The tragedy at Penn State is difficult to handle on numerous levels and unlike many national voices, I don’t feel in a position to nor would it be helpful if I were to judge the facts or people of the situation. As an aside, one of the most balanced views I’ve read on the subject is an article in the Chronicle by our new Dean in the College of Education at MSU and former PSU employee.
What I do know is that kids are the most precious resource our society possesses. As one who’s worked with children who have been sexually abused and/or been an abuser themselves (both very often go hand-in-hand), I’ve witnessed the destruction this insidious crime inflicts on children’s lives. It is the worst and most evil thing I’ve had to deal with in my life (albiet second handedly) and heartbreaking isn’t a sufficient adjective. It robs our society of it’s most precious resource and it’s a pandemic that rivals the scale of any other disease we face. Unfortunately, with sexual abuse there’s always more to the story and it’s almost always worse.
Sexual abuse is like taking a huge fire hose to the flame of a child’s life, but we all also have small, daily choices to either toss a few water balloons or pump the bellows.
As a father of two young boys, I can look in their eyes and see an ocean of possibility — so much creativity, brilliance, passion, energy and love is in there trying to burst out. I have the decision every day to fan that flame or thwart it. I wish I had a better batting average with that. And I think that’s the point. Sexual abuse is like taking a huge fire hose to the flame of a child’s life, but we all also have small, daily choices to either toss a few water balloons or pump the bellows. Kids see the world completely differently than we do and this view is superior in pretty much every way. We would do well to recognize their raw and beautiful talents by listening and learning from them better.
These victims, these young boys needed someone to listen to them. They needed someone to submit to their world for a minute and listen and all that came was an ear with ulterior motives.
So I sat down with my two-year-old son last night and, somewhat in response to the PSU situation, I took a look in the mirror and asked myself when was the last time I listened to him, truly listened. When was the last time I submitted to his views and let him run the show for a few minutes? When was the last time I listened intently for the magic that’s inside of him trying to burst out? Sadly, it had been a long, long time (ever?). So I did my best and he didn’t disappoint. The little guy spent a good 20 minutes telling me he was going “ova der” and then would sprint in that direction, reach his destination, and then sprint back falling into my arms. I can only pray that he follows this pattern the rest of his life. Attachment researchers will tell you this behavior is indicative of a securely attached child, one that’s willing to adventure out while retuning to check in periodically at “home base”.
If there is any good to come from the PSU situation, this is it. These victims, these young boys needed someone to listen to them, they needed a secure home base. They needed someone to submit to their world for a minute and listen and all that came was an ear with ulterior motives. No matter if you’re a parent, teacher, coach, or friend, you can do this. I would submit that we, as a free and just society, have an obligation to do this. We have an obligation to listen to children in our sphere of influence, helping to mold and flame their raw talents into an unstoppable force for good. We have an obligation to listen well enough to know when something has gone wrong and who are willing to do something about it. I’m going to try to listen better and be willing to do something about it. I’m also going to teach my kids repeatedly that under no circumstances is someone to touch them inappropriately and, heaven forbid it happen, that I will always be there to listen, believe, and bring about justice on their behalf. I hope you do, too.[Photo Credit: striatic http://www.flickr.com/photos/striatic/]