Talking To My Son About The Penn State Sex Scandal


Driving home from football practice last night with my 11-year old son was a moment to which I’d given careful consideration.

I had similar moments throughout the years with his older sister when I’ve had to deliver news that kills a little bit of childhood innocence but I knew I had to talk to my son since the story is every where in the news. Penn State. Joe Paterno. Sex scandal.

I’ve hammered home the “inappropriate touching” message to my two girls, but I realized that my past dialogues with the three boys were pretty much a “don’t let anyone touch you there – OK? OK.” kind of message. Today, I needed to be stronger in my message to oldest son.

This story hits close to home since my brother went to Penn State. Our family, like every other Penn State family, has always had a soft-spot for Joe Pa. He is an American football icon, and we were proud to have been part of the Penn State legacy. However, as the news has poured out of State College, Pennsylvania, this past week, the tarnishing has begun. It has made us wonder just how far people will go to preserve an image…an image of a coach, an image of a winning football team, an image of a university.

After the opening questions about how practice went, I launched in…“Hey buddy, you are going to hear some stories about Joe Paterno stepping down as coach,” I said knowing I’d just opened the floodgates.

“Why? I thought he said he’d never retire?” he asked as he opened his bag of sunflower seeds.

“Well, you are also going to hear things like sexual scandal, sexual abuse. Have you heard those words before?”

He started spitting out his sunflower seeds and I could see the nervousness in the tightening of his lips. “Nope.

“There were some incidents that happened with an older coach and some younger boys that involved sexual activity and inappropriate touching,” I said treading lightly.

“Joe Pa did that?”

“No, honey. One of his coaches. But he knew about it and didn’t do anything so it makes him as responsible. You know you can’t watch somehow hurt someone else and not do anything. Seeing the wrong-doing involves you, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. What did he do exactly?” he said still spitting sunflower seeds.

I paused. Do I tell him? Do I not tell him? Yes? No? Um… “Have you ever heard of oral sex?” I asked trying not to drive off of the road.

“No but I know what sex is and oral means your mouth,” he said looking at me in a kind of interested yet horrified way.

“Exactly. Oral sex is when you put your mouth on someone’s private areas or they put their mouth on yours. You can’t make a baby that way, but it is still sex. This older coach was putting his mouth on one of the younger boy’s private areas, and that is what is called sexual abuse,” I said trying to be direct, factual, and not one bit hysterical.

“GROSS!!!! That is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard of in my whole life. Ewww. Why would anyone let someone do that?” he screamed while shuddering.

I have had to answer the “what’s a blow job?” question before with my older daughter, and I remember wanting to give her information without giving her judgment for future sexual behavior. This felt different, though.

“Those kinds of people are called pedophiles. They are mentally sick. You can be put in prison for this kind of behavior. It’s wrong. Now I know I’ve never really talked about this with you, in detail, but I just want you to know that it is not ok under any circumstance to have an adult touch you or play around with you while touching your privates and he should never ask you to touch his. If any of your coaches or other fathers or older brothers or moms or anyone ever touches you or makes you feel uncomfortable EVEN IF HE SAYS HE IS ROUGH-HOUSING OR HE’LL GIVE YOU A LUXURY BOX AT THE SUPERBOWL WITH ALL THE FREE SODA YOU CAN DRINK, it is wrong. I want you to know that you can stop it and say NO, and you can tell me, ok?” There. I got it out. I’m done.

“Duh, mom. No one is ever touching me. That’s just so creepy,” he said staring out the window.

We sat for a few moments in silence: me wondering if I had done the right thing in telling him about oral sex. I hate having to invade the innocence of my children with horrible tales and real dangers in the world, but in my heart, I know they need to know. I’d rather have them prepared for situations than be naïve.

I stared at my son wanting to give him a hug and keep him this age forever. It makes me sad sometimes to think of all our children will have to face as they grow up in this world; things I didn’t have to worry about.

Interrupting the silence, I said, “Oh, and I’m going to talk to your brother about the ‘no touching…EVER’ part of all of this but please don’t be graphic with him. He’s 7, you’re 11. He still believes in the Tooth Fairy,” I said hoping my son would get my point.

“What?? There’s no tooth fairy?” he said flashing his clever grin at me.

“Very funny. How much homework do you have?” I asked, letting our conversation drift back to the usual mother-son banter I so love.

“The usual dumb amount,” he said going back to his seeds.



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