Last Friday, like many Americans, I listened to the leaked Donald Trump tapes in total shock and disgust. I was so upset that I couldn’t sleep that night, and I spent the rest of the weekend thinking about it a lot — too much. It was like looking at a car wreck — I couldn’t look away.
As a woman, I immediately thought about the times I had been harassed and inappropriately touched by a man (it turns out I wasn’t alone — millions of women ended up sharing their stories). I thought about what it meant for my country that someone this vulgar and misogynistic has gotten as close to the presidency as Donald Trump has. It sickened me that so many people seem to support, defend him, and justify what he said as mere “locker room banter,” when what he was describing was straight-up sexual assault.
My husband and I were ranting about it all weekend, speaking in code when we were around our kids so that they wouldn’t absorb any of the nasty language associated with the whole fiasco. But my 9-year-old seemed interested. He’s been following the election pretty carefully. He’d come to the conclusion early on that Donald Trump is a racist, homophobic, xenophobic bully, and has been interested in the play-by-play of events during the election season.
I realized that I kinda had to tell him what was going on — first, because his interest in politics is something I want to nurture, but also because as totally revolting as the whole thing is, it is something my son absolutely needs to know about.
And so, that night, I told him what was going on. No, I didn’t use the words Donald Trump used. But I did tell him that Trump had called women some very bad words. I told him Trump spoke about using his power to take advantage of women, that he’d described grabbing women and kissing them against their will. I even told him that Trump had talked about grabbing women by their private parts.
I didn’t have to use the word “pussy” for my son to be shocked by that part — by all of it, really. The first words out of his mouth were, “Really?” And then: “Did he get in trouble for it?”
I couldn’t really answer that question completely, I told him, because although Donald Trump was losing some political support, there wasn’t really any way for him to get in trouble unless there was proof that he’d actually done those things to the women he was talking about.
My son then asked if Trump is still running for president, and I had to tell him the hard truth that he is.
The fact that all of it was hard to explain, though, made for a really interesting and important discussion. We talked about how awful it is that something like this happened in the first place, but we also talked about what it can teach us.
It was in those moments — when my son and I talked about what we might be able to learn from this — that I felt for the first time something positive might come from Trump’s latest shitshow.
We had a really awesome conversation that affirmed that all the stuff I’d been teaching my son over the years — about body autonomy, respect for someone’s personal space, and how to prevent bullying — was getting absorbed somewhere in his noggin. And it gave us the opportunity to cover some other uncomfortable, but important subjects as well.
So, to those parents out there who are on the fence about talking about the Donald Trump tapes, or any difficult moments in this election (and believe me, there will be more), I offer you a few reasons why you should consider addressing the topic with your kids:
1. Our kids need to hear about these things from us first, and not from some kid on the playground.
Even if you think no one else’s kid will know about it, kids are little sponges and pick up on every little thing. But if your kid hears it first from another kid, the facts are liable to be distorted, sometimes in pretty frightening ways. I almost always tell my kids the truth to arm them with solid facts.
2. Our kids need to know what happens to bullies when they grow up.
Donald Trump is the perfect example of what happens to an entitled, aggressive, name-calling bully when he grows up. Maybe if he’d been called out on this stuff when he was younger, he wouldn’t have gotten this far (wishful thinking, I know, but I’ll take it).
3. Our kids need to know the dangers of the “boys will be boys” mentality.
I didn’t just tell my son what Trump said — I also explained how he justified it as being “just a thing that guys do.” We talked about how unacceptable an excuse this was, and the ways that even in elementary school, there are examples of the “boys will be boys” mentality — and how important it is not to engage in it.
4. Our kids need to know, more than ever, when it is and isn’t appropriate for them to be touched, or to touch someone else.
No one likes having these conversations with their kids. But there is a way to do it without making it embarrassing or frightening. I have been telling my kids since they could understand that no one besides a parent or a doctor is supposed to touch their private parts — and only for cleaning or fixing a boo-boo. They are to do the same: no hands on someone else’s private parts — in fact, no hands on anyone anywhere without permission. No hugging if you don’t want to be hugged. No kissing if you don’t want to be kissed. Body autonomy is huge around here.
5. Our kids need to know that they can always come to us with questions, even about the most taboo subjects.
This is maybe the most important one. I don’t want my kids to think that any subject is off the table with me. None, no matter how obscene, outrageous, or shameful it seems. They can tell me any crazy thing they heard, or any action that made them feel uncomfortable or violated, and I will take their claim seriously.
The day after our discussion, I asked my son if he thought it was a good idea that I’d told him about the whole thing. “Yeah,” he said, pretty deadpan (9-year-olds aren’t known for detailed statements). But when I asked him to explain why, he had a pretty spot-on answer. “So that I will know what not to do,” he said.
So thanks a lot, Donald Trump, I guess. You are an awesome role model for kids everywhere. Let’s hope that parents far and wide sit down with their kids and use you as an example of everything that is totally reprehensible and vile about humanity so that we can teach our kids to be the complete and total opposite.