Some Thoughts on Oprah

Some Thoughts on Oprah

–by Laura Dennis
Yes, I’m talking about that Oprah. Specifically, her 60 Minutes segment and online followup about childhood trauma. I’m not especially given to following celebrities, not even when they support causes I believe in. But last night, I was glued first to my TV, then my computer screen. This time a celebrity was speaking straight into the beating heart of my life.

I live and breathe the language of early childhood trauma like I breathe today’s unseasonably cold March air. I have a tribe of family, professionals, and friends who live and breathe them too. And yet, so many days, it felt, still feels, like no one hears.

Enter Oprah.

There has, of course, been blowback. Everyone’s a critic these days and to be fair, some of this criticism is deserved. I’d like to answer back, though, to the extent I can. I don’t want the negatives to detract from just how big this moment is. Here are three of the main attacks I’ve seen, with my response.

It was too short/basic/simplistic.

This is absolutely correct. If 60 Minutes spent the rest of 2018 on childhood trauma, it would still not be enough. However, the human of 2018 has the attention span of a flea. A longer segment would have made people tune out before the important stuff got said. Oprah got some of the big stuff out there, and she did it with the help of one of the best there is, Dr. Bruce Perry. Yes, some still won’t listen. For others, myself included, it’s preaching to the choir. But some people are going to hear this for the first time from a voice they admire, they’re going to take it seriously, and they’re going to change children’s lives.

She said love could heal these kids.

Again, correct, in the sense that I heard that too. And as a parent-in-the-trenches, I know it simply isn’t so. Love is one element in an equation that includes therapy, medication, a bottom-up revamping of one’s parenting style, and, when all else fails, a stubborn refusal to quit. But… I don’t think Oprah was trying to minimize. I think she was trying to help people understand the power of relationship in helping these children heal.

She is jumping on a bandwagon.

I’m going to be blunt. WHAT BANDWAGON?! Yes, there has recently been a little more conversation about troubled children in light of the recent school shootings, but soon enough heads will descend back into sand. Anyone who has dedicated their time, lives, and hearts to childhood trauma can tell you…there’s no bandwagon.

This is why we need Oprah. She has the visibility and the voice our children deserve. Maybe the segment wasn’t perfect. It didn’t have to be. It just needed to be seen. So thank you, CBS. Thank you, 60 Minutes. And thank you, Oprah Winfrey. We’re ready to continue the conversation.

I am a solo mother of three, all of whom I adopted from India. Our family’s journey led me to ATN, who helped us and also let me pay it forward in the blog. In my “real” job, I am a language and literature professor who enjoys writing and guest-lecturing about the representation of adoption, diversity and inclusion, and trauma-informed instruction.