Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am shocked by a recent revelation about my 13-year-old son, “Luke.” His school gave all the kids laptops at the beginning of the year to complete schoolwork and attend remote classes. Students are expected to only use the computer for academic purposes, but of course kids will be kids. When my son’s school called me about what they found on his computer, however, it was beyond what I could’ve imagined. Apparently, Luke has been watching horrifying pornography involving necrophilia, as well as pornographic snuff films. I know that kids his age are often fascinated by sex, but there’s a huge difference to me between a teen watching a video of consenting adults having sex and them watching a video where someone defiles a corpse or is killed during sex. It’s hard to look at him the same way after I found this out. I asked him about it, and he says he came across these videos accidentally. However, I don’t believe that because the school explained that his internet browsing history showed that he was actively searching for this type of content on online search engines. It seems highly abnormal for a teen to be watching videos like this, and I’m worried about the impact they’ll have on him. I’m honestly considering sending him to a therapist, but my husband thinks that’s too extreme. What should I do about my son’s disturbing pornography habit?
—Horrified in Houston
Your son’s porn viewing habits could have gotten him in a lot of trouble at school; perhaps your husband will consider this when you reintroduce the conversation about therapy—as you should. The internet is filled with lots of shocking sexual content for unsupervised kids to discover, but your young son has managed to find—and to repeatedly seek out—images that are incredibly disturbing and difficult to process, even for adults. Therapy is not “too extreme” an option; it’s, in my opinion, an urgent and necessary one. Your son needs healthy ways to explore his budding sexuality; consuming snuff films could not be any further from that. It’s important that you get your son to someone who can help him to contextualize and move on from this interest into something more age-appropriate. I don’t think the two of you should be expected to know how to do that without the help of a professional. Please don’t take this lightly. Wishing you all the best.
Slate Plus Members Get More Advice From Jamilah Each Week
From this week’s letter, “My Daughter Wants to Be Cut Off so She Can “Sink or Swim.” Should I Believe Her?”: “I’m wondering how far to take this … ”
Dear Care and Feeding,
We have a bright, spirited 3-year-old (“Sara”) and recently welcomed a newborn into our family. Sara has always had sleep issues and spent most of the past year starting off the night in her own bed and then joining us in ours. We should have put a stop to it, but we were so tired and just grateful she was actually sleeping. Sara started day care this fall and has been sick nonstop. This has led to her spending all night in our bed and totally refusing to go into hers at all, even to start the night. I was pregnant and exhausted and just let it go. And now our newborn is here, and no one is getting any sleep. How do I correct the course with Sara? We don’t even know where to begin. She’s too old to cry it out (we sleep-trained her many times, to varying degrees of success), and we don’t want her to blame the baby. We messed up, but surely there’s a way out?
—Tired and Cranky
Dear Tired and Cranky,
Re-sleep-training Sara may feel like starting all over again, but it’s gotta happen. Create an evening ritual where she gets lots of cuddle time and attention; after bath time, curl up in a rocking chair in her room or alongside her in bed and read with a night light. One of you should stay in her room until she drifts off while you all attempt to get her back in the habit of sleeping in her bed. When she challenges you, be sure to explain that you love her very much—which is why you got her a beautiful room of her own to begin with—and that families sleep this way for a reason: so that everyone can get a good night’s sleep. She and the baby have different needs; when she was a baby, she was given the same attention and the same sleeping arrangements. This whole thing is going to suck for a while. There’s no easy trick, that I know of, to getting kids to sleep in their own bed. What doesn’t work is failing to commit to the ritual of putting them in there to begin with, and the longer you wait to do that, the harder it will be to get her back on track. Start tonight. She’ll cry. The baby will cry. You may cry, too. But eventually, it will get better.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a 15-year-old girl and had always been an only child until March of this year, when my parents legally adopted their goddaughter after her parents died in an accident. I love “Abby” and have known her since we were tiny, though she lived far away for a long time. Now she’s living with us and we call each other sisters. She’s obviously been in a terrible place emotionally and struggling with grief, but she’s said a few times that she has found happiness here despite everything and that she loves having a big sister (she’s 13). We’re looking forward to Christmas and my parents and I want to make it especially special for Abby.
The problem is my grandparents. They really believe in “blood ties” being the most important thing and have not been welcoming to Abby. Abby and I have birthdays close together, and they sent an expensive present for me and not even a card for her, despite my parents having told them that they have two daughters now. They barely talk to Abby when we see them and referred to her as a “guest” in our home until my mom had a huge fight with them about it.
