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How I Talk to My Boys About Domestic Abuse

After the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal this fall, I all but gave up on football. I was angry and felt the only way to do something about the NFL's mishandling of the crime was to boycott football altogether. The rest of my family was not on board — my young kids never heard about the Ray Rice affair, and my husband thought there were more effective ways to address the issue.

So, the boys kept the Sunday football schedule.

Over the course of the season, I found myself watching more and more games with them, until, ultimately, our team, the New England Patriots, found their way to the Super Bowl.

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But I couldn’t forget about the culture of violence in NFL, and how it does its best to publicly ignore domestic violence. I had to start finding ways of ending domestic abuse by educating the young men — ages 6 and 9 — in my own household. So when the NFL ran a commercial for its “No More” campaign, it was an opportunity to talk about domestic violence with my children.

The commercials feature a series of actors and current and former football players. Some state the behaviors that will be tolerated “no more,” others feature the actors and athletes preparing for the commercial and being overwhelmed with emotion, ultimately speechless.

“Why are they crying?” my first-grader asked me.

It was a complicated thing to explain to two young children. But with many things, I believe addressing the issue head on in terms and ways that young children can understand is better at setting a precedent of non-violence than saying nothing at all. After all, silence against domestic abuse has been the best tool assailants have ever had on their side.

“Do you know it’s wrong to ever hit a woman?” I asked them both after the commercial had ended. They nodded. “Even your friends at school that are girls, it’s never OK.” They nodded again.

Take those few moments as an opportunity to discuss with your children the issues surrounding domestic violence.

We spoke for a brief time about what the word respect means and how men should treat girlfriends, wives and all women. That it goes beyond opening doors for their female friends, it’s also about treating them with humanity and sticking up and defending women if they are in need.

Later that same day, I came across an Italian PSA asking a series of young boys being asked to slap a girl. It has been viewed more than 33 million times on YouTube. At least three of those views came from our family.

I watched it first, then I showed my husband, and together we played it for the boys.

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They related to the kids shown in the piece and laughed at some parts, but were shocked when the boys in the PSA were asked to slap the girl. At the end of the piece, the boys explain why they cannot and will not hit the girl, even saying things like, “Girls shouldn’t be hit, not even with a flower.”

It was a great way for us to enter the discussion of domestic abuse and the need to stand up against abuse of all kids — against children and animals, as well as, women.

It was the first step in our years of modeling the right behavior, having honest conversations with our boys and doing our best to not sweep difficult situations and conversations under the rug — not assuming they are learning the lessons of non-violence somewhere, somehow, by someone else.

As parents, especially as mothers raising boys who will one day be men, we need to speak out against violence and, in particular, violence against women.

So this Sunday when the NoMore.org campaign debuts its Super Bowl ad, watch it together with your family. Take those few moments as an opportunity to discuss with your children the issues surrounding domestic violence.

As parents, it’s our job to end the silence and start talking.

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Image via Twenty20/MartinRysanek

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