I had an interesting experience recently. I had to tell my son that one of his heroes did something reprehensible and that many people are asking him to quit his job because of it. At first I wasn’t sure I should even bring the situation up to my son, who is 12. But he’s very active online and likely would have seen this incident mentioned on one of the websites he reads. I know he is mature enough to understand the gravity of the issue at hand, so I decided that the news should come directly from me first, versus any source that may present some unnecessary spin one way or another.
The United States is experiencing a new climate around the harassment and assault of women. Victims are stepping forward more than ever before and stories about well-known men who acted badly are dominating the news. We are learning things about actors, celebrities and politicians that are shocking and disappointing. The way we regard these men is changing. Heroes have been stripped of their capes and victims are gaining a voice that is increasingly respected and trusted.
I grew up during a time when “the Coreys (Corey Haim and Corey Feldman)” were gracing the covers of YM, Tiger Beat and ‘Teen magazines. Their faces were taped up all over my bedroom walls along with Kirk Cameron and River Phoenix. One day, my Mom heard a news story about Corey Haim’s drug addiction and made me take his photos down. She insisted even though the news didn’t seem believable to me. I tried to convince her that the photos were harmless, but she wouldn’t hear it. This was my first experience with being let down by a celebrity’s bad personal life choices.
The situation I now faced seemed more complicated. The accusations weren’t black or white and they came with a much broader discussion on sexual assault. I grew up in the “Just Say No” era; drugs were bad and society told me that the people doing them were bad, too. I have a much more nuanced view of drug use, users, addiction, and addicts now as an adult, of course. But the fall of my favorite Corey didn’t open itself up to a real teachable moment for me. Teaching my son how to properly treat and respect women was tied together in this example. We both needed to come out on the other side with a clear understanding of the message at hand.
I told him the facts of what was being reported. We discussed how many prominent men had to face their past harmful actions. I explained that as a society we should focus more on idolizing the qualities of people we admire more than the actual person. Even very well-known people have parts of their lives that are private and possibly not commendable. If he can focus on the good things this person promotes, he shouldn’t have to worry about the other parts. And then I reminded him of something I once told him as a toddler, which also rings true today – keep your hands to yourself unless another person has openly given you permission to touch them.