My parents seem good at standing up to them about this stuff, but I don’t know how to deal with it myself. When I went to visit my grandparents recently, my gran kept going on about how she and my grandpa were desperate to spoil me because they “just know I’m not getting the attention I need at home anymore.” When I said it was fine (my parents still give me plenty of time and we honestly get on great), my grandpa acted like I was “putting a brave face” on things while my gran kept saying how important it was that I got to come to their place and have my own space again. She then made a comment on something I was wearing, noting that it was a lot like a style Abby wears, and asked if I was trying to dress up like her to get my parents’ attention. I’m not! It was just a cute top! I had no idea what to say and just kept trying to change the subject.
I don’t think I’m handling them right, but I don’t know what to do. They keep giving me “secret” presents now because they think my parents will “kick off again” if they find out because they “don’t care about their own daughter anymore.” I find this all really upsetting and confusing, and I don’t know what to do with the gifts because they really press them on me. Sometimes it’s money. I want to split it with Abby and go shopping but I also don’t want to hurt her more by revealing all this stuff my grandparents are giving me while deliberately excluding her. My mom and dad have a lot going on right now, and I’m worried that by telling them about this, it’ll start a huge fight and possibly make Abby feel even worse—she got upset last time she realized there was a fight with my grandparents over her. What should I do? Is there something I can say to my grandparents that will make them stop doing this?
Dear Torn Granddaughter,
I am so sorry to hear that your grandparents don’t seem to appreciate what an important thing that both you and your parents have done by bringing Abby into your hearts. Unfortunately, they are acting immature and unreasonable, instead of saluting you guys and working to embrace their new grandchild. It’s too much for you to have to bear that on your own and have to worry about hiding gifts from your parents or Abby; furthermore, your grandparents shouldn’t have placed you in such an awkward position in the first place. I think you should talk to your parents about what is going on. There’s no need for Abby to have to hear about it, but the adults here need to have a serious talk, and your parents may need to make a decision about how they choose to engage with this set of grandparents going forward. Until they accept Abby as part of your family, it may be the case that you’ll need to spend some time apart. I know you don’t want to start a fight between them, but your grandparents are going out of their way to disparage your parents’ ability to make decisions for their household and seemingly trying to get you to see their way of looking at things. This is a bad situation that will likely only get worse unless you tell the truth. Don’t carry this burden; you shouldn’t have to. Keep focusing on being a great big sister, and friend, to Abby instead. Hopefully your grandparents will come along sooner rather than later.
Want Advice From Care and Feeding?
Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have an affectionate and extremely physical 2-year-old. He’s all about hugs and kisses, and we’re working through his moments of occasional anger that include hitting and biting. The bigger problem we’re having is that he unintentionally clobbers us constantly. Elbows and knees and feet and head, right to all of our sensitive spots. He’s rapturously happy to see us after being apart for any length of time, but his preferred greeting is pretty much climbing all over us and smothering our heads. I’m six months pregnant, which makes this extra problematic, since I’m dealing with this from the outside and the inside—plus my body hurts constantly! It’s easy enough to address specific behaviors like “no hitting” and “no biting” and providing generalities like “gentle hands!” and “gentle touches!” But it’s harder to police this whole-body battering ram way of interacting with the world. I love to have him climb into my lap to read a book, but I don’t want his elbows in my boobs. How can we encourage an overall less intense way of physically interacting?
Dear Sore Mom,
Make a point to tell your little one how his hugs and his climbing all over you can make you feel. Model the difference between a “good” hug (“I love holding you in my arms!”) and a “bad” one (“Squeezing too tight/grabbing/bumping hurts Mommy!”). Explain that you’re also so excited to see him and you can’t wait to feel loved all over, but that he has to be careful, otherwise even loving hugs can hurt. Point out how elbows and knees are sharp and how bad it feels when they hit you, but that you can still have him on your lap for a book; he just has to handle you and other loved ones (especially the new baby!) with care. You may be giving this lecture for a while before he gets it, but the only way he can change is to understand why what he’s doing is a problem for you and how he can show affection otherwise. Best of luck to you.
For More Parenting Coverage, Listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting
More Advice From Slate
My older sister recently came out as trans, and I know to refer to him as my older brother now.
Before he transitioned, he dated a girl for about four years, and since we were close siblings I became close to his girlfriend as well. They broke up at the start of last year but stayed friends, and I now consider her my best friend. I had a boyish crush on her for ages, but now that I’m 20 and she’s 22 it’s developed into a lot more than that. Both my brother and his ex have dated other people since they broke up but I’m concerned about a few things before making any moves. Is it morally acceptable to date my brother’s ex?