How to talk to kids about the Kevin Clash controversy

theGRIO REPORT - The unnamed 23-year-old accuser has since recanted his story, however, some feel the damage has been done. Now that the allegations have been recanted, one has to wonder what is next for Mr. Clash and Elmo and how parents can address the issue...

The allegations leveled against Kevin Clash — the voice of Sesame Street’s Elmo for the last 28 years — concerning his relationship with an underage male has been on a lot of people’s minds lately.

The unnamed 23-year-old accuser has since recanted his story, however, Clash is still currently taking a leave of absence from the children’s show and some feel that irrevocable damage has been done to his reputation.

Now that the allegations have been withdrawn, one has to wonder what is next for Mr. Clash and Elmo. Will Elmo or Clash be seen as fallen heroes?

“Parents are going to be very leery of having a man who has been accused of inappropriate sexual contact with an underage person around their child,” states Dr. Rosalyn Pitts, a psychologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Pitts may be right. Some parents told theGrio that, despite the recant, they have already made up their minds about Clash.

“This is Sandusky [part] two,“ said one parent, who wished to have their name withheld.

Despite the facts of the case, Pitts puts forth a possible explanation as to why Clash might have a hard time going back to business as usual.

“When parents are bringing their kids around Elmo, they are thinking purity at best. They don’t want in the back of their minds that this individual has been brought up on allegations of having inappropriate sexual contact with a minor,” she explains.

Other parents have taken a more cautioned approach.

“Our daughter loves Elmo. Since we don’t know all of the details and she isn’t old enough to notice his absence, I don’t think there is much to say [to her],” explains Natasha Blakeney of University Park, Maryland, mom to a 2-year-old daughter.

“If Clash, or anyone, has never had any illegal activities involving children and has always shown good judgment in that regard, then I have no issues with him working with children,” says Glen Lowe of Greensboro, North Carolina, father of a 6-year-old son.

When asked if Lowe thought Elmo had become a fallen figure, he promptly responded “no,” and added his own take on the matter.

“This situation doesn’t affect kids. It attempts to poison the parents’ thoughts and actions. The child knows only what their parents allow to share with them,” Lowe explains.

This now serves as an opportunity for parents to speak with children about several issues that this story presents, Pitts says.

“This is a great discussion piece in terms of what to do and what to look out for,” she says.

Sesame Street viewers are typically preschoolers ages two- to five-years old, and Pitts says parents should be developmentally sensitive to what information is shared.

“I honestly would not get into why Kevin Clash has been under scrutiny, but I would use it as an opportunity to talk about good touch, bad touch, and what to do if someone approaches you or make you feel uncomfortable.”

“When you look at body parts and parents name those body parts, such as ‘this is your nose’, ‘this is your face’, and here you could add in where the child’s private places are and how to protect them,” she continues.

Clash is also an open gay male, which brings up another issue to discuss.

“It really depends on the age of the child,” Pitts says. “For some parents it may be something they have been discussing with their child since they were very young, but for others they maybe waiting until their child is older.”

It is preferred that children be encouraged to speak up and not feel shame if something does happen. But, in the African-American community, cultural norms can complicate this approach.

“We in the African-American community have a ‘what happens in our house stays in our house’ mentality and there is a lot of shame in our community when children are the victims of molestation,” Pitts explains. “So many of our children and adults live in the pain of that shame and many victims stay victims and are unable to move past it which will affect other parts of their lives.”

Talking about it is the first step to move past that shame, and this Clash incident could start the dialogue as well.

“I don’t think they have an obligation in talking about Mr. Clash’s sexual preference,” Pitts says. “Their obligation should be to teach children about safety, sexual safety and how to protect themselves if they become preyed upon by a sexual predator.”

Dr. Terrance McGill is an aspiring family physician with a passion for writing and increasing health awareness in the community. He is currently working towards his Master’s in Public Health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.