Children Should Know

The overwhelming majority of children are abused by a family member or family friend.  More often than not the abuser is a parent, step-parent, or guardian.  I think that’s a reality we haven’t quite come to terms with.  I know we didn’t when I was growing up.

Probably the only education I ever received as a child about the danger of abuse was a  30 minute session in a 5th grade class once.   I remember that it was taught by my English teacher.  I could tell how uncomfortable and awkward she felt in front of the class, trying to talk about what to say if a stranger came up to us and asked us to follow ‘him’ down an alley.  I was taught to say no, but I wasn’t quite sure why I was saying no.  Just that it was important that I did say no.  There was no context, just that this fictitious ‘bad guy’ wasn’t to be followed.  I thought of some of the supervillains I read about in comic books.  On the off chance that Dr. Doom showed up on my afternoon walk home from school I knew what to say.

Education hasn’t improved much since that day in grade school.  We are still uncomfortably limping into inadequate conversations with our children about what to do, when, and who.  Except we are so leery about the ‘who’ part because the ‘who’ may be attending PTA meetings, may be more close to us than we would like to think.

Educating our children about how to speak up for themselves is not an always popular proposition to a parent.  Parents want obedient children, and it’s those same obedient children who are most vulnerable.  If there is anything that is most obvious in looking at the statistics it is that children aren’t using their voices.

There are arguments that children shouldn’t know about abuse.  They are too young to be exposed.  Yet we already know that millions of children are already being physically and sexually abused right now.  I guess the above philosophy has, in a sense, already written off those children as damaged goods.

Parents aren’t comfortable with the idea of their children telling them no, in any case.  That is precisely what education provides for them, the option to say no.  An option to defend themselves.  This rarely comes up consciously in my discussions with parents, but it always rears it’s ugly head in the periphery.  The argument against abuse education that never quite makes itself known.  This is why our parents should be educated as well.

Our expressed priority is to protect our children.  But there is a catch to this.  We don’t want to protect them from us.

So we still ask ourselves why our children are so vulnerable.  We wonder why there are millions of victims of abuse out there.  It’s because the children don’t know.  Organizations, like (Wo)Men Speak Out, exist to educate our men, women, boys, and girls about abuse.  Boys and girls are the most vulnerable demographic to the scourge of abuse.  Are they too young to know about abuse?  Millions learn one way or the other.  Sadly, it seems that, for most, the most harmful way is ruling out over the other.

This may make you wonder what your school is doing to educate their students.  You may even ask yourself what you are doing to educate your children.  It’s worth an inquiry.  Talk to your kids.  Check in with your school.  It’s worth a call.  It’s worth raising your hand at the PTA meeting and starting a discussion.

If you believe your children are ready to be given the tools that may save their life one day, then bring an organization in that knows how to talk to the kids.  Not the awkward English teacher I had way back when.

Abusers rarely look like Dr. Doom.  Yet, that may be all the protection we are providing our children.


Man in the Mirror

Got+to+be+thereI grew up listening to Michael Jackson on the radio. I bought the red, zippered jacket. I tried my damndest to Moonwalk, and failed. As a young, self-conscious, impressionable youth growing up I believed he WAS the King of Pop. He made me feel like I was the King of Pop. I wanted to be Bad, and I wished I could tell people to Beat It!

It seems like his entire life played out in front of our eyes. We knew Michael from the Jackson 5, we knew his silky smooth height in the 80’s, and we knew what he became later in life. At least we think we knew.

He died yesterday and I struggle with many different feelings inside. About who he was. About what was done to him. About what he did to others. He was an iconic figure in music. No one stepped onto a stage and created the energy and excitement he could. It all emanated from him and his years living his life performing and amazing us again and again.

With his death I have been watching and listening to the reactions of all of us. At times I am hopeful, appalled, angry, and sad. What Michael represented as an artist, meant so much to me. When he sang, “Whose Bad?!” it was one of the few times I felt confident enough to say ME.

From the heights he achieved, he became such a sad symbol in our society. The seemingly bizarre behavior. He preferred the company of children and we couldn’t understand it. I was listening to a radio show this morning and the host said that Michael preferred children because they didn’t demand anything from him. It was a sort of rebellion from his stern father, his record company, and all of the adults who made him feel like he was never good enough.

The allegations of child abuse. His paying the parents of the victims to keep quiet. The further allegations of the parents ‘setting him up’ for a payday by putting their children in harms way. The truth became so muddled and obscure coming out of the mouths of lawyers.

I’m not sure what Michael did and didn’t do. I don’t even know what his father did to him. When I see the frail, awkward person he became I see trauma. Maybe the trauma was right in front of our eyes. Being forced night in and out to perform as a child. Bullied by his father and others into the next gig, the next payday, the next performance. This child only felt normal when he was on the stage. He was in control, he couldn’t be yelled at or told what to do when he was performing.

I will miss what Michael represented as an artist. As a man, I didn’t really know who he was. I don’t know if he molested children. If he did, then it is truly sad that in his search for his lost childhood he may have taken it away too early from some of the children around him.

Maybe the lesson here is that we have a lack of respect toward our children’s right to be children. We think we know what’s good for them and often we don’t. We have trouble extracting our self-interest, our ego, our god complex, from the fragile life of the child that sees us with pure love. We can so easily destroy the life of a child. No amount of money, adoration, or accomplishment can help someone recover what was lost. Not even Michael Jackson could recapture his childhood.

In my childhood I grew up experiencing the phenomenon of Michael Jackson. As an adult, I saw what the phenomenon did to him. What it did to the children around him. I feel spread out in many different directions. One thing I know is that the sanctity of childhood deserves more respect than we often give it.

Rest in Peace. Michael Jackson. King of Pop. Survivor. Perpetrator. Child. Person.