5 Unexpected Causes of Awkward Conversations With Your Kids
Cable Commercials on Female Masturbation Techniques
As you can guess, the sex talk comes up earlier than every parent expects, and the discussion never goes the way you planned it out in your head. You do your best to explain the biological side, because they need to know that, but without being cold and clinical about it. You want to talk about love, and paint their first time as "special." It doesn't matter how liberal or conservative a parent you are, nobody wants to picture their kid going on a fuck-crazy rampage before they're even old enough to drive a car.
That's an ad for a vibrator that my kids saw on Comedy Central. In the middle of the day. The short story is that they're able to get away with it because they say "massager" instead of "vibrator." And they never show the product out of the box. They claim that the sexual message is "subtle."
Now, my point isn't that the ad should be censored. It' just that the ad's "subtlety" is what caused my boys (12 and 10) to ask why a machine meant to massage would "blow a person's hair back." My first instinct as a parent was to tell them that it was because it gave really good massages. But the problem with that is the end of the commercial where the wife tells the husband, "We got three!" And the husband responds with a fist-pump and yells, "SWEET!" To a couple of young boys it meant that both men and women couldn't wait to dive into their soul-calming, relaxing massages, courtesy of Trojan.
"Oh, look, it's kind of pointy so you can get between your shoulder blades easier."
But before I opened my mouth, my human side slapped me in the face and reminded me that if I told them that, their next question would be directed at their mother, and it would end with the words, "...for Christmas?" And just like that, I was explaining the dirty intricacies of clitoral stimulation to two people who just found out the truth about Santa a few short years ago.
It's at this point that you realize your original "where babies come from" talk was devoid of the words "orgasm," "masturbation," or "horny" even though all three of those are staples of what sex is actually about. You skipped over the part about how sometimes a person finds themselves needing to just "bust out a quick one" while nobody else is around.
Suddenly, all of that sugary, educational, PG-rated talk of procreation "between a husband and wife" gets amended like a Constitution for the country "Various States of Fucking." And "the birds and the bees" takes a permanent backseat in their minds. The new, more adult lesson being, "There are many different ways to cause ejaculation."
I'm saying it won't be long before they can identify this man on sight.
And while we're on the subject of sex...
A Show About Cars and Prostitution Hierarchy
My regular readers know that I let my kids play adult games like Grand Theft Auto if I'm in the room with them. We're a pretty open family, and they've shown me that they can be trusted to not steal my car and go rampaging around town. They know it's a game. What they don't do is take part in the sex missions because they're still at the age where sexual content is icky. So when my ten year old asked me what "pimp missions" were, he was satisfied with the explanation, "It's a sex thing." He skipped them and happily went back to shooting cocaine-dealing gang members in the face.
Fast forward a few days, and you'll find him sitting with a baffled look as he watches an episode of Pimp My Ride, a show on MTV where they take shitty cars and turn them into hotrods.
And then eat them.
"So, wait," he said as they installed Lamborghini style doors on a shitty Lovebug. "The pimp missions in GTA let me customize my own car? Why'd you tell me it was a sex thing?"
I stared in frozen horror at the thought of what he was about to learn, and with a deep sigh, I said, "Go get your brother. I don't want him hearing a grapevine version of this later from you."
And just like that, a show about modifying cars had turned into me explaining what a prostitute is. And how they sometimes use pimps to not only take care of the financial aspect, but to provide protection for the women. And how dressing flamboyantly was a means of attracting other prostitutes to work for them because it let them know that 1) they were indeed pimps, and 2) their wealth showed that they could do the job. And how over the years the word "pimp" took on a more general definition that stood for coolness and flamboyancy.
"So being a pimp is cool?"
Add another hour to the conversation where we're now talking about the fact that most pimps aren't glamorous rockstars, driving $100,000 cars and dining with celebrities. But in fact, most pimps are in and out of jail several times per year. And many of them beat the shit out of the women they "employ." And many of them also sell and do hardcore narcotics.
