Nicole Johnson wonders what kind of effect the Penn State scandal—and its coverage—could have on children.
I asked my husband if I should call my best friend to warn her about the horrific, inhuman allegations surrounding the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. His response: “Absolutely, you have to, Nicole.” I knew what his answer was going to be, but I wanted to hear him say it out loud. Aside from my husband’s confirmation, I was looking to put off the inevitable for a few extra minutes. This was the first time in our 20-year friendship that I dialed her phone number with trepidation.
My best friend unexpectedly lost her husband nine months ago. Normally, Liz and her husband would have addressed the Penn State case with their 11-year-old son together. Now she stands alone.
Liz has become a mother and a father. I am in awe of her strength; Liz’s fortitude is inspiring. That said, she is still tender from her loss and certain subjects must be handled delicately—i.e. the worst type of crime known to humankind: pedophilia, child rape, sexual abuse of a minor. Given the fact that Liz does not frequently tune in to headline news on radio or television, I knew I would have to be the one to call her to reveal the gruesome details of this case.
My motivation for telling Liz about the Penn State child molestation case was twofold—chiefly, to protect Liz’s 11-year-old son from learning about this on his own (he faithfully watches ESPN before and after school), and secondly, so Liz could explain to him that all adult men are not monsters, and all male coaches are not predators. However if these allegations are true, Jerry Sandusky is unequivocally a monster—a sick, disturbed monster. If he is guilty, I pray he is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I hope the judge and jury are merciless.
Presently, I am left wondering what Liz told her son. How do you explain a repugnant crime to a child? How do you protect them from the truth, yet prepare them for the heinous realities of life? How did Liz explain to her 11-year-old son that this is an isolated incident, that there are only a small percentage of men who are capable of committing this type of vile crime? What do you say to a young boy when he asks you why there is video footage of Penn State students cheering for Joe Paterno? How do you tell an 11-year-old boy that it is everyone’s duty to report violent crimes? These are the questions that kept me up last night; I believe I fell asleep around 2 A.M. My dreams were unsettling.
By deliberate choice, my husband and I have chosen to not have children. We have never regretted our decision, and after this week’s news cycle, we are reminded once again that we made the right choice for our marriage and ourselves. I am happy my husband and I don’t have to give an explanation to a child about what the media has reported on the Penn State scandal, the evolving sexual harassment case around Herman Cain, or the Attleboro, Massachusetts mother who allowed her 10-year-old daughter to pose nude for a man via Skype for 15 minutes. I don’t know what I would say to an innocent, curious mind. I can assure you, I would not be as poised or as eloquent as my best friend.
The decision my husband and I made to not have children was a personal choice. We love children, but there is a difference between loving them and raising them. I believe the reason we are hyper-aware of the physical and emotional situations that may harm children is because we are not around them on a daily basis; we don’t live in their world. At times, I wish there could be two worlds: one for adults and one for children. Because of technology and the media, children are prematurely exposed to the adult world. I know the media must report these stories in order to inform and educate the public. However, I wish the media would balance negative content with positive content. Aside from the negativity, the media also has a propensity to continually portray men in a loathsome light. For every atrocious story that is reported about men, why can’t the media carry an appealing piece? There are far more honorable men who live among us than there are hideous men. Children should know that good men make up the majority of our society.
Furthermore, what ever happened to the warnings the media use to give viewers/listeners, prior to airing inappropriate content for children? I know NPR does it intermittently, but I am fairly certain broadcast and cable networks do not give content warnings as a standard of practice anymore, and websites definitely don’t censor their content. I have followed this Penn State story from the start with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s World News. She has yet to provide a warning before the content airs—why not? Children need a warning by the media for protection, and adults need a warning for preparation. When will we start demanding more from our media, our culture, and our citizens? I’m tired of hearing the rhetoric around “zero tolerance” policies. Let’s simply rise to the occasion, if not for ourselves but for our children.
The GMP on Penn State:
Paterno and Pedestals, Julie Gillis
When the Game Becomes Religion, Gary Percesepe
Male Lust Arrives in Happy Valley, Tom Matlack
Destroying a Young Boy’s Soul, Ken Solin
Power Is at the Core of Sexual Harassment, Mervyn Kaufman
Loyalty and Responsibility at Penn State, Andrew Smiler
Jerry Sandusky and Penn State: A Familiar Story, Sophia Sadinsky
I Failed, Rick Morris
Sandusky-ed, Tim Green