- December 23, 2011
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While watching the news last week with my older children the Jerry Sandusky story came on. They were curious about it after the 3-minute news blurb was over. Their barrage of questions gave me the moment I needed to decide what angle I should take in explaining and discussing the case. I wanted to use an angle they could relate to, imparting a life lesson clandestinely. We have spoken about personal safety and predators before so that was not the angle I chose.
Somewhere in the middle are the children who shun attention and just quietly blend in
I decided to focus on the aspect of discrimination and on the trap of stereotypes – how no one can imagine someone ‘good’ doing something bad. In reality this labeling of people starts at a very young age, so my children could easily grasp the concept. Children are often categorized by the adults around them as being good, bad, or easily forgettable. Even when behavior changes, the overall category a child is put into, does not usually change (though it should!). We’ve all seen the clearly misbehaving “good” child who can do no wrong or the “bad” child who is blamed even when there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Somewhere in the middle are the children who shun attention and just quietly blend in – I call them forgotten because they don’t get much credit, blame, or recognition for that matter. This explanation brought me to the topic of biased favoritism, discrimination and Jerry Sandusky.
The important message I wanted my children to understand was the importance of treating people equally, regardless of the perceptions we have of them.
When a person who is labeled as ‘good’ does something wrong, as seems to be the case here, biased favoritism can (and looks like in this instance, did) occur. What came into play were preconceived expectations, leniencies, extra courtesies, or special treatment. Discrimination! Jerry Sandusky benefited from this discrimination while his victims were further victimized. It upsets me to say this, but most of us know that had the offender been a janitor or custodian the issue would have been addressed with much more efficiency. The important message I wanted my children to understand was the importance of treating people equally, regardless of the perceptions we have of them. If someone does something wrong, his/her past or profession should not matter. Whether a teacher, clergyman, police officer, fireman, or convicted felon – the same consequences should apply. Furthermore, our children’s guard needs to be up equally with adults from all walks of life.
Nothing good comes from stereotyping and discrimination, and the best we can do is to try to be aware so that we do not fall into the same trap as those around Sandusky – one of denial and ignorance. Children already have a strong sense of what is fair, and right and wrong. After the discussion with my children they seemed determined to avoid the stereotype trap. And, as usually happens, their energy and strong moral compasses made me feel like I had learned a lesson. It reminded me to avoid being lazy and to stop relying on stereotypes at work and at home. As I go through my day I will be more aware to “call it like it is,” and strive to be fair in my judgments and thinking.
Filed in: Safety First