Talking About the Penn State Horrors with your Children

 that good men ( and women) do nothing. 

I have started this post something like 5 times in an effort to put into words the disgust and pain I feel having to do with the whole Penn State situation. The gross amounts of negligence and true evil  on the part of so many so-called adults in these matters is mind blowing and while a sexual act was involved, the subject is rape and child abuse.

If you have been living under a rock ( and good for you, this stuff make me want to crawl under a rock right next to you!) you might not know of the extensive and ever widening scandal  involving Penn State's  head Football coach, his subordinate coach and uncounted numbers of other people who covered up, turned a blind eye and willingly let young boys be sexually abused by one sick individual in the name of all-mighty Football.  You can Google for more details, since there is no shortage of them out there with each detail more horrific than the last I can assure you.

I want to talk about your children in all of this.. your children, my children . You might think they don't know, you might think you have snapped off the news quick enough or turned down the radio and shielded them from this sick news but I can assure you that they know, or they will know soon enough. If they go to school they might have even heard about it before you did.. the kid grape vine is pretty speedy ( but often misinformed)  when it comes to such gruesome stories.

Problem being .. if this is mind boggling in detail to adults how is a child's mind supposed to process this amount of pain and detail. Were the details shared full truth or half embellished?.. who knows and that is why it is now your turn to sit down and talk with your child about this Penn State travesty in words that are real, helpful and hopefully in the end comforting to your child.

In the case of my children I ran into the store (with them being well of age (10&13) to wait in the locked car) and it was a story on NPR. I returned to a very quiet car and knew something was up right off. Usually they have broken into a fight while I picked gallon of milk and I return to shouting and accusations of wrong doing, so the quiet was deafening to say the least. My ear quickly picked up the tail end of the NPR story and it became very clear what all the quite was about and I knew it was time to start talking.

Actually I think the car is a fantastic place for some of life's tougher conversations since the general lack of eye contact gives the kids their own personal space to digest some of the harder details of life and ask questions that they carry deep within. So with that I threw out my first volley- "Hard to understand how someone would hurt kids that way isn't it"   At first it was tentative one word replies gauging my response to their response, I move a bit further- "I think sometimes they forget kids are listening and use words that kids might not know, like "sodomy"  - "Even some adults don't know what that means"  It means....   and yes I told my children what it means I told them the truth, yes the whole truth. The truth that a grown man who was suppose to be there to protect children hurt those boys by turning a sexual act into one of pain and aggression and that many other adults knew about it and did not act.

We talked about what rape meant, how it can happen to boys or girls, men or women and that it was not sex.  That sex was a consensual  act between two people and rape was a forced sexual act. They asked questions and we talked some more. I drove the very long way home since I was pretty sure  that when we pulled in the driveway they would be ready to be done for now. But that is ok.. there are always other car rides and more discussions to have.

For further reading can I suggest you pop over and read a companion post series  about picking a therapist for your child and how to know when they need professional intervention is written by my husband  and you can find it HERE


Unknown said...

It's wonderful to hear about you talking with your boys about this. So often parents only focus on their daughters with rape issues, when boys can just as easily be taken advantage of, maybe even easier in a situation of coach / player relationship.

Really your conversation probably did two things: both answered their questions about this current drama AND educated them enough to know that if an adult was ever tried something similar that they have the power to say no.

Applause to you awesome mama!


Tessie in Texas said...

My son saw a coach molest a little girl at school in the 3rd grade. When he FINALLY told me days later why he didnt want to go back to school & we reported it to the school, they werent going to tell the police & the girl, along with my son, had to sit in library while other kids were at p.e. WITH SAID COACH! We had to fight to have him exposed, yet they only moved him on to another school TALK TO YOUR KIDS! My son is now 32. We must fight for our kids...and prepare them, bcause sickos are out there!!

Claire said...

I really feel that I benefitted from being raised in a home where we talked about everything. Your willingness to break the ice on tough issues while I was young made those conversations easier for me as an adult. Thank you Mom.

Ami said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Maddie. I think it's so important to remember, as you said, that kids are going to hear much more than we think they will about things like this, so an honest conversation is critical.
As many as one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused; having open conversations like these will help kids identify adults in their lives who will be receptive and supportive in the event that they or a friend are victims of abuse.
Also, one of the conversations that I hope the Penn State situation can spark is how misguided the whole "stranger danger" talk generally is. By far, kids who are abused are abused by someone they know and trust. By scaring kids into thinking it's the shadowy man in the bushes who is going to hurt them, we're giving them bad information. Are there instances of strangers abusing kids? Of course, but it's a much smaller percentage. Sometimes, as in the Penn State case, it's a stranger who has the potential to put a stop to it. I only wish that someone had.

Sandy Kleven said...

Hi Maggie, I read your post with interest (your husband's, too).
Many parents have been guided through the “prevention” conversation with THE RIGHT TOUCH: A Read-aloud story to Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. In this picture book a mom talks to her son – covering important prevention information. First and foremost, is presenting the fact that sexual abuse happens, that it’s not okay, and that it is important to tell if something happens. Without such knowledge, children have no defense when a perpetrator says it’s a special secret, that everyone doe it and they must not tell anyone. The language used in the book was developed over a five year period when the text was presented as a play. Much audience feedback led to revisions and a book that has won national awards.
Yeah, I wrote it - because it was necessary to help parents (myself, included) figure out the language - the phrasing - to talk about all the critical elements of prevention, to talk about the crime in a manner, far better, than the cop-out of "Don't take candy from strangers" that was way our parents way to address the topic.
I live in Alaska, now, and I am currently wrapping up another book on the subject written to assist parents who live in Alaska Native villages (Talk About Touch: Alaska. Your readers can find The Right Touch on Amazon.
Sandy Kleven, LCSW Behavioral Health Consultant.