Book Excerpt: 'Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity'

Twenty-eight studies of school sex education programs, regardless of whether they teach abstinence or condoms, found no suggestion that early sex discussions lead to earlier experimentation. Nine studies concluded it made the kids wait longer to have sex. Of course sex ed isn't the same as parents ed (there are no controlled studies on parents talking to children), but every expert we asked said: Talk to your kids.

Susan's daughter, Emily, was twelve when Susan decided to have The Talk.

SUSAN: I said, the best time to do this is in the car.

EMILY: She locked the doors, wouldn't let me get out. [Emily was so uncomfortable, she wouldn't look at her mother.] I looked at my feet, the floor, out the window. Anywhere else but at my mom.

But she said the talk itself was comforting, and her mother was glad she did it. "I think it relieved some of the things that were going on in her head about the other kids in school. And I think it gave her what she needed."

MYTH: "My teacher molested me." Kids wouldn't make up stuff like that!

TRUTH: Yes, they would.

This trendy media scare sent people to jail. Many were innocent of any crime, but they were convicted by the court of public opinion. The witnesses against them were children who testified to horrible events -- events which, in many cases, never happened. But when the media express gets rolling, people get run over.

One victim was Kelly Michaels, a New Jersey preschool teacher convicted in 1988 of molesting twenty children in bizarre and sadistic ways. She spent five years in prison before an appeals court ruled that prosecutors had planted suggestions in the minds of the children who testified against her.

I don't blame the kids; I blame the prosecutors and the media. Reporters' imaginations and keyboards were fired up in 1983 by accusations of sodomy and satanic abuse at a California day-care center called the McMartin Preschool. The woman who started the barrage of charges was later discovered to be a paranoid schizophrenic. Her claims of devil-worship and sadism were outlandish on their face, but never mind: It was "good copy." Headlines blared, prosecutors roared, and seven people were charged in a total of 135 criminal counts.

It was nonsense. But the defendants had their lives ruined. The case against them was cooked up by therapists and social workers who planted suggestions in the minds of impressionable children, who then told horrendous tales to prosecutors. The prosecutors also listened to the drumbeats of the media, which stirred a different witches' brew for every news cycle.

Kids are highly impressionable. We know that, but psychology professor Stephen Ceci proved it in a study at Cornell University. He told me, "We are now discovering that if you put kids who were not abused through the same kind of highly leading, repetitive interview, some of those children will disclose events that seem credible but, in fact, are not borne out in actuality."

Ceci set up an experiment where he and his researchers asked kids silly questions like:

RESEARCHER: Have you ever had your finger caught in a mousetrap and had to go to the hospital?

GIRL: No.

RESEARCHER: No? At first, the kids say no. Then, once a week for the next ten weeks, the researchers ask the question again.

RESEARCHER: You went to the hospital because your finger got caught in a mousetrap?

BOY: And it --

RESEARCHER: Did that happen?

BOY: Uh-huh.

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