Phyllis Law - October 2019

Talking to Your Kids About Cancer ADifficult Discussion

I am currently serving as a regular guest of Court TV as a legal analyst. We recently covered the trial of Ohio v. Skylar Richardson. Skylar was a senior in high school when she gave birth to a daughter at home, in secret, without ever telling anyone she was pregnant. She claimed that she learned of the pregnancy late in the third trimester, delivered a stillborn baby eight weeks before her due date, and buried her in the backyard in attempt to conceal everything. The State of Ohio believed the child was born alive and charged Skylar with first-degree murder. It was Court TV’s most highly rated trial, doubling the ratings of other trials they have covered. This was a polarizing trial. Many people believed Skylar was a cold, heartless killer. Others believed the State overcharged this case and that Skylar had suffered enough after losing a child. Ultimately, the trial ended in a not-guilty verdict on the murder and guilty The Fine Line Between Fear and Trust Always Tell the Truth Telling a child that you or a loved one has cancer can be complicated. To start, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends giving yourself time after hearing the news of a cancer diagnosis to process this new reality. Two-parent households should tell their children together, while single parents are encouraged to ask an adult with a positive influence on the child’s As pink-clad products line store shelves this October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, children are bound to be curious. Since they rationalize the world around themwith what they already know, kids may ask silly questions like, “Is cancer contagious?” Whether you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer or you just feel it’s time to educate your children about the disease, answering questions can be difficult. These tips can help you prepare.

of abuse of a corpse for burying her baby. I do not know exactly what happened in Skylar’s house that night, but I do know that the State did not prove a murder beyond a reasonable doubt. That is why the jury returned a not- guilty verdict. I also know that Skylar was too young and lacked the maturity to handle a pregnancy alone. life to join the conversation. Remember, your child will be experiencing the same emotions as you but in a kid’s body, where hormones and developmental changes are already wreaking havoc. Monitor their emotions and offer them space and opportunities to discuss their feelings with a professional. When it comes to explaining the disease and its consequences, younger children may require fewer details and broader concepts, while older kids may need more comprehensive answers to their questions. A 5-year-old is going to have different concerns than a 16-year-old, so your approach must be different. However, regardless of your child’s age, always tell the truth. Focus on Prevention Education A loved one doesn’t have to be diagnosed with cancer for you to educate your family about

stay out of trouble, but we also want them to trust us enough to tell us when they need help. I think it is important to impose consequences on kids who make mistakes, discuss why the conduct was wrong, explain why the punishment is appropriate, and move on. I do not think it is helpful to have a period of silence or anger or constant rehashing of the facts. While the punishment may last several weeks, the discussion of it need not last that long. In fact, we should take times of punishment to do more things together as a family and grow in that relationship. It is an ideal time for family movie nights, attending sporting events together, doing home improvement projects, etc. Just because they have lost their privilege of spending time with friends does not mean they should be totally isolated. It can also be helpful to lay out some ground rules with kids before any problems arise. If they know the consequences ahead of time, we eliminate fear of the unknown, and hopefully they will be more likely to seek our help when needed. It is an honor and a privilege for me to be a parent to my four kids and to represent young kids who need my help. I learn so much from each one of them. It gives me great joy to see young people overcome their mistakes and thrive in their efforts to achieve their dreams. the disease and its prevention. Studies have linked prevention efforts, including anti-smoking campaigns and healthy lifestyle programs, to actually preventing cancer. (In fact, half of all cancers can be prevented!) Teach your child about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and excessive sun exposure to foster healthy habits and lifestyles. Organizations that host walks, benefits, and other events for cancer prevention and research can be great sources of education for families, too. The ACS has resources for families living with cancer or those wanting to learn more. Visit for more information.

This was a very emotional trial for me. Not only do I represent many teenagers who make mistakes, but I am also the mother of four children, two of them teenagers. I could not stop thinking about the real tragedy of this case. This young girl was so fearful of disappointing her parents that she hid a pregnancy from them, despite the knowledge that a baby was coming within 10 weeks. I keep thinking, “Would Skylar’s daughter be here today if she told her parents about the pregnancy when she discovered it?”

There is a thin line between fear and trust. We want to instill a little fear in our kids to

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