What to tell kids about Spitzer scandal

  • Story Highlights
  • The Spitzer prostitution scandal can be teachable moment
  • Expert: Steer talk to healthy relationship kids should aspire to
  • Under age 8 — tell kids Spitzer did something bad, lost his job

NEW YORK (AP) — Gil Rosa’s high school students were young children when Bill Clinton’s trysts with Monica Lewinsky threatened his presidency.

A decade later, the news that Gov. Eliot Spitzer was caught consorting with high-priced hookers left students in his social studies class largely unfazed.

“My kids are desensitized,” said Rosa, who teaches at School Without Walls in Rochester, New York. “They’re like, ‘Whatever.”‘

Yet for Rosa, and other teachers across the nation, the Spitzer prostitution scandal has been a teachable moment.

“The kids are very opinionated,” he said. “It’s split between the kids saying that he’s being a hypocrite and others who feel that it’s a victimless crime and that we have a lot of other things to worry about.”

Experts say that most teenagers are unlikely to be shocked by the tawdry details of Spitzer’s downfall, but that parents of younger children should tread carefully and wait for the child to broach the subject.

“I would follow their lead and only discuss it if they’re interested,” said Dr. Dominic Ferro, a psychiatrist in Nanuet, New York, and past president of the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry. “And then I think the discussion has to be according to the kid’s developmental age.”

Spitzer announced his resignation Wednesday, two days after reports surfaced that he had spent thousands of dollars on a prostitute at a swanky Washington hotel.

Unlike the Clinton-Lewinsky liaison — which may have introduced many children to the idea of a man having extramarital sexual relations — the Spitzer scandal involved prostitution. Racy pictures of the prostitute have surfaced in news media, heightening the chance children could be exposed to the images and ask questions.

Parents should be ready if children ask what a prostitute is, said Judy Kuriansky, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University Teachers College.

“If they ask,” she said, “You say, ‘Sadly there are some women who feel that when they have an intimate experience with someone they need to get paid for it. This is something that is not healthy and I don’t accept it or condone it.”‘

Then, Kuriansky said, parents should steer the conversation toward the kind of healthy relationship children should aspire to. “Shift it to what is positive,” she said.

For young children, she said — under the age of about 8 — it should be enough to say that Spitzer did something bad and had to quit his job.

One unanswered question is how the scandal is affecting Spitzer’s own daughters, ages 13, 15 and 17. They have stayed out of the public eye since the scandal broke.

“In general there would be a combination of shock and disbelief,” said Robert Scuka, executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement in Bethesda, Maryland. “A kind of ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe Dad did this!’

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins said Wednesday that he was worried about Spitzer’s family.

“It’s tough,” Dinkins told CNN. “I hope that they make a judgment for the girls to go to school in Switzerland or someplace. They shouldn’t have to grow up in the face of this.”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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