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Freeh Report Released; Talking to Kids About Penn State & Child Abuse

Alloy Photography for Veer

These days, I would imagine that a number of parents may find themselves in a situation similar to mine this morning: When my five-year-old turned on the TV this morning to watch cartoons, it was still tuned to a news channel from the night before. My husband and I were in the room and let him watch a couple of minutes of coverage (he has become an avid news watcher, for better or for worse, like his father), but before we had changed the channel, news of the imminent release of the Freeh Report came on. We heard snippets: “Sandusky”…”children”…“Penn State football”…”sexual abuse.” I wish we’d turned the channel sooner, but instead I was faced with questions from my son about what had happened. I tried what I thought was an age-appropriate explanation (his three-year-old brother had also wandered into the room by then): “A bad man hurt some children.”

Plus: The AAP on How to Protect Against Child Sexual Abuse

“How did he hurt the kids, Mom? Was it with a gun?”

I looked at my husband, and he looked back at me with rising panic in his eyes.

“No, it wasn’t with a gun, honey.”

“Then was it with a knife? Tell me what he did!”

“Uh, what do you want to drink? Some orange juice? Apple cider?” my husband interrupted, and steered our son toward the kitchen, the discussion over for the time being. 

We didn’t do the best job of parenting this morning, admittedly. And as a Penn State alumna (I received my master’s degree there several years ago) and more importantly as a mom of two young boys, I’ve been thinking a lot about a missed opportunity on my part this morning. I owe my sons better (age-appropriate) information to protect them from ever becoming a victim of someone like Sandusky (who was convicted of 45 counts of sexual abuse, including rape and sodomy, last month).

Plus: 5 Tips on Talking to Kids About Scary News

“The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized,” said Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. who oversaw the seven-month-long investigation into the university’s failure to protect so many children, and found that head football coach Joe Paterno had known since 1998 of Sandusky’s abuse.

In my two years at the university, despite never once attending a football game, I understood just how deep the devotion to Joe Paterno and Nittany Lions football ran. But to think that university officials actively looked the other way while an employee in a position of power sexually abused young children is despicable—and a reminder of the importance of parents teaching children about what abuse is and how to handle it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, in part:

  • giving kids an anatomy lesson, including which parts of the body should be seen or touched only by a parent—or a doctor, while you’re in the room too
  • banishing secrets
  • believing your child if she tells you she’s been touched inappropriately

Plus: Must-Read Tips on Child Abuse Prevention

Experts recommend talking to kids as early as age three about their body and which parts are private. But no need to get into any of the birds and the bees stuff or scary talk about “bad people”—simply focusing on appropriate and inappropriate behavior and touching should suffice for young children.

Have you discussed any of this with your kids? If so, what have you told them?