Internet doing something highly sexualized when you are a minor is not only tacky but also dangerous; that’s the kind of video you leave on your phone and only show to friends and acquaintances one-to-one. A video like that online is the kind of thing that fuels and feeds the sick desires of people who like to sexually abuse minors, and it opens you up to being identified by someone with the ability and desire to stalk you and put both you and your family in danger. Also, stuff on the Internet really never goes away, and I wonder if the twerking video might come back to haunt these teens if they have the chance to apply to a good school or a good job one day.

Some would argue that the two teens were simply exploring their sexuality in a perfectly natural and understandable way. But sharing sexualized behavior with the entire world isn’t natural; even animals in heat would know better than to post to YouTube…assuming they had opposable thumbs and camera phones. Some would say the girls were just dancing; that’s also nonsense. Twerking is an invitation to view oneself as a sexual object in the same way as grabbing one’s breasts and bouncing them up and down is, even with a shirt covering them. If you think that’s healthy expressive behavior for a minor and think it’s healthy to put that out for millions of people to view, your idea of healthy expression is pretty sick.

I’m not ignorant of the fact that youth will employ sexual innuendo within their circles, engage in sexual behaviors and all that. I’m not so foolish as to assume my daughter won’t do things far earlier in life than I think she should. But that doesn’t mean I will side with the two teen girls on their choice to do that video and post it. They were wrong and needed correction; it’s simply a matter of the fact the correction they received might have been abusive rather than helpful.

My daughter discovered her body years ago. Details need not be shared here. But when it was clear to me that the path toward self-discovery had begun, I let her know there’s nothing wrong with enjoying our own bodies. However, one does not do it in front of other people when one is a child and one does not go talking about it to others when one is a child.

I don’t believe in shame for natural feelings and exploration.

But I believe in privacy and decorum.

So, I doubt my daughter will do something quite so brazenly stupid or inappropriate as what those two teens did…because I plan to keep talking to her about what’s wise and unwise in life and why. And for that same reason, I doubt I will ever have to be tempted to do something as violent and degrading as what that father did to his two teens.

Refusing to Dumb It Down

There are times, especially in the car when my wife is already stressed about bad drivers all around us, when I get shushed or “strongly encouraged” to shut up, because I’m explaining something to our daughter and the mounting verbiage starts to intrude upon my wife’s peace. Given that my wife has a master’s degree and reads voraciously, I find it ironic and amusing when she tells me during these times something to the effect of, “Just give her a simple answer and stop trying to explain everything so much.”

But, aside from trying to tone it down in the car or during other times when the wife needs peace and dunce-cap_NOquiet, I won’t dumb it down for my daughter, and I don’t think you should dumb it down for your kids, either. I’m sure when the stress levels aren’t high, my wife would almost always agree with me on that. Maybe.

Now, there are two very good reasons for this.

The first might be pretty personalized to me and not applicable to all of you: I might as well get into longer explanations and, using somewhat simplified language a 7-year-old can grasp, speak to my daughter more or less like a grown person. Because she’s going to pelt me with endless questions anyway. I always thought this was supposed to stop around 4 or 5, but apparently my daughter is gearing up to be an encyclopedia when she grows up, because there are always more questions, no matter how thoroughly I think I’ve exhausted a topic.

The second reason should, I think, apply to almost all of us: If we want smart kids who can make their way in life, let’s not treat them like idiots. Now, I know that not all parents have huge vocabularies or deep education and that not all kids read and speak a grade or two above their current level, like my daughter does (if only her math skills were progressing at the same accelerated pace, but with the two parents she has, that might not be realistic to dream). But you don’t need to be a scholar.

My mom, bless her late, short-tempered, boisterous and passionate heart, spoke to me pretty much like a grown-up. Although she read a lot (mostly novels, and many of those Joan Collins, Andrew Greeley or Sidney Sheldon), she wasn’t highly educated. Barber college was the height of her educational pursuits. But she had opinions, she was sharp and savvy, and she and I were sometimes as much buddies as parent and child, particularly in my early years when she was raising me mostly on her own. From early on, I was able to speak and write well, thanks to my mom as much as my genes and schooling, I suspect, and I was sometimes more comfortable and confident speaking to adults (and listening to their conversations) than I was with kids my own age. Kids my age, I had pretty much decided, were more for playing with than having discussions with.

I am determined to give my daughter the same edge, so that she can speak to adults not simply as elders but at times as peers. While she may be young, she’s a human just like the grown-ups are, and she has opinions. She deserves to be heard at times, and so she needs answers to complicated questions. If I speak down to her, I do her a disservice. There will be many times adults will lead her astray in life, intentionally or unintentionally, and I want her to be able to recognize when that happens and stand up for herself when it does.

Besides, as she grows and matures, it heartens me in a benignly passive-aggressive way to have heard my wife say something to our daughter in the car the other day and the little girl try to tweak the words into something that would serve her needs more than ours as her parents. When my wife tried to correct her, the wee goddess sweetly answered, “But mommy, your words implied that…”

That made me proud. It gave me hope that our daughter will shine in this harsh world and hold her own against it.

Am I buying us trouble by being so eager to arm my daughter with not just basic learning but also understanding of subtleties and broader contexts? Oh, yes. She will probably be better able to maneuver and fool us when she hits her teens than most of her friends.

But I’d rather she be out in the world well-armed, well-armored and well-trained to meet the monsters big and small waiting for her.