Sunday, October 18, 2009

Balloon Boy and the Punking of America

OK, I admit it. I got suckered. So did most of you. The Falcon Heene Balloon Boy story was a publicity stunt, and his parents are now looking at felony charges. We're all feeling pretty silly, especially those of us who blogged about this story, because now we can't very well pretend we knew all along. However, this is still a current event and that's what I blog about, so I'd like to explain exactly what is wrong with what the Heenes did, from a crisis intervention point of view.

First of all, I think their plan was doomed to failure. As a school Principal, I have been saying for years that I ought to write a book called "How to Misbehave in School" which would include such tips as, "Do not sign your own name to graffiti" and "When the Principal asks you if you know why she called you to the office, say no!" If I were writing a book called "How to Punk America" it would definitely include the tip, "Make sure your plan does not rely on a 6 year-old being able to keep a secret." That was a fatal flaw, in my humble opinion.

This also reveals something more serious, which is what this incident does to the children in the Heene family. One of the basic tenets of talking to children about traumatic events is that you should never lie to children. When you get found out, and you will get found out, they will have no reason to trust whatever you tell them next, and no reason to believe the comforting words you offer them when they're scared.

Now add to that the fact that, in this situation, the Heene boys themselves were told to lie, and they watched their parents lie. Falcon, at six, is still at an age where reality and fantasy sometimes merge, and certainly where it's hard to determine what in the world is really dangerous and what is a remote possibility. How is he supposed to know whether to trust his parents and siblings now, when they've shown such a willingness to lie? How is he supposed to trust them to keep him safe, as all kids must, when they were so willing to use him to achieve their own aims? When they tell him there are no such thing as monsters, or whatever he might fear, why should he believe them? Is it any wonder this kid was throwing up on Friday? Is it any wonder the charges against his parents include contributing to the delinquency of a minor?

The Heenes have also done a tremendous disservice to every parent who has ever had a child go missing, face real danger or die. When their real nightmare is trivialized by a publicity stunt, it makes us as a society that much less likely to be supportive of their traumatic reactions, not to mention less likely to believe what they tell us happened.

In addition, how many people died or were injured near the Heene residence on Thursday who might have had a better outcome but for the delayed response of rescuers who were stretched thin chasing a balloon? How many children could have been fed or clothed or saved from abusive situations with the money spent on this search?

I got punked. And yes, I'm embarrassed about that and I want someone to blame. It turns out that in this situation, there is someone to blame, and you'll excuse me if, in this one instance, I don't mind doing it.


Alan said...

Here, here. This man (?) needs a time out. In prison.

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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