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Instead of shielding our kids from controversy, what if we use it as a teaching opportunity?

Teaching Moments



I come from folk who believe that negativity is opportunity dressed in camouflage.

They believe in "teaching moments" and keeping cool. They trust intuition over impulse. They are slow to panic and they optimize the educational opportunities in absolutely everything.

Somebody tries to punk you at work? Or in a store? Or at the park? "Learn to speak up," my father would say, "steel your tone and stand your ground."

You lose a lover to betrayal? "Code switch," my mother would say. "Did you really lose a lover? Or did you lose a loser? Celebrate your liberation: You are now free to attract a better relationship."

It takes a lot to shake my folks, both descendants of people who turned cotton, indigo and rice into riches. When my parents hear sob stories, they often gently suggest that there might be another way to look at it.

And so it is with so many topics that we jump to judge — Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, gas prices, global warming. Isn't there a lesson and another view to almost every headline, and almost everything?

And so it is with the stumble of my children's latest, and most brief, TV crush: the Duggars. During a recent hotel stay, my children binged on back-to-back episodes of the TLC then-hit reality show, 19 Kids and Counting.

I admit I watched, remembering how a friend once told me I had Duggar-esque tendencies due to my desire to have five children. Still, this was a flock, and I could not fathom feeling "blessed" with a quiverful of children.

A month ago, the name Duggar was synonymous with "divine Christian abundance," or "televised perfection." Today the name is linked to charges of abuse and molestation; to condemnation.

But there is another lens: Isn't this a universal tale of sexuality, silence and shame? Extreme stories of unimaginable cruelty and horror aside, is this situation another opportunity for us teach and talk about the human drive for touch, curiosity and boundaries? Maybe this is a good time to talk about what happens when self-control turns to senselessness.

I remember one day, as a journalism student, my mother invited me to a meal at the home of one of her friends. The woman was a stringer for The New York Times and a married mother of two girls, about 8 and 3.

While we talked shop and story ideas, one of her daughters blurted, "I like when me and my sister lick each other's tongues."

Dropped forks rattled on our plates. No one said a word. After a few awkward seconds, the conversation picked up, and an hour later the dinner ended. That was 23 years ago. I can still hear the silence.

Perhaps a missed teaching moment?

There is a line in Stevie Wonder's 1976 hit, "I Wish," that says, "Brother says he's tellin' 'bout you playin' doctor with that girl."

Background singers scold, "You nasty boy!"

Is "playing doctor" nasty? Or is it within the realm of normal childhood development? I do not know all the details of the Duggar story, and I don't need to. Despite the facts about age and intent, despite the murky line between crime and curiosity — and the firm one between abuse and innocence — isn't it all an invitation to teach? And a reminder to resist judgment?

I remember in kindergarten, unbuttoning my denim jumpsuit to show some boy my flowered panties. I remember him showing me his tighty whities. I can only imagine the outrage I'd have today if some teacher caught one of my daughters with her pants down.

But was that "nasty"? Was I? Or was it normal?

A few weeks ago, after our binge on 19 Kids and Counting, news about covered-up child molestation charges hit my Facebook feed. I read it and gasped. One of my girls leaned over to look at my phone. She saw Josh Duggar's face and said, "What?! What happened?!"

I flipped the phone over and held it on my lap as I decided whether or not to tell the truth. If I didn't, would they have the words to explain and prevent unwanted touch from a relative? A stranger? Or each other? Could sharing this news help them see the eldest Duggar as someone who did something dumb and reckless? Would my silence cast him as a vile, nasty man?

Five seconds later, I read the report. Teaching moment, I thought. Good time to reiterate lessons about boundaries, appropriate and inappropriate touch, privacy and private parts.

They listened. One daughter sucked her teeth and said, "Dang." That was it. One minute later, they were back to watching cartoons and eating Takis.

I am sure life will test my theory that teaching moments can dodge challenges. And when they arise, I am sure I will attempt to sidestep shame and secrets by questioning what is normal and uncomfortable. Or what is uncomfortable and criminal. I am sure I may not always know the answer.

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