October 6, 2003
Expert: Kobe Bryant case offers teachable moment for children
The sexual assault allegations against basketball superstar Kobe Bryant offer parents an opportunity to talk to their youngsters about sex, celebrity worship and the judicial system, says a Purdue University child development expert.
"The case could be difficult for some children because this athlete was often portrayed as an ideal role model, and now he is accused of something that is not only unethical, but also illegal," says Judith Myers-Walls, professor of child development and family studies. "Overall, children need to understand that even though you admire someone and he is good a basketball player, he may not be a model to imitate in other ways."
Bryant, who is accused of sexual assault, will once again dominate the media spotlight at his preliminary hearing, scheduled for Thursday (10/9). Details about the sexual assault case are expected to be made public at this hearing.
"Children may hear something on television, or even hear jokes at school, about a sexual reference they are unfamiliar with," Myers-Walls says. "Parents should get a feel for what the child knows and what the child is thinking. They should help to correct misunderstandings and answer questions. This event gives parents an opportunity to address issues that probably don't come up in everyday conversation."
Myers-Walls says it's important for older children and youth to understand the complexities of sexual assault. With younger children it's best to reframe the topic in the "good touch, bad touch" conversation.
"No matter the age, it's important that all children understand that forcing someone to do something they don't want to do is not right," she says. "Older children need to know that both sexes need to be comfortable whenever there is physical intimacy."
Myers-Walls says parents also need to help their children understand that people in this country are considered innocent until proven guilty. That may be difficult to remember with the media flurry around the Bryant case.
"Point out what we do and do not know about what happened," Myers-Walls says. "Help children learn to avoid trial by media. This also is a great opportunity to talk about the judicial system."
CONTACT: Myers-Walls, (765) 494-2959, firstname.lastname@example.org.