Originally created 09/12/98

Experts: Sordid details unnecessary



As the father of two adult children, Wesley Jackson knows how to talk with children about the facts of life.

But he doesn't know what to say if his youngest -- 9-year-old Aleesia -- quizzes him about the details of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

"You can rehearse the birds and the bees speech," he said Friday. "When you start getting into specific acts, it's a little bit harder. You don't need to get into all of the acts, all of the perversions."

On Friday, as more of the salacious details of president's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky were released on the Internet and by the news media, parents once again wondered how to talk with their children about such a sensitive issue.

Eileen Faucette, a PTA leader in Augusta, said parents should ask their children exactly what they want to know before launching into an explicit explanation.

"Sometimes when a child asks us a question, we think of an answer that comes from our own experience," said Ms. Faucette, whose daughter Tina is 17 and a high school senior.

"To an older child who's at least somewhat aware about sex, it's even more important to try to pinpoint how much information they want," she said. "My child and the other children I've talked to have mostly been concerned with not so much what happened in that office but (with) the trust issue."

If Aleesia asks any questions about President Clinton, Mr. Jackson said he will try to steer the conversation to consequences rather than the sexual act.

"The actual gist of it should be the perjury, his character," he said.

Parents can turn talks about President Clinton's sexual habits into lessons on morality, truthfulness and keeping promises, said Alex Mabe, a child psychologist at the Medical College of Georgia.

"I do think that in terms of discussions of the explicit sexual material that needs to be redirected to more age-appropriate conversation," he said.

"For younger children, restating the moral values and rules are probably best for them. Declare, in a very simple way, what's wrong is wrong, regardless of who does it and the circumstances," said Dr. Mabe, who has a 2-year-old grandchild.

"As children get older, say for example, middle-school and high-school children, they can begin to understand the contradictions that we're seeing in this particular situation," he said. "What is very natural for us to understand is people not keeping their promises, people not being honest and how that hurts us."

In conversations with her daughter and other children, Ms. Faucette said it appears many teen-agers are questioning how trustworthy authority figures really are.

They're also concerned with how the public airing of the affair is affecting Chelsea Clinton, she said.

"They talk about, `If the president lies, can I trust my teacher?"' she said. "There's a lot of focus ... on Chelsea and how awful she must be feeling, and they can really relate to that. They worry what if something happened to their family and everybody found out about it."

Such empathy is healthy, Dr. Mabe said.

"It's a very natural reaction to feel great sorrow and even anger on her behalf," he said. "It reconnects us with this is wrong. This is hurtful. We shouldn't behave this way."