MyStoryYourStory: Penn State’s tragic fall from grace

"The difference between being healthy and unhealthy is all about boundaries." – Salvador Minuchin

Growing up, there was a code of silence in our household about anything bad: wrongdoings, mistakes, mishaps, physical and mental illnesses. Call them what you will, not a word was spoken.

We found ourselves hushed and shushed by speechless glances, downcast frowns and raised eyebrows. We were forced to read the faces of our elders in order to map our own explanations for all sorts of misgivings.

The same was true as we grew into adulthood. Good luck trying to get my father to discuss the ills of the church or the wrongdoings of government. He'd shrug his shoulders, slowly turn and walk away. Not a word.

I think I know why Dad was this way, for when we speak about failures, we acknowledge vulnerabilities and weaknesses of something we hold in high esteem and experience a great, sometimes tragic sense of loss.

As I watch the Penn State child sex abuse scandal unfold, I'd rather not talk about it. I wish it were not true. I want it to go away. Maybe if I keep silent, I can hold onto some of my most significant childhood memories.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm very proud that I practically grew up on the Penn State campus. My birthplace of Phillipsburg, Penn., is only a hop, skip and a jump from State College.

Our Sunday drives were to Happy Valley. There among ivy-covered brick and mortar of academia, my parents, five siblings and I would roam the massive pastoral campus, spanning many city blocks. We'd stop at the creamery for the most wonderful, freshly made ice cream and later pour over fishery bays, watching minnows scramble for food.

Yes, it is painful for me to discuss the tragedy of this unfolding story.  I am battling the notion that if I talk about these ills, I will lose the cherished ideals of that place way back when.

I know that silence is not the answer. In the case of any type of abuse, silence is toxic, and in order to break the mold, I must talk.

In the case of Penn State and the under reporting or non-reporting of the alleged child sex abuse committed by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, it is clear that many boundaries were violated. It boggles my mind that the powers to be at Penn State had that much power.

We have become a society with diminishing boundaries, where reputations of institutions of commerce, government or education are more important than the individual. We are a materialistic culture of what's mine is mine and what's yours is also mine.

I want to believe that we can turn things around by teaching our children to be aware of boundaries and respect them. Experts say that setting clear boundaries helps boost children's self-esteem and teaches them the difference between right and wrong. Here's how:

  • Be clear about healthy and unhealthy boundaries in relationships and make sure your children know the difference.
  •  Show children how to solve problems by your example and role play how to discuss them.
  • Read your children books about boundaries, such as "Doing and Being Your Best: The Boundaries and Expectations Assets" by Pamela Espeland and Elizabeth Verdict
  •  Teach children what happens when people don't have boundaries.
  •  Spend regularly scheduled time alone with each of your children, reinforcing they have someone safe to turn to.
  •  Hold family meetings, giving each child a chance to express his/her successes, failures, questions and concerns. Children who feel as if they have a voice are more likely to follow rules and adhere to boundaries.
  •  Show your children their opinions matter.

In the case of the many boundaries that were breached at Penn State, I really want to shove it under the rug, but I must be honest and talk about it.

At this writing, five investigations, nine victims and counting, this sad and shocking scandal is proof positive of the horrific consequences of boundary neglect, boundary disrespect, boundary erosion and boundary abuse.

2011 © Copyright Paula Damon.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at and find her on FaceBook.

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