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Parenting: How to talk to kids about Arnold Schwarzenegger's infidelity

May 17, 2011 |  2:55 pm

Shriver
The revelation that Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with a household staff member can go from shocking to nerve-wracking when your child is sitting beside you. For a certain type of parent, questions abound: Should I turn off the radio or television and try to limit my child's exposure to the sex scandal? Or is it OK to let my kid listen and absorb? Do I use it as the basis to start a conversation? And if I do start a conversation, what should that conversation be about?

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, director of curriculum and planning for the Youth Programs Department of the Union for Reform Judaism, said if a child is old enough to ask questions about the ex-governor's infidelity, he or she is old enough to hear an honest answer. The answer, however, should reflect a child's age and also relate to the type of question he or she asked. If a 7-year-old asks, "Why is this in the news?" a parent might simply reply, "Arnold made a mistake and hurt his family."

Parents can assume that children in sixth grade and above will understand what is going on and will have questions. Winer identified three types of conversations that this moment in the news cycle might inspire:

1. Talk about monogamy and sex: If you believe that monogamy is the key (or at least one key) to a happy relationship, now is the time to talk about what monogamy means, and the importance of honoring the commitments we make to our boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse.

2. Talk about the importance of forgiveness: Remember, this may not be the first time your kid has heard this type of story. Perhaps a friend or family member has been through a similar experience. This is an opportunity to talk about the types of mistakes people make, the consequences those mistakes can have, and how we can forgive people for their mistakes.

3. Talk about the ugliness of gossip: It's time to discuss how real people are involved in this situation and how hurtful gossip about them can be.

What if, like a colleague of mine, you have a daughter and are wondering how to reassure her that some men are indeed trustworthy? Julie Cederbaum, an assistant professor at USC and an expert in family relationships, suggested reminding your child that this is a case of one person doing something hurtful, and that some people make choices we don't agree with, but that doesn't mean all people are bad.

-- Deborah Netburn

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Photo: Arnold Schwarzenegger with wife Maria Shriver in 2003. Credit: Carlo Allegri / Getty Images

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