The 6-year-old girl turned to her mother and asked, “What does it mean to grab somebody by the p---y?”
Rachael MacIsaac Parker thought she had misheard her daughter. “What?” she recalled responding. “What do you mean?”
Then she saw the television screen. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, was saying in a 2005 recording. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
Fame gave him power over the opposite sex, Trump was bragging to Billy Bush, then the host of “Access Hollywood.”
“Grab them by the p---y,” he said, caught on a hot mic. “You can do anything.”
Parker, an assistant principal at an elementary school in Louisiana, pulled her daughter close. “I told her we needed to talk about our bodies,” she said, “and that sometimes bad people touch our bodies without permission.”
She said her daughter asked if Trump was a bad guy. “What do you even say to that?” she remarked.
The decade-old footage of Trump has upended the presidential campaign since The Washington Post first published it Friday afternoon, prompting dozens of Republicans to call for the candidate to exit the race. But it also has presented parents nationwide with a vexing quandary: how and whether to explain the jarring remarks to their children.
Trump’s comments dominated television and the Internet on Friday night and all of Saturday — a digital universe open to any kid with a device and a connection.
Teddy Mott, a freshman at a high school in the District, first saw part of the transcript on Instagram. Curious, he Googled “Donald Trump” on his iPhone and the phrase “Grab them by the p---y” came up.
He thought, “What?”
“You hear guys at school talking about women, but you don’t hear them talking like that,” Mott, 14, told a reporter as his mother listened. “You hear, ‘Am I out of the doghouse?’ ”
Did the exchange affect his view of women?
He paused to think.
“You respect them as people,” he said. “My mom taught me that. You look at them from afar. You look into their eyes first.”
For some families, the remarks have prompted emotional reactions. Keisha Robinson, an employee at a nonprofit organization in Arizona, said “grab them by the p---y” brought her 18-year-old daughter to tears.
“She came to me and said, ‘Oh, my gosh. Did you hear what he said?’ ” recalled Robinson, 38, a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “She’s terrified about what this means for women. She’s scared people think that behavior is okay.”
Michael Clifford, 37, an author who lives in Los Angeles, said he turns off the television when Trump is talking. “It’s a fatherly instinct to shield them from that negativity,” he said of his two boys, ages 2 and 4 months. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, that’s just real guy talk,’ and that disgusts me. I’ve never hung around guys like that.”
The Trump campaign issued a statement Friday, calling Trump’s conversation with Bush “private” and dismissing it as “locker room banter.” Hours later, the real estate developer released a 90-second video in which he said: “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.”
Parental concern spilled onto cable news commentary. After the Republican strategist Ana Navarro repeated Trump’s comments on CNN late Friday, political pundit Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump supporter, replied, “Will you please stop saying that word? My daughter is listening.”
Navarro snapped back: “You know what, Scottie? Don’t tell me you’re offended when I say ‘p---y,’ but you’re not offended when Donald Trump says it. I’m not running for president — he is.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, joined many male politicians in invoking paternal anxiety in his response to the controversy. “As a husband and father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the eleven-year-old video released yesterday,” Pence wrote in a statement Saturday. “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.”
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, a national nonpartisan advocacy group, heard from dozens of parents Saturday, unsure how to navigate America’s increasingly profane election climate.
“I’ve heard, ‘I’m trying to shield my kids from it,’ ” she said, reading from her group’s message thread. “I’ve heard, ‘I won’t let my older ones watch any more debates after this,’ and ‘I don’t want my daughters to think they are objects.’ ”
The recording isn’t the first example of Trump employing language that has worried parents. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in March, Cokie Roberts pressed the candidate about how he influences young minds.
“There’ve been incidents of white children pointing to their darker-skinned classmates and saying, ‘You’ll be deported when Donald Trump is president,’ ” Roberts said in a reference to Trump’s promise to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants if he becomes president. “There’ve been incidents of white kids at basketball games holding up signs to teams which have Hispanic kids on them, saying, ‘We’re going to build a wall to keep you out.’ ”
She asked if he was proud.
“I think your question is a very nasty question,” Trump replied, “and I’m not proud of it because I didn’t even hear of it, okay?”
Karen Kane, a mom from Silver Spring, said she was resolved not to allow her 4-year-old son to learn the wrong lesson from the remarks. Kane, 39, had stumbled on the video on her iPad while her son watched cartoons on the floor of their home. Seeing a warning label, “graphic language,” she had popped in ear buds — and had quickly grown nauseated. She told her boy to turn off “Clifford” so she could tell him: Never touch a woman without permission.
“He’s not going to grow up and be one of those kids on the playground who thinks, ‘Of course you can go up to a woman and grab her wherever,’ ” said Kane, who considers herself an independent voter. “Even if the president says he does it.”