Big Bird isn’t the only “Sesame Street” character who’s ruffling feathers this fall. The news that Kevin Clash, the longtime voice of Elmo, engaged in a sexual relationship with a minor had many parents shifting uncomfortably in their chairs this week. The more recent news that his now-24-year-old accuser has retracted the allegation let’s us breathe a collective sigh of relief. But so many questions remain.
One of those important questions is, what can we learn from this? A discussion surrounding potentially inappropriate sexual encounters aside (an entirely separate and equally important conversation with kids), I think we can teach our children a simple but powerful lesson–one that Elmo himself would probably agree with: Words have meaning as well as consequences.
Once you say something–whether it’s “I’ll never be good at math” or “shut up” or simply something untrue–you can’t take it back. In almost all cases, someone has heard it. In this case, it was a false and serious claim about someone in the public spotlight. In this case, the world heard it.
Regarding what led this young man to make such an unsubstantiated claim, one can only hope that it was the result of some terrible misunderstanding or misjudgment and not motivated by money or cruel intentions. But regardless of his reason for lying, I would have thought that a 24-year-old adult would have already learned such life lessons about honesty and the impact that words can have, if not from “Sesame Street” than certainly at home or school during formative years. They’re lessons that I’ll be sure to teach my own children.
Whitney C. Harris is Deputy Editor of New York Family. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org