Now part of this is my fault for letting them play a game that features pimping in the first place. But you have to understand that even if they had never played it, hearing the title "Pimp My Ride" is enough to spark questions from kids their age. They just heard three words, and they only know the definition of two of them. It's inevitable that they ask what that word means. And if you give them some bullshit answer like, "It means customizing cars," they're going to start using it at school, oblivious to what it actually means.
And make no mistake, when they find out the actual definition, they're going to think you're a complete dumbass. "Pfft. Our dad didn't even know what the word 'pimp' means."
Space Documentaries That Tell Them They're Going to Die
I'm a huge space buff, and as my kids grow older, they're gaining interest as well. Now, when I sit down to watch a documentary on black holes, they're right there with me instead of rolling their eyes and disappearing into the other room to shoot each other in the balls with rubber bands.
But there's a problem. My oldest son is a worrier by nature. We have to be very careful how we phrase things around him because he can take a simple offhanded observation like, "This is tornado weather," and turn it into, "A tornado is coming right now, and we're all going to fucking die!"
"Why, dear God, did we choose to live in an abandoned barn?!"
Those of you who watch space documentaries already see the problem. The majority of them are either entirely about or include a segment about how the Earth could end without a moment's notice, and there would be nothing we could do to prevent it. The most popular of these being a life-obliterating asteroid (or what I like to call "The Assteroid") and how NASA is working on methods of deflecting it, should one appear.
What my son hears is, "NASA is working on ways to deflect the asteroid that will be butt-fucking the Earth in our near future." So that spurs a very long conversation about "near-miss" objects and the low chances of a pinpoint collision. Like any almost-teenager, he takes my word at face value. And then Googles it when I'm out of the room.
Do me a favor and Google just the word "asteroid" right now and count how many sensationalistic articles and websites there are on the first page alone... all proclaiming our immediate or eventual doom. Now try "asteroid hitting the earth."
Feel free to look through all 1.7 million results at your leisure.
And that's the thing about these conversations. They are never straight forward, cookie-cutter speeches that you can stamp "DISCUSSED" on and file away from your parental inbox. In this situation, his research has now brought him to the 2012 doomsday nutjobs, and to a child all of their arguments sound like actual facts -- not the crazed ravings of dipshits who have no understanding of science on even the most remedial level.
You have to remember that to a kid, an adult's word is gospel. Everything they know, they've learned from an adult. If they do or say something that's incorrect, it's usually an adult who corrects them, so it's very easy for a child to just assume that when an adult relays information, that information is indisputable. And it's only when you're knee-deep in the second hour of explaining that a planet called Nibiru doesn't exist and it's not going to slam into the Earth, that you realize you're going to have to spend twice that long trying to break it to him gracefully that some adults are full of shit.
And no matter what they say, you should just automatically assume that they are wrong.
And then spend the rest of his adolescence hoping he doesn't think you're one of them.
Wrestling and the Realities of Working
I'm a huge wrestling fan because there's still a part of me that will never cease to be 12 years old. When I was a kid, the conversation was how the guys aren't really beating the piss out of each other. It wasn't complex -- we accepted the explanation with a nod, and life went on.
Woo indeed, brother. Woo indeed.
Jump ahead thirty years to my favorite wrestler, CM Punk. A few months ago, the guy's real life contract was expiring, and he wasn't happy with the way his character and career were going. He decided that he was going to let the deal expire and move on with his life. Seizing the opportunity for a good storyline, the WWE let him grab a microphone and flat-out bash them from head to toe.
Two weeks later, they set up a planned segment in which the head of the company, Vince McMahon, attempted to offer Punk a new contract to continue working for them. But Punk added some fairly crazy stipulations and humiliated his boss in public:
I was discussing with my kids the way they wove in real life grievances with scripted stage performance when the conversation took a turn I hadn't expected. And that is how this man was absolutely owning his boss and bending him to his will.
To them, this was gold. Hell, who doesn't love a good "I quit" story? Or hearing about an employee reach their breaking point and hand their boss his ass? Even my kids, who haven't worked a day in their lives, ate that shit up and asked for seconds. But when I really thought about it, I realized that my oldest son will be legally able to work in just a few short years, and there are going to be times that his boss will push him to his own limits.
