Dear Sydney, why is it OK for kids to see violence in movies but not sex? I find that when we're watching movies as a family, my wife and I feel OK (not great) about letting our kids see certain levels of shoot-'em-up action, but the minute the characters on the screen start getting sexy, making out or taking off any of their clothes, we both begin to shift uncomfortably on the couch, and if it goes on for more than a minute, one of us is sure to clap a hand over their eyes until it's over. Is there something wrong with us or with our culture? Or is sex really worse than violence?--Sex Fan
Dear Fan: Parents and their kids usually don't feel comfortable talking about or watching anything to do with sex when in each other's company. Even as adults, many of us still remain positively nauseated when it comes to thinking about our parents having sex. And most parents, when faced with the inevitable introduction of their own child to sex, feel a combined sensation of pure dread and discomfiture. Sex isn't any worse than violence; it's just something that parents and their kids generally don't feel very comfortable sharing with each other. It's probably some genetic reaction designed to cut down on incestuous relationships. If only it were foolproof.
Violence, on the other hand, is more abstract, less personal. We can distance ourselves from it, as long as it's not happening to us. But sex brings up a different set of reactions, fueled by our social constructs. The New America was founded by a bunch of the most sexually repressed, uptight Puritans around, and the repercussions of this are deeply imbedded in the prevailing culture. To add further complexity to the matter, there is a fine line between sex and violence, and sometimes there's no line at all. Sex poses far more of a threat to your child than the possibility of a fist fight somewhere down the road. So don't worry about it too much. Pretty soon they'll be old enough to make their own decisions about the kind of sex they watch on the TV, and you will surely miss those days when you and your wife could go all squeamish and Pilgrim and clap your hand over their eyes.
Dear Sydney, the other day I was unlucky enough to come upon the teenage son of an acquaintance smoking marijuana with a group of his friends. I was hiking in the dunes and was able to turn back before he saw me. Now I'm feeling completely torn up over it. On one hand, I was doing the same thing when I was his age, and if one of my mom's friends had told on me, the consequences would have been far worse than that of the occasional joint I shared with friends. On the other hand, I have no idea if his parents know he's smoking pot, and I feel strange not telling them. To make matters weirder, we're not even very close friends. What should I do?--Stuck in a Corner
Dear Stuck: The best thing to do in a situation like this, when you catch any kid you know doing drugs, is to not turn around and look the other way. In the future, when you see little "Zach" puffing in the dunes with his friends, walk right on up and say, "Hey, Zach. How's it going?" By letting him know that you have seen him you are offering him a whole new perspective on his habit. If he's going to smoke pot in public, he will probably be seen, and he was just lucky it was you and not a cop--or his mom. The next time you see him, talk to him about it. Let him know that you feel conflicted about the situation and want to give him a chance to explain himself.
Always remember, you have no idea what Zach really has to go home to. As adults, we must weigh the ramifications of our actions when it comes to turning kids in to their own families. Does Zach have a problem that would warrant you potentially tearing apart his life? Some people would send their kid away for such an infraction. Do a little homework; it shouldn't be hard. People love to talk. Find out how he's doing in school, does he seem well-fed, healthy, reasonably OK? If you think he's doing hard drugs, then you may need to do a more drastic intervention in order to save his life. But because you don't know how well he is otherwise handling the choices in his life, take a step back. Just because he's a teenager doesn't mean he doesn't deserve exactly the same amount of respect you would grant to anyone else.
Dear Sydney, my brother spanks and smacks his daughter, my niece. Both he and I grew up in a home where we were regularly spanked as a form of discipline. I feel like this was an abusive aspect of my childhood, and it enrages me to see him continuing this "tradition." As a toddler, my niece is at a prime age for smacking, and I find it difficult to be around. When I told him I thought it was wrong, he told me I wouldn't understand until I had kids. The fact that I have two stepkids who never need to be spanked apparently doesn't count. I get really upset about this. Is there anything I can do?--Spank Hater
Dear Spanky: How your brother chooses to parent is up to him and him alone. However, you can continue to be a positive influence by not only setting a good example in your own parenting, but by also seeking to educate him and bring him out of his current state of ignorance. Watching people smack and spank their kids is horrifying. It's as outdated as dragging your date home by the hair. Welcome to the 21st century, people, learn how to fucking parent.
Go to your local bookstore and look through the parenting books; see if you can find anything about positive discipline, something your brother might actually read. You could even photocopy parts of books or find articles on the Internet that you could send to him about the harm of disciplining children using violence as a method. But ultimately, all you can do is to give your niece plenty of love, and when she's old enough, make sure to let her know that hitting is not OK and that never, under any circumstances, does she deserve to be treated that way. Does your brother think it's OK to hit his wife when he's mad at her, or you, or his mother? What's the difference? Keep on voicing your opinion; it needs to be heard.
'Ask Sydney' is penned by a Sonoma County resident. There is no question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Inquire at www.asksydney.com or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall.