By Stacey H. Langenbahn, J.D., Attorney-Mediator
Immediate concern for his alleged young victim, shock, and disbelief were my first reactions to the arrest of John McDaniel, my son’s Colleyville Middle School Band Director. John McDaniel was his much admired honors band teacher this year – and my daughter’s for two years before that. He reportedly admitted to “sexting” and exchanging sexually explicit photos with a fifteen year old former band student. Neither of my children were involved, but our whole family is feeling confused, disappointed, and betrayed. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the family and the young lady he is accused of abusing. Nothing makes any sense.
Outwardly, Mr. McDaniel was a spectacular teacher. Hard working. Supportive. Always building the kids’ confidence along with their musical ability. The CMS band won top awards under his leadership. He was even kind enough to always make a point of thanking the parents. Who would have ever suspected that this humorous, talented, well-appreciated man who was just named teacher of year could be secretly engaged in the criminal sexual misconduct he is reported to have confessed to? Never mind that John McDaniel’s promising career and presumably his marriage are ruined. The real tragedy is that a young lady who was entrusted to his care will suffer from this experience for the rest of her life.
Parents are asking themselves first what they can do for their own kids, and then what can they do to try to prevent sexting over cell phones and internet solicitation of a child. I’m not an expert in recognizing or preventing sexual predators from cyber attacking children and I am not qualified to offer peer reviewed, tested advice on what to do for kids. If your children need more help than you can give them to talk about their feelings or fears, get professional assistance right away. As a legal professional I can recommend if you suspect your children are the victims of abuse, call the police immediately. In fact each of us has that obligation by law in Texas regardless of our profession or whether our own children are involved. Abuse of any kind must be reported.
As a parent, I desperately want something good to come from this horrible situation. Here’s what we did first to check in with our kids. We talked with both of them to understand what they were feeling and to make sure they were okay. Then we asked if they had any knowledge of the circumstances or were concerned for anyone else. After we established the answer to those two questions was no, together we looked at the latest news so they and we would have the same information, and we cautioned them that you can’t believe everything you read or hear.
Next we made sure they did not get with all their friends to speculate about who the girl might be. We pointed out that it is a very private situation for her and her family, and no matter how much they think they may be correct, they couldn’t possibly know for sure who it was. We asked them to think about what might happen if they or their friends were to accuse a girl correctly or falsely. What it would feel like to be incorrectly suspected by their friends? Were they willing to do that to someone else? They realized that could have devastating consequences for the girl and for them.
Safety and prevention followed. We reminded them that seemingly good, smart, people can do very bad things. We explained it is never okay and it is not normal for a teacher or another adult to talk secretly to them, email, text, or even joke about sex or to ask for or give sexual pictures. We assured them we will always listen without judging if they need or want to talk about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or that they think or feel is wrong in their relationships with other kids or adults.
I’ll never know, but I hope that the way we’ve raised our children and the kind of parents we are helped keep them safe.
- We’ve tried to teach them how to use good judgment in deciding between right and wrong, and in choosing friends and girl/boyfriends.
- When age appropriate, we’ve shared our own experiences and mistakes and what we learned from them. We told them which mistakes are not okay to make even once.
- We make sure we know whom they are talking to on their phones and texts, and whom they are with (including their friends’ friends).
- Probably not often enough in the past but certainly now, we will monitor their phones, emails, and computers more closely.
Being very attentive parents and making teachers and other adults aware you are a careful parent by showing up to open houses, parents’ meetings, school and sports events and awards ceremonies is a powerful deterrent. Sexual predators frequently target kids whose home life is rocky, and whose parents are too busy to pay attention or don’t care enough to participate with the child.
The experts say kids need and want boundaries. Our kids have curfews and they know if they don’t show up when expected, they are in trouble. We check in with the parents of the other kids they tell us they are going to hang out with just to make sure that plan has been okayed by the other parents and the kids really are where they say they will be. And, most importantly, we try our best to give our kids the age appropriate independence they need to learn to make wise decisions for themselves, while knowing we are always there to help whenever they need us.