Writing an aricle about the arrest of a Middlebrook teacher for having a sexual encounter with an underage boy makes me sad and sickened at the same time. It’s something that every parent prays will never happen to their child or at their school. But it does and it seems to occur with alarming frequency.
Discussing this with our kids is a tough conversation to have but, unfortunately, one that we must. While neither of my children had this man as a teacher, it’s my understanding that he was highly regarded by parents and students alike. The conversation needs to go beyond discussing the actual incident and include issues of betrayal, loss and trust as well.
It would be naïve to think that our kids won’t learn about this incident, they absolutely will. Now more than ever, kids need to know that they can trust their parents to have open and honest conversations. There’s no need to overshare but this is a “teachable moment” that allows parents to remind kids that, sadly, we never know who could be a sexual predator.
I spoke with Wilton-based psychologist Dr. Susan Bauerfeld who stressed that prior to any conversation, it’s important that parents are calm and not in a “fight/fear” mode.
“This type of incident brings up strong feelings in parents, especially for those whose children attend Middlebrook. While this is a disturbing situation, we must ask ourselves whether we believe our own child has been harmed or whether we’re just afraid of the situation in general. We have the opportunity to talk to our kids not from a fear-based perspective but one in which we can offer them tools for handling a situation like this should they be faced with it in the future,” Bauerfeld says.
Child psychologist Dr. Stacey Radin explains that, when talking to kids, it’s important to start out with a sense of inquiry as to what they already know, dispel any mistruths and “fill in the blanks” without going into too much detail.
“It’s critical in these situations for parents to remain neutral. Kids will sense if it’s a taboo subject and they need to know that you can handle this conversation. They need to see that you can remain calm and they have a safe space to share and talk at any time.”
Radin goes on to explain that often, reactions will come weeks later and they can be mixed. “Be OK with whatever your kids say. They might have mixed emotions – angry about the incident but sad if they liked him as a teacher. It’s a loss for them and it’s good for you to share your feelings as well as long as it’s done calmly. And continue to reassure them that no matter what, it’s safe to come to you to talk.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this advice on minimizing the risk that your child could be a victim and what to do if you suspect abuse:
- Teach children early and often that there are no secrets between children and their parents, and that they should feel comfortable talking with their parent about anything — good or bad, fun or sad, easy or difficult.
- Create an environment at home in which sexual topics can be discussed comfortably. Use news items and publicized reports of child sexual abuse to start discussions of safety, and reiterate that children should always tell a parent about anyone who is taking advantage of them sexually.
- If your child discloses any history of sexual abuse, listen carefully, and take his or her disclosure seriously. Too often, children are not believed, particularly if they implicate a family member as the perpetrator. Contact your pediatrician, the local child protection service agency, or the police. If you don’t intervene, the abuse might continue, and the child may come to believe that home is not safe and that you are not available to help.
Wilton resident Alison Jacobson is a motivational speaker and life coach who is also known as The Safety Mom. You can find out more at her website, safetymom.com.