Talk to Your Kids About Monsters

Every now and then from the unrelenting cogs that create the daily bread of our pop-culture journalistic cuisine, a story so unsavoury is churned out that it lodges in your throat as you attempt to consume the details during your morning commute. And I’m not talking about which part of Miley Cyrus’ physical anatomy is making its rounds on the red carpet circuit this week. I’m talking about a high-profile showdown. These off-putting She Said, He Said accounts are all the more disconcerting to digest because they are played out on an international stage, in real time.

The most recent example is Dylan Farrow’s Open Letter regarding the torment she underwent at the hands of Woody Allen, her pseudo-father, and his subsequent op-ed denouncement in The New York Times. These kinds of testimonials often create a media melee where millions go on to draw a line in the sand and choose an allegiance. Who is lying? Who is telling the truth? The reality is that, although we feel impassioned and perhaps viscerally inclined to side one way or the other, we cannot know. There are only two people who know the truth, and they vehemently and very publicly disagree.

What we do know for certain is that these things actually happen in real life. As the old adages go, truth is stranger than fiction and life imitates art. We turn to cinema and sensationalistic news pieces to distract ourselves from the atrocities going on right under our noses, imagining that at least our lives aren’t that bad. In Hollywood, as in reality, there are monsters. The intrinsic plot twist is that monsters appear as something other than what they are – that’s how they get away with it. And so we must be ever vigilant.

When I read Dylan’s letter, the words of Shakespeare pushed to the front of my mind. All the world’s a stage. I am not a Hollywood superstar. I’m not a famed thespian or director, or a descendant thereof – but I know what it’s like to be in the grasp of a monster and what that does to a person. I know what it’s like to live in a constant state of conflict and anxiety, how it feels to cry yourself to sleep at night long after the monster is gone. I know how your memories debase you every minute of the day, even as you work to vanquish what you know and live the life you were meant to; how close personal relationships are difficult to maintain. I know how this particular variety of pain turns you inward and how despite your best intentions you can’t help but self-destruct.

Instead of a prominent celebrity landscape, I grew up in a town with one stoplight – which, for all intents and purposes, may as well have been a spotlight. Reputation was paramount, because everyone knew everyone else. I began my acting career early in life, a real child star. To the outside world, I was awarded distinction academically, received citizenship accolades from the community and was named valedictorian upon graduation. I played sports and was musically inclined; I had a high school sweetheart and seemed to have a lot of friends. I was brought up with the notion that the transition from Disney princesses to a white picket fence would somehow make my life mean something, progressing from one accomplishment to the next in a perfectly contrived and preordained order. Finish high school, get a degree, start a career, get married, buy a house, have a family. And I was doing it all – until the act fell apart.

I have come a long way from the really bad years and I’ve retired from acting. Years of counselling, soul searching and support from the people I love have led me to deconstruct my life and start over yet again. I am happier and more grateful than I have ever been, though I still have moments when I think, it was not supposed to be this way. I could have been so much more. Who might I have been? I still have pain and I still have the memories, but if I can serve as a “best case scenario” or a conduit for change, then perhaps things can begin to make sense somehow.

I applaud Dylan’s bravado in addressing the world at large, because although whether her story is truth or fiction becomes moot, the precipitate serves as an allegory. There exists an inherent danger in decrying victims of childhood abuse – be it sexual or otherwise – on such a large scale, as the victims of these atrocities will no doubt attest. The take home message is that we have to protect the innocents. Talk to your kids about monsters and the many, many ways they can exist. They are closer and far more insidious than you want to believe. The effects of childhood abuse are impactful and ever reaching, so trust a child when they communicate that abuse has happened, never push it under the rug or bury it in the closet. Signs of abuse can manifest in many ways and these children are often forced to become actors in their own lives, so you’re going to have to pay attention to their cues.

When it comes to parenting, no one is perfect. Things go wrong all the time. The fact is, however, that you don’t get a do-over; you only get one kick at the proverbial can. You are your child’s protectorate, confidant and advocate. I encourage you to use a proactive approach by checking in with your kids early and often, by asking the difficult questions. It doesn’t matter if you feel uncomfortable. I behest: do not allow something that makes you squeamish to prevent you from acknowledging reality and protecting what is yours. Establish what physical boundaries are and what your children can do to stop a situation should it go to the wayside. Bolster their self-esteem so that they feel comfortable standing up for themselves. Create a dialogue so that if something is wrong, they will know it and they will come to you.  

I implore you not to hide your head under the blankets when it comes to monsters in your midst. Celebrated hotshot or not, put the spotlight where it ought to be and confront them for what they are.

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