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How to Talk to Your Children About Ray Rice, Domestic Abuse

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Parents had their hands full long before the headlines surrounding Ray Rice’s elevator incident sacked their smart phones. Now they’ll have to help their children process one of the ugliest sports stories in recent memory.

For those without radio, Internet or TV access, video of the Baltimore Ravens’ running back knocking his then-fiancee out with one punch surfaced courtesy of, where else, TMZ.

We already heard Rice’s name associated with domestic abuse charges, and the NFL suspended him two games for his actions.

This was different.

Watching a powerful man slug a woman and, later, drag her motionless body as if she were a sack of laundry chilled the nation.

So how should parents discuss the story with their sons and daughters? It’s the kind of video clip you can’t “unsee,” and it’s bound to raise questions far beyond the gridiron.

Did the punishment fit the crime? Why did the woman in question, Janay Rice, forgive her husband and shred the media for magnifying the issue?

Dismissing the issue in stark terms, the kind you hear on the talk radio circuit, wastes the learning opportunities of this act.

Parents should start with the basics. Violence is the wrong way to settle disputes, and a man should never strike a woman, no matter the scope of their disagreement.

The conversation then depends on your child’s age level. Older children may be able to process the nuances of domestic violence, why some women cling to abusive men and the circle of violence that often creates these scenarios.

The sports perspective can come next. A professional team expects its players to behave in a certain fashion. They are both athletes and marketers for a very expensive brand, and their actions reflect on said brand. Parents can explain that their own bosses also expect employees not to tarnish the company’s reputation. Rice’s fall from grace could happen to anyone, from accountants to world class athletes.

Sadly, the modern sports world too often serves up tales of how off the field behavior impacts more than just a player’s stats.

The best way for fathers to stop children from emulating Rice’s actions is to model respect for the women in their lives. Fathers should treat their wives with dignity, settle disputes without violent displays and show empathy when both sides disagree on an issue.

Rice’s act also summons the notion of forgiveness, perhaps the trickiest element for parents to convey. Is Rice truly sorry for his actions, and how should the NFL, and society in general, receive his pleas for forgiveness?

It’s here where parents must consider their own depths of empathy. Your children are watching, and waiting, to see how you respond to both such an ugly act and its aftermath.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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