Let them know you’re listening

Last week Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than 150 girls and women while he was the USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor.

When Aly Raisman, an Olympic gold medalist, took her turn to speak up, she said, “It’s your turn to listen to me.” Then she went on, “If over these many years just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided.”

In one sentence, Raisman told adults the two steps we all need to take.

1. Listen.

Being someone whom children confide in starts way before they ever need to confide in you. I know parenting can be exhausting when your own children want your attention. (Trust me, my kids still talk about all the times I judged their jumps off a diving board without ever actually looking. They all got about a 7.3.) Still, it’s important to listen when they want to talk. If they bring up the little bug on the sidewalk, at that moment, that’s what’s important. When you watch their ridiculous “magic” trick for the 37th time, they know they have your attention. When they talk about their Lego creation, it’s because that is high on their priority list. When you consistently listen to the “little” things that are big to them, you prove you’ll be there. Then they, no matter how cautiously, will feel safe enough to bring you the serious, heart-crushing moments that nothing will ever prepare you for.

And when they tell you . . .

2. Act.

Have the courage and character to defend children. It’s not okay to look the other way or brush off serious accusations. Children need to know they have an adult who believes them and cares enough to do something about it. Character means acting—even if the adult is in a prestigious or powerful position.

By standing up and speaking out against anyone from adult bullies to predators, you give children the same message that Judge Aquilina shared: “You are no longer victims; you are survivors.”

In Jeremiah 22:16, King Josiah was praised because “‘he defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD.”

We may know the right teachings and doctrine, but God takes it seriously when we don’t apply it to our lives. Knowing God means helping those who are weak, worn down, in need of protection, at risk, or vulnerable. Knowing God means protecting children who are vulnerable. 

After Raisman concluded her remarks, Judge Aquilina told her, “I’m an adult. I’m listening. I’m sorry it took this long . . .” Let’s make sure the children in our lives know we are listening too.

Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who loves driving with her kids because it’s a great time to listen to them.