On Friday night, Jerry Sandusky, who was once a prominent assistant coach at Penn State University, certainly got his comeuppance. He was convicted of not one, not two, not three, but 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse.
Yes, this avuncular looking man was found guilty of the most heinous of crimes -- molesting vulnerable young males whom he had access to ironically via his charity for at-risk youths, The Second Mile. And, yes, his alleged behavior of molesting and threatening them put them at a higher lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and probably every other psychological and physical issue that we are aware of today.
This man, who looks like somebody's uncle and not necessarily like the monster that he is being described as, faced multiple charges of abusing several boys over a 15-year period. He was found guilty of one tragic crime after another.
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Guilty of terrorizing the most vulnerable youth in our society.
Guilty of involuntary and deviant sexual behavior with these boys.
Guilty of indecent assault.
Guilty of endangering the welfare of children.
And, guilty of doing these things repeatedly over several years to multiple boys while acting as their protectors. YIKES.
Yes, the conviction of Mr. Sandusky might prompt victims to speak out more quickly and to revisit their histories of being treated inappropriately. Perhaps, institutions will be more likely to respond promptly when they become aware of such situations.
I believe, though, that there is a greater lesson to be learned here -- a much greater lesson. There is absolutely no benefit to teaching our kids that child molesters look like, act like, or have any resemblance to monsters.
Yes, we may think that they commit monstrosities, but our children should not expect monsters and molesters to be one and the same from outside appearances. The truth is that molesters are usually friendly people who become close to our children, groom them for the upcoming molestation by being unusually attentive to them, and are often well-liked and trusted by the children's families and the community.
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They don't resemble monsters that kids read about in books, or see on TV and in movies. In fact, we are doing our kids a major disservice if we somehow lead them to believe that everyone in their life is safe unless they look like...a monster.
Please let your kids know that anyone in their lives may treat them either appropriately or inappropriately, and that sometimes it is not clear which category behavior falls into. They should be taught to come to you, their parents, to sort this out with them.
Kids sometimes have the unrealistic idea that parents magically know if they are being treated inappropriately. I have seen this many times in my years of working with children, teens and adults. I ask them why they didn't confide in their parents and they say that they assumed that their parents knew. Kids have all kinds of ideas of what their parents are thinking.
Check in with your kids frequently. Monitor how much time they are spending with adult mentors, particularly people who have easy access to them like coaches, teachers, boy scout leaders, babysitters, etc. I certainly do not mean to offend anyone in any of these groups, but it is those who have easiest access to our kids who are most likely to abuse them.
Keep the dialogue going with your kids. Start at a early age to teach them about appropriate and inappropriate touches and give them more information as time passes.
And, always try to be balanced in your approach, so that they don't think that the world is a terribly threatening place and intimacy in general is in the bad category. There are 50 shades of grey in this area, too, but we do not want our kids to think that molesters come in the shape, size, and appearance of monsters.
Good luck with this unfortunate but necessary task.
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Barbara Greenberg and Jennifer Powell-Lunder are authors of the hit book, "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual." They've set up an interactive website for parents and teens to listen, learn and discuss hot topics and daily dilemmas. You can find it at www.talkingteenage.com.