What We Can Learn from the Jerry Sandusky Sex Abuse Scandal
The Penn State sex scandal, involving Jerry Sandusky, has been in the media constantly since the news broke. It is a horrible; all too often, told tale of children being abused at the hands of a powerful, even beloved, figure. As the story unfolds it seems that more and more victims are appearing with new information about their experience at the hands of this individual.
Our judicial system maintains a guilty until proven innocent ideal, but Sandusky has most definitely been tried in the press. You need only to listen to a sound bite of the interview he did with Bob Costas to come to your own conclusions. My bet is that it would cast a large shadow of doubt in your mind about his innocence.
Nevertheless, as we wait for the facts to be revealed, our hearts can go out to those once vulnerable children who represent only a tiny fraction of the actual number of abused kids in organized sports and other child-centered activities. We have already begun to hear of other such alleged cases. It is as if the cork is off the bottle and all these evils are flowing out.
It raises the question of how we educate our children before we send them out into the world. The common message is respect your teachers, coaches, and authority figures. In general – a good message but not in the absence of the much more important message of - respect yourself.
In competitive sports, kids are asked to stretch their limits and strive hard to be their personal best. A coach or a teacher has a great deal of power in these circumstances, and often parents defer to them in the service of training and educating their children. A problem develops when kids feel that a coach or teacher has authority over their parents or that parents will side with those authorities in a conflict. Instilling an appropriate sense of deference in your children for those authority figures, while simultaneously teaching them to assert their personal boundaries, is a challenging task.
From a very early age children should be taught the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch and how to use their voice when they are uncomfortable. They also need to feel comfortable communicating difficult topics to their parents. If these subjects are simply ignored at home, because of a parent’s discomfort with the topic, then children are left with the belief that it is not okay to share certain information with their parents.
This speaks to the issue that I mention so frequently in my articles, which is the necessity for open communication between parents and kids. Teach your children how to have their own voice and the appropriate times to challenge authority. If you are not skilled at advocating for yourself then it is crucial that you work on developing those skills because children learn by example. It is our responsibility as parents, to be mindful that we do not directly or indirectly model behavior that would contribute to our child’s inability to develop a healthy sense of self which would prevent them from reporting the inappropriate behavior of an adult.
In the case of Jerry Sandusky, it seems that there were many adults who were complicit in allowing this behavior to go unpunished. There is simply no excuse for that. How can we, as a society, teach our children that no one is beyond reproach when it comes to the despicable act of child abuse if adults are willingly to turn a blind eye to the behavior? This case is a call to action for adults to get involved and ask more questions about the authority figures in their children’s lives and to never, under any circumstances, remain silent if you have even a vague suspicion that a child is being victimized.