I’m often inspired to write articles based on scenes from TV and movies. I have a difficult time shutting off my therapist brain and I ask myself, “Hmm…that was an interesting parenting lesson. I wonder if the parent viewers got that message?” When I ask myself that question, I just have to write about it, just in case the parent viewers in fact did not get the message.
The inspiration for today’s blog post comes from the new ABC series Secrets & Lies. To get the entire lesson, you don’t need a huge background on the show, but you’ll need a few details. The show is about a husband and father, Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe), who discovers the dead body of his 4-year-old neighbor while out for a run, and is now the prime suspect for the murder, which he is desperate to prove he didn’t commit. As soon as the cops start suspecting Ben of the murder, his neighbors become uncomfortable around him, avoiding him in the community, or seeking him out to call him a child-killer.
During this week’s episode, the Crawford family attends a holiday party. As can be expected, people are pointing and staring at Ben, and some choose to completely avoid his company. His daughter, Abby–who Ben calls Monkey–goes on a search for some cotton candy and soon after, the viewers hear a brawl involving Abby.
Abby and another boy are yelling and pushing each other when each kid’s parents show up. They ask what has happened and the boy accuses Abby of pushing him. The boy’s dad tells Ben that he needs to let his daughter know that she can’t just go around pushing people. Then Abby reveals why she pushed the boy. “He called you a baby-killer” she says, looking at her dad.
The boy’s father scolds his son for saying such things and swears that he doesn’t know where he heard it from (but of course, we all know exactly where this kid heard it from). He demands that his son apologize for saying something so mean. Then, Ben likewise demands that Abby apologize, even though it’s evident on his face that he doesn’t want to scold his daughter for standing up for his reputation. Abby apologizes and the family leaves the party.
Can you imagine how confusing this must have been for the boy, who obviously heard the phrase “baby-killer” from his father? He decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps and use the phrase that he learned from his dad, only to be scolded by his dad for doing it. The parenting lesson here is that kids learn more from what they hear their parents say and see their parents do, than what their parents tell them they are supposed to do.
So what about Ben? Did he handle this situation alright? Should he have scolded Abby for protecting him so as to teach her that it isn’t alright to fight? Or should he have allowed her to stand up for him, teaching her that sometimes things are worth fighting for?
Honestly, he could have done either and I wouldn’t have judged him. Being a parent means making some hard choices and knowing that your choices won’t always be accepted by others. However, Ben made one huge mistake in this scene that we don’t realize is a mistake until later in the episode when we see what happens when he becomes angry himself.
Later in the episode, Ben learns that his teenage daughter thinks that she might be pregnant. When he goes to confront her about it, he learns from Abby that his possibly pregnant 16-year-old daughter is at a 21st birthday party with her boyfriend. He becomes very angry very quickly and heads off to the birthday party with Abby and a friend. When he finds his daughter making out with her boyfriend at the party, he grabs him, throws him to the ground and threatens to kill him if he ever touches his daughter again.
Now, a lot can be said about how this is going to affect the murder investigation that he’s currently involved in, but that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m interested in the message that Ben has just given to Abby in this situation. At the holiday party, Abby learned that it wasn’t ok to push someone, even if that someone was saying harmful things about her dad. But in this scenario, Abby sees her dad attack a boy for kissing her sister (she has no idea about the possible pregnancy). What her dad taught her to do in one scenario clearly conflicted with the way that he acted in another.
So what do you think will happen the next time Ben’s little Monkey feels threatened at school? Is she going to use her words as she has been instructed? Or will she throw a punch like she’s seen her dad do? (Pun very obviously intended) Monkey See…Monkey Do! Abby (aka Monkey) saw her dad using aggression to resolve his issues, and because she saw this, she’s way more likely to resolve her issues in the same way.
Just like the boy from the previous scene, Abby learned how to handle the situation by what has been modeled for her by her parents, not from what she’s been told to do.
If your child plays out Monkey See, Monkey Do, will you be proud of her? If not, you better change what your little monkey sees (and hears), so your little monkey knows what to do!