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Watching Comey With the Kids

What watching the Congressional hearing with my teens taught me

Published on: June 12, 2017

James Comey Wiki Commons
James Comey. Photo credit: WikiCommons

By the time I watched the James Comey hearing last week, my three teenagers had already seen some or all of it. One of my sons watched it in history class, and the other two saw video clips on social media. As I sat down to see it on TV that evening, so did they.

My kids have never been political junkies. The Comey hearing was the first time any of them has watched a Congressional hearing, or even turned on C-SPAN. But our current political climate has made them more engaged in current events. As news breaks, they text me. As a news junkie myself, I often already know. But occasionally, such as in case of the recent London Bridge attack, they've broken the news to me.

It's a strange way to parent. I'm used to consuming the news first, and distilling what seems important and appropriate to my kids. But as they get older — now 17 (twins) and 19 — and become more interested in the news themselves, they've begun to seek out their own media.

It's tempting to think that my job here is done: I've raised informed and engaged kids. But no matter how much they enjoy thinking of themselves as full-fledged adults, they aren't yet. They still need my help putting the news they consume into context, and to learn how to determine which news sources are credible. If anything, it's become even more critical that we continue discussing the news together now that they have full access to the Internet, with all of its questionable news sources.

During the Comey hearing, my kids surprised me by how much they have already learned to interpret and analyze the news cycle (something we all struggle with, even as adults). They were angry at the victim-blaming lines of questioning used by the Republican senators to shift attention to Comey's behavior rather than that of the president. They saw through the verbal gymnastics surrounding the president's use of the phrase "I hope" to put pressure on Comey to drop the Russian investigation, and they understood the importance of the continuing investigation.

What my kids didn't see was the part of the hearing that hit me the hardest.

What my kids didn't see was the part of the hearing that hit me the hardest. They didn't catch the similarity between the Republican senators attempts to discredit Comey and the legal maneuverings often used against rape or harassment victims. They laughed when Comey said he wasn't Captain Courageous, but they didn't understand that his response to the pressure by the president had become the focus of the hearing rather than the pressure itself. They didn't shudder like I did when senator after senator asked Comey why he didn't report what happened, even though he kept detailed notes in order to provide an accurate testimony down the line.

My teens are no strangers to the idea of rape culture. I've long talked to them about the problematic nature of a culture that puts rape victims on trial while excusing their rapists as too young or too promising to punish. While they don't always agree with my views, they've begun to evaluate the world in a different light. A few weeks ago, my son came home and told me he called his girlfriend out for using the word "slut" about other girls. I took heart then that my kids were learning to buck the tidal wave of rape culture and think for themselves, but watching the Comey hearings reminded me how much they still have to learn.

I've taught my kids the importance of doing what's right, even when it's unpopular or frightening. It's tempting to say that Comey is an example of a man who failed to do that, and who took the easy way out rather than telling the president that what he was asking was wrong. But while we'd all love to see ourselves as "Captain Courageous," the Senate didn't hold a hearing to get to the bottom of Comey's choices — it held hearings to determine whether the president pressured Comey and was colluding with Russia. With my kids, I explored why it's a problem to focus solely on Comey's behavior and decisions while neglecting the president's entirely. "But what was he wearing?" one of my sons joked, hearkening back to the same way women are often treated when they report their rapes.

My kids didn't grasp the parallels between the Comey hearings and how women are treated without my help. That's why, as we watched the hearing together, I was reminded just how important it is for us to watch current events unfold and discuss them as a family. They won't always live under my roof, and it's important that by the time they're on their own, they see the connections, too.

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