Imagine the drive to soccer practice; no sooner do you get your child to remove the earphones which seem permanently implanted in their ears then the radio announces the latest development in the clergy scandal or Sandusky case. Great, just what you had in mind!
But please, resist the urge to pretend you didn’t the newscaster. Take a deep breath, turn off the radio and ask your child their thoughts about what you just heard.
“That’s gross” is a likely reply. “I think so too” you could answer. “How much do you understand about what happened to the victims?”
Then listen to your child’s reply carefully. Depending on their age, they may understand exactly what sex abuse is, or have a terrible misconception. I recall one family I counseled years ago where the younger sibling of a victim mistook the word ‘rape’ for ‘rake’. She thought all of the family trauma was because someone hit her sister with a rake! Prompt your child with an age-appropriate version of a question such as “what do you think the bad guy did to the child?” Explain your questioning with an (also age-appropriate) version of a statement like “I want to make sure you understand so we can be a team working together to keep our family and friends safe.” That’s a little less threatening than saying “I want to keep you safe” but parents know their own kids and can judge what they can be comfortable hearing.
Use this as an opportunity to tell your kids that people who sexually abuse children put their own pleasure above the pain they cause children. Remind them that sometimes they dress it up like a friendship or a love relationship to confuse the child (or teen!). Remind them that anyone who wants to be sexual with a young person is selfish at best and a criminal at worse. And if your child protests the conversation, take the opportunity to remind them that being able to speak with you about sex helps keep them healthy and being able to speak with you about sex abuse can help keep them safe.
Abusers count on the fact that kids don’t like to speak to their parents about sex, and you don’t want that to be true on your family.
So use the news —with the Sandusky trial starting in a few weeks and on-going clergy trials in many major media markets, there will be plenty of opportunity!