Speaking to my son about the Penn State scandal

Betsy MacKay is the vice president of public affairs at Children’s. During her more than 13 years here, she has also raised her son, Wills, who is now 12.

I usually have a hard time getting Wills to talk very much at breakfast. He wants to eat, watch SportsCenter and head to school. Sound familiar?

Well, yesterday was different. Wills sauntered in, sat down over his hot pancakes and asked “Mom, what is going at Penn St. and what happened in that locker room thing?” Alrighty then – why did his Dad have to be out of town???

Because I have spent the last 13 years working around amazing experts on topics like this at Children’s, I didn’t run. Instead, I was able to engage my precious little boy on a very dicey topic. Here is what we talked about:

Sometimes grown men do really awful things to young boys. When Wills asked what kinds of things, I bit the bullet and described the assault in complete detail as the SportsCenter coverage raged on in the background with the sound muted. Wills squirmed on the barstool and got a sheepish grin but looked me in the eye the whole time. It felt right and good to be talking to him this way.

We then revisited the idea that he is never to let anyone touch him in his privates or even talk to him about any sexual topic that makes him uncomfortable. Thankfully, we have a wonderful pediatrician who has talked to him this way since he was a toddler.

We chatted about how boys that love sports like he does will spend a lot of time in locker room showers. I made sure he knew that was normal and fine and that what happened at Penn State is extremely rare. I told him he should not be afraid because coaches are generally wonderful, giving people who are reliable mentors. However, I added that the world has plenty of bad actors too and he must always trust his instincts about what is right behavior and wrong behavior.

I then emphasized that he should always feel totally secure and comfortable telling his dad and me if anything of this nature ever came close to happening to him because we would protect him at all costs.

That was really the end of it. He then skipped off to grab his backpack and ran outside to catch his carpool ride. Oh, he kissed me goodbye, too – my treat for the day!!

When I got to work, I had the wonderful opportunity (and so do you) of being able to call Dr. Pete Stavinoha, an incredible child psychologist here at Children’s, to get his insights. He validated my concerns over this Penn State hoopla and its impact on our kids. (Listen to Dr. Stavinoha interviewed about the Penn State scandal on KLIF here – he comes on at around the one-minute mark.)

He also reminded me of a very good point that I forgot to make with Wills. Dr. Pete said we must stress to kids that they should not ever be afraid to report an incident like this if they witness it or if it should ever happen to them. This is a crime and the police must know about it. Real men speak up and tell the truth. This is where Joe Paterno failed, and we are all hurt by it, even as we hurt for him. I am going to follow-up with Wills on that point.

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One Response to Speaking to my son about the Penn State scandal

  1. ConcernedTexan November 18, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    >I cannnot imagine the difficulty of having to have this discussion with a child. However, I feel that false information has been given to both your son and the public.

    First, you state, "Sometimes grown men do really awful things to young boys." I feel that this implies that only older men sexual abuse boys. There are both male and female abusers, young and old alike. Sexual abuse is grossly under-reported, especially when a female is the abuser. It is NOT only "grown men."

    Second, you refer to these abuses as "hoopla," and down play them by saying that sexual abuse is "extremely rare." Would the children and families involved agree with those statements?

    Again, sexual abuse is grossly under-reported. Susan Forward, Ph D. writes that "Ninety percent of sexual abuse victims never tell."

    Your own Dr. Cox was JUST featured on the BBC explainig how child abuse is a huge problem, especially in TX. Where does he weigh in on this issue?

    The pieces about empowering your son were great, but overall, I am really disappointed in this blog. Once again, child abuse has been downplayed, false information has been given, and victims of abuse served a disjustice.

    I expected more from Children's.

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