In the eyes of the Arlington, TX police department, Eric Rossini is a man looking at charges of sexually assaulting a child.
But for many area parents and their children, the Grafton resident and owner of MassDojo in Shrewsbury was their beloved teacher, a man they looked up to.
So now what do they tell their children about him?
The answer depends on the age of the child and the parenting style of the adult, said Dr. Peter Metz, clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a child psychiatrist at UMass Memorial Medical Center.
But one thing is crucial, he stressed: Let children know that they can always go to a parent with questions and concerns.
“It’s out there, they’re hearing it from their friends,’’ Dr. Metz said. “It’s important for parents to be responsive.’’
He suggested that parents consider the following:
Remind the child that in our criminal justice system, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Don’t promote a “witch hunt’’ approach, he said; instead, remind the child of the justice system, with a judge and jury making the decision, not the court of public opinion.
Keep an open line of communication. Children need to know there is no question or concern they cannot share with their parents, he said.
They may not get every detail they are seeking; it is OK for parents to say “I don’t know all the details’’ or “That’s something for grown-ups to worry about, not you.’’ But they need to know they can bring issues to the table and not be yelled at or otherwise criticized for it, he said.
Stay calm and low-key when discussing the issue, even if you are privately feeling anything but. It’s OK to share feelings of anguish and/or outrage with a spouse or a friend, Dr. Metz said. But keep a level approach with children, he said.
“The challenge for the parent is to be able to contain’’ their emotions when discussing the issue with their children, he said. This can be particularly challenging for parents who themselves have been victims of sexual abuse as children, he said. “The parent may have to fake it,’’ he said.
There is an important reason for this, he said. If children sense an issue will overwhelm a parent, they will often choose to avoid discussing the situation because they don’t want to upset the adult.
And that leads to the most important issue of all, he said.
Stress to children that they should not keep secrets with other adults. Sometimes in abuse situations, an adult will tell a child to keep the abuse as “our little secret.’’ But children need to know that they should not keep secrets from their parents.
Keeping a secret with another adult “is not OK,’’ the child needs to be told.
They also need to speak out if anyone touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable or uneasy. “That’s not OK,’’ parents should remind their children. “It’s important that you let us know.’’