Book Excerpt: 'Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity'

The appellate court decision that set Kelly Michaels free garnered just a smidgeon of the media attention her trial and conviction got. After she was freed, she told me about her nightmare.

MS. MICHAELS: One day you're getting ready for work and making coffee, minding your business, trying to get along as best you can, being a reasonable, decent, honorable citizen, and the next minute you are an accused child molester with the most bizarre -- I'd never even heard of such things even being done.

STOSSEL: They say you inserted objects, including Lego blocks, forks, spoons, serrated knives into their anuses, vaginas, penises --

MS. MICHAELS: And a sword. It was in there.

STOSSEL: -- and a sword --


STOSSEL: -- that you made children drink your urine, that you made kids take their clothes off and licked peanut butter off them. It's very hard to believe, yet the jury believed it and not you.

MS. MICHAELS: No one was willing to doubt a child.

The media certainly wasn't. Professional skepticism took a holiday in the face of "good copy."

The media like bad news, and tend to believe it.

MYTH: Teens need their parents less.

TRUTH: Teens need parents just as much.

Many parents pull away when their teenage kids grow quiet, or moody, and act like they don't need us. The moodiness comes as a shock because when they were preteens, the kids were so attached to us. Now they often act as if they don't care if we're alive or dead. Part of us understands that this is a necessary breaking away, a separation from parents that has to happen during adolescence for the teen to become an independent adult. But it is hard to watch. I liked how Dr. Foster framed it. He said, "Why put it in terms of rebellion? Why not put it in terms of a transition from listening to you, the parent, to listening to himself, as the adult?"

It's no longer enough for us to tell them the stove is hot; now they have to touch it themselves. I grew up in the 1960s, when we rebelled in all kinds of ways that bugged our parents. In the '50s, there was rock and roll. Now teens may dye their hair, pierce their tongues. It's the rite of passage, the need to try out new personalities, and become a separate person. If it appalls parents, so much the better -- because that reassures the teen that he is achieving a degree of independence.

But teens do need rules, and they need us, reminded the experts. Some of us parents feel that, by the time our kids are teens, we no longer have any influence, because the only people teens will really listen to are their peers. But that's not true.

Every psychologist we consulted told us teenagers may act as if they don't like our questions, but they do hear them, and they would be sad if we stopped asking. "You have an enormous amount of influence," Dr. Foster told me. "Deep down, your kid is feeling unloved and scared."

Interviewing teens, I was surprised at how often I heard that.

FIRST MALE TEEN: I've always been so scared of, you know, what am I going to do with my life?

SECOND MALE TEEN: I really wish I was, like, a lot closer with my dad especially, because he, like, gets home from work at, like, five or six o'clock and then he goes into his room and watches basketball and football or whatever season it is.

FIRST MALE TEEN: You know, sometimes I wish that they would be more strict, like, you know, set a little more rules. I know I'm going to regret [saying it on TV].

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