Man in the Kitchen: What Do We Tell Our Kids in the...

Man in the Kitchen: What Do We Tell Our Kids in the Age of #MeToo?

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I live in a small flat. My 19-year-old son was home recently on a break from college. He brought his lovely girlfriend, Jasmine. As I was reading in my bedroom – ostensibly to give them some privacy in the living room, where they could watch TV or text or canoodle, or whatever it is college kids do today – I heard laughter.

Then Jasmine’s voice saying “No.” More laughter. Then louder, “Cut it out!” Then, what sounded like a commotion, and the very clearly worded command: “Stop it!”

#metoo
© Milhal Surdu/Unsplash

Can you imagine what was going through my mind? I have raised two boys in a household of complete human decency. Their entire lives have been conducted with kindness and civility. They are beyond reproach.

With the chorus of #MeToo echoing through my brain, I made my decision. Whatever was going on outside my bedroom door was not going to happen here. Not on my shift. I hurried from my room and clumped loudly down the long hallway to make my presence known. I burst into the living room. And there I found them – engaged in a rolling, tumbling, puppy-dog-like tickling match. They looked up at me in surprise, their faces contorted in laughter. I flashed my widest grin, said nothing, and repaired back to my room.

dating
Ben and Jasmine. © Ken Carlton

The awful truth

We all like to think we have raised good boys. So if that is the case, how do you explain the reality on campus: the intolerable number of assaults, date rapes, and worse? The numbers do not lie. On its website, the United States Department of Justice highlights a chilling statistic: ONE OUT OF EVERY FOUR female undergraduates will be victim to some form of sexual assault before graduation. A major French student union was rocked by accusations this year from members accusing some of its leadership of rape and sexual harassment.

Something is terribly wrong out there and the problem is global. And it is on us, the grown-ups who are sending these young men and women out into the world, to do something. Now!

As a man writing about this topic, I’m aware that emotions run high. So let me add, I have a college-aged stepdaughter, too, so I get to play both sides of the coin. If either of my sons committed an assault of any kind, I would be shocked, heartbroken, and question what I did wrong raising them. If someone hurt my stepdaughter, I’d be running to the scene of the crime, fists clenched, in lockstep with her natural dad. Victim or the accused, these are the two scenarios every parent dreads. Is there anything we can do to prevent it?

child's sexual identity
Ken Carlton and son Matty. Photo courtesy of author

Fathers and sons need to talk about lust

Ask any male and they will recall (in vivid detail!) the arc-light flash of teenage desire. Yet in the same breath, we are at one with the pain of rejection. To steer boys in the right direction, I believe you need to prepare them for both.

Is there anything more blind and obtuse than a horny teenaged boy placed into a potentially volatile situation with the object of his desire? Teaching condom use is child’s play. Teaching your son that no means NO is the real challenge. Lust and heartache live on the same page. We need to tell our boys this. Yes, it’s okay to fool around. Yes, you should expect it’s going to be confusing as hell. Yes, there’s a damned good chance you’re going to misread some signals and get shut down. And son, this is the message that matters most. Because when she says no, you stop. Period. Walk away. Got it? You just passed the test with flying colors. Carry that lesson with you for life.

women drinking
© Michael Discenza/Unsplash

Girls just want to have fun. Is that okay?

Young women have a role in this too and there is at least one point I think parents need to convey to their daughters who might love our sons. Or even just be attracted at the moment. Do not drink and date! Or at the very least, don’t do it solo. Boys on booze are your worst nightmare ever. The second you leave the party and get alone with a horny guy who’s buzzed, you run the risk of fanning the flames of a fire ready to get out of control. So what should we tell these teenagers to do?

Make out on the couch in the family room, where your protestations might be heard. Do a drunk driving test, only for “fooling around.” If he can’t walk in a straight line before you go behind that bedroom door, what might happen after it closes? Hold yourself to the same standard. If you’re so buzzed you don’t know what you’re doing, ask yourself or ask a friend: Should I and this guy be alone? Think we’re okay? Do I think I’m okay? If your daughter asks herself these questions before the action gets hot and heavy, she stands a much better chance of not getting into something that lands her in a bad place. If she asks the guy and doesn’t like his answers, even better. Time to go. For both of you. Save it for another more sober and better opportunity.

© Huy Phan/Unsplash

Nobody wins when someone gets hurt

Can we impart these lessons to our kids? It may be awkward, but rest assured, it is eons less so than having this talk in a police station. Or before an academic disciplinary board. Or even on the sofa at home when your daughter or son comes home in tears and says, “Mom, Dad – something bad just happened.”

Let’s be honest here, dating looks nothing like what any of us grew up with, so maybe the best we can hope for are some rules of engagement that level the playing field.

We don’t hand teenagers a quart of tequila and the keys to the car. Why not seek the same criteria for sexual responsibility and add respect to what a young man or woman takes out the door with them on a so-called date or hookup? My son was tickling his girlfriend. She asked him to stop. He did. They may encounter their emotional scuffs and bumps along the way, but it is my fervent belief he treats her well. And she demands and deserves it. That is the stuff of relationships. That is what I want my kids to know. It is part of my job and I accept. Maybe if we all do, those numbers will come down. Our sons and daughters deserve that, too.

recipe
Healthy Ramen stir fry noodles. © Ken Carlton

The Kids Are Home Ramen Stir-fry

I love the fact my son likes to cook for his girlfriend. I wonder where he picked up that habit?

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. chicken, pork, or medium shelled shrimp
  • 3-4 packets of packaged Ramen soup
  • 1 bunch scallion
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 finely diced carrot
  • A couple of cloves of garlic
  • Any form of cooking oil
  • Soy sauce

Method:

  • Get water boiling for Ramen noodles
  • Dice meat into bite-sized strips or chunks
  • Chop your veggies into a fine mince
  • Add a couple of tbsp of oil to large frying pan or wok, heat to medium hot
  • Saute your meat or shrimp until cooked fully through
  • Push to side of pan and add garlic, jalapeno, carrot and scallion
  • Dump Ramen noodles in boiling water; give it 3 minutes to chewy and drain well
  • Add noodles to wok/pan and lower heat
  • Add soy sauce to taste and toss all ingredients vigorously until mixed well and steaming
  • Serve in pretty bowls with chopsticks
Ken Carlton
Ken Carlton is an author and screenwriter. He is currently working on the screenplay for his latest novel, FOOD FOR MARRIAGE. He co-authored the award-winning memoir, THE HUNGER, the story behind Greenwich Village’s celebrity hotspot, The Waverly Inn. Ken wrote the "His Point of View" column for Cosmopolitan and appeared as a “dating expert” on Oprah. His television credits include shows on ABC, CBS, HBO and PBS. A New Yorker and Parisian at heart, he has written for President Jacques Chirac and scripted conferences in Paris for CNN and Fortune magazine. Never far from his passion for food, he is producing a documentary on the fishing industry in New England. Ken and his wife, a professor, split their time between Brooklyn, NY and Chicago.

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