And it will most likely take place in a ring.
Suddenly, this awesome segment about sticking it to the man became a very real concern about what is and isn't acceptable in a work environment. About burning bridges and what that means where promotions are concerned. And that a real life boss put in that situation would fire your ass in a heartbeat, and the next job you applied for would be calling that person for a recommendation. That every last ounce of your ego will be screaming at you to suplex him through his own desk and exit to the sounds of heavy guitar and cheers. But doing that would pretty much ensure the end of your financial life.
And this is where a parent really has to keep their eyes open because that message is everywhere. From the old Jerry Maguire walkout to random sitcoms that spout the message, "Give up your day job and pursue your dreams." It's a great, flowery message to put in the hands of a fictional character, but in reality, it can cause your ass to wind up homeless.
"My job in advertising was so dissatisfying. I just wanted to dance."
Ironic Insults and Slurs
My kids are fans of rap, so it's inevitable that, sooner or later, they're going to hear the N-bomb several hundred times in a three minute period. They're also getting to the age where their taste in movies is slowly going to become less Pixar and more classic Tarantino. If you add in modern standups who think that comedy means being as shocking as humanly possible, you realize there's a whole world that appears to be doing the opposite of what we teach our kids: "Don't be a bigot."
What they're not old enough to understand yet is the difference between blatant racism and ironic slurs. And if you think the difference is easy to explain, fucking try it.And it's everywhere; get a bunch of dudes together and they'll start immediately making gay jokes at each other. The opening minutes of Superbad features Michael Cera accusing his friend of sucking his dad's dick and there were nine seasons of Scrubs that revolved around it. South Park wouldn't be the same if you took out Cartman, and he's the most racist, homophobic character I've ever seen on TV. Dr. House constantly makes racist jokes towards Foreman and lesbian jokes at Thirteen.
And in private, I do all of that shit. The ironic slur is a big deal to me, since where I grew up, it was commonplace to hear people making racist comments and dropping homophobic slurs in a completely unironic manner. Speaking up against it pretty much guaranteed a brutal ass-beating. So, behind closed doors, my best friend and I made a full time job out of making fun of these assholes, and when we imitated them, we'd throw in the racial slurs as a means of mocking the whole personality type. We made a team of all black supermen in the John Madden football games and pitted them against all white opponents, each named after one of the racist dickheads we went to school with. And of course we'd play as the visiting team so that every time our black players scored a touchdown, the crowd would boo.
We like to think this is how EA would want the game to be played.
But obviously there's a sharp line between, for instance, the bully at school accusing me of being gay and Wong doing it. It can be the exact same words, but they mean the opposite because of the relationship we have. Likewise, both myself and my best friend make wife-beating jokes around our womenfolk, and they laugh every time, right before we make them get their asses in the kitchen and leave us menfolk to our thinkin' talks. The reason is because they know we don't beat them, and fail to beat them so much that the idea of us even attempting it becomes kind of funny.
Man, that just gets funnier every time I see it!
But what is "obvious" to us isn't so obvious to a 10 year-old. So now imagine my kids overhearing those jokes. And then imagine them using those words toward the girls at school. Or their female teachers. So it becomes my job to make this often very fuzzy distinction very clear ("But why can the rapper use that word?") and to try to walk them through all of the many layers of irony under which I live my life. It eventually comes down to telling them to just not attempt the ironic slur thing at all, because all it takes is one teacher or coworker to take you seriously, and your ass is done.
"Sir, we need to talk to you about your son's art project." Yes, Daddy can do it because he is paid to do it and because he is a master of the art. Some day you, too, will possess the maturity and life perspective to safely tell your best friend to go surf a tidal wave of dicks. You'll understand when you're older. Hopefully.
For more Cheese, check out 5 Ways to Avoid Your Terrible Parents' Mistakes and 12 Things You'll Wish You'd Never Seen Under a Microscope.