USA Today, December 2, 2003

    Pop star's arrest creates tough parenting moment

    By Bruce Kluger

    I lied to my kid last week and felt rotten about it. We
    were walking home from school when Bridgette
    asked, "What's Michael Jackson in trouble for?"

    Total silence.

    Bridgette, 8, is fairly worldly-wise. We regularly
    discuss current events, and in recent years our
    chosen topics have swung wildly from 9/11 to gay
    rights to the war in Iraq. I find the exercise of
    distilling big headlines into child-friendly sound bites
    one of the more challenging, and frequently
    fulfilling, jobs of being a parent.

    But Jackson's child molestation charges threw me for a loop. "Uh, he's in trouble for
    bothering someone who didn't want to be bothered," I said to Bridgette, instantly
    wincing at how profoundly stupid I sounded. But I pressed on: "So that person
    called the police, and the police arrested Jackson."

    Bridgette smirked. "You and Mommy bother me sometimes," she said. "Does that
    mean I can call the police, too?"

    I told Bridgette we'd talk more about Jackson after dinner. We didn't. Embarrassed
    as I was at my inability to explain the horror of child molestationalleged or
    otherwiseto Bridgette, I rationalized this failure by convincing myself that I'm not
    yet ready to let her know what a perilous world we live in. I cherish my two
    daughters' carefree spin on life, in which magic and reality frequently blend like
    watercolors. And though the topics we do discuss often touch on very real and
    present dangersespecially in the case of the World Trade Center, which was just
    downtown from usfrom Bridgey's point of view, these are problems for grown-ups
    to solve. No matter how sobering the threat, she's concluded, she'll always be safe
    beneath the protective watch of her Mom and Dad.

    That, of course, isn't the case with child molestation, in which predators and
    pedophiles practice the insidious skill of seeking out the unguarded minor. (Most
    rape victims are under age 18, according to the FBI.)

    That's why, as parents, we can't afford to sidestep the Michael Jackson question
    with our kids, especially when we can arm them with the kind of information that can
    help protect them from becoming abuse victims themselves. Curiously, amid the
    media sensationalism about Jackson, I've been hearing some pretty sound advice.

    "If parents are going to be proactive," said adolescent psychologist Nadine Kaslow
    on CNN, they must let their children know "that most people take good care of
    children and don't hurt people, but that there are some people in the world who
    sometimes do bad things."

    Kaslow recommended that parents couch the details of molestation in terms of
    good and bad. "There's good touch, and there's bad touch," she suggests saying.
    "Good touch is wonderful, and bad touch isn't OK. And if you ever feel like you're
    experiencing (bad touch), you need to let people know who can protect you."

    Yet what of our own anger and anxiety? Whenever I've discussed the Jackson case
    with other parents, we're all incredulous that any mother or father would voluntarily
    place his or her kids in such a potentially dangerous environment.

    To that end, Robert Butterworth, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist, addressed the
    Jackson situation in a way that unexpectedly appealed to the parent in mewith
    compassion. "In a psychological sense," Butterworth said on CNBC, "here's Michael
    Jackson, an American tragedy. From the biography, we know that he was, in a
    sense, imprisoned at home. He didn't have a childhood. This poor man is stuck in
    some phase. And, as a result, there are tragedies all aroundboth in his life and
    for, apparently, people who he touches."

    Absorbing Kaslow's and Butterworth's comments, I talked to Bridgette the next day
    about good and bad touch and the safety of family. I also told her that if Jackson is
    proved guilty, she might feel both mad and sad about it at the same time. And that's

    Bridgette listened carefully, but asked no questions. Instead, she changed the
    subject. No surprise there. I've learned that, like most kids, she was downloading
    the information and processing it at her own rate. The conversation will
    undoubtedly continue.

    (Photograph of Michael Jackson by Kevork Djansezian/AP.)