Open Letter to the Parents of Brock Turner

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.” ― Anne Frank (1)

Brock Turner, Stanford University’s scholarship swimmer who had dreams of competing in the US Olympics and becoming an orthopedic surgeon, now has three convictions for sexual assault.  At the age of 20, he is listed as a sex offender.  His swimming career will come to an end as he has been banned from USA swimming and will not be allowed to compete in the US Olympic Trials as a result.  Most likely he’ll never become the doctor he wants to be.  His actions have banned him from Stanford’s campus.

Since I write about parenting, I hope that you’ll go on a short journey with me.  Imagine that this is your son.  What would you do?  How would you respond?  Keep in mind, this is a 20 year old.

Dear Dan and Carleen Turner,

We’ve never met, but first of all I want to tell you how sorry I am for all you are going through.  I cannot imagine being in your shoes right now.  The pain, the humiliation, the disbelief of what your son did must be overwhelming.  I can fully understand the things you’ve said, the actions you’ve taken, and the extent to which you have tried to help your son get acquitted for his actions.  It is hard to fathom that one act can demolish your hopes and dreams for your child.  You must be devastated.

I can imagine that this is a very emotional time for you right now.  Between the sentencing, the press, and the feeling of loss, your emotions are probably running amuck. I know that mine would be.  One thing I’ve learned on my parenting journey is that our emotions can make us do things that we might not normally do.  Our emotions can override our cognitive abilities allowing us to respond in ways that are not always true to our character.  That is why this letter will not attack your judgment in any way.  I know that people and media can twist the things we say.  I’m going to assume that you are good parents who love your son very much.

Instead, I’m going to ask you some pointed questions.  Please know that these questions are not meant in any way as an attack on your character.  These questions come from things I’ve learned from my own parenting experience as well as some that I’ve learned through coaching other parents over the past ten years.  Hopefully the questions will make you think about the circumstances you are in hopefully encouraging you to use your cognitive abilities rather than the emotion you are undoubtedly experiencing.  Think of it as a way to look inside yourself.  What attitudes and beliefs are you communicating to your son and other children?

  1. Is your identity wrapped up in the ‘would be’ potential of your son?  Let’s face it.  All of us as parents dream about our kids’ future.  We want them to succeed.  Who wouldn’t want their son to become a US Olympic Swimmer?  You’ve walked beside him all these years supporting his dream.  Has your son now shattered what has become your dreams?  Were you basking in the “my son got a swimming scholarship to Stanford”?  Did the fact that your son was a three-time All-American swimmer make you hold your head up higher and puff your chest out a little more?  Please know that I’m not taking potshots here.  I’m just asking.  If you answer yes to any of these questions, it means that you are a warm-blooded American parent.  Most of us have been there until reality hits us where it hurts.  If you say yes to these, then what needs to change in you?
  2. Is your son an adult?  By law, the answer is yes.  These were his actions and so the consequences are his and his alone.  Do they affect you?  Absolutely.  However, this is his journey.
  3. Are you still taking responsibility for Brock’s actions?  I know that as a parent none of us want our child to suffer.  I’m not going to question as to why you would put so much energy and financial resources toward getting your son off the charges, but the real question is “Do you think he did anything wrong?”  If his actions are wrong, then he needs to feel the consequences.  If he doesn’t, he won’t learn from his mistake.
  4. What is more important in life, your son’s future or his character?  I know this might be difficult, but, just for a minute, think about what is really important in life.  Your son might have all the potential in the world, but if his character is flawed, wouldn’t you want him to learn these lessons while he is young?  Can you look at this as opportunity to change?
  5. What if your daughter Caroline had been a victim of a similar crime?  What would your response have been?  I know that under the circumstances that might seem a harsh question.  I just keep wondering if you’ve been able to put your own emotions under wrap long enough to imagine what the victim and her family must be going through.  I walk beside women daily who have been sexually assaulted and have talked with moms who feel the heart-wrenching pain of their daughters who have been victims of a sexual act.  Not only has your family’s destiny been altered by your son’s behavior, but so has this girl and her family.  Can you also take pity on what they are experiencing?
  6. Can you count your blessings in the middle of the pain?  You might be asking how I can even ask that question, but think of the potential this situation affords you.
    • You have opportunity to look at the values you have taught and are still teaching your children.  Are they what really matters in life?  If not, what needs to change in your attitudes and interactions with your kids?
    • You have an opportunity to reach out to another family who is hurting on behalf of your son.  Can you get past the pain and injustice that you feel is  happening to your family and reach out to the family of the victim?  What healing might you be able to give her just by acknowledging your son’s actions as wrong?
    • You have an opportunity to tell the nation that your son’s actions were morally wrong and you know that he needs to take responsibility for them.  The reality is that you do not control his actions.  You are not to blame for his behavior.  His actions are not necessarily a reflection of your parenting–unless you are condoning or excusing it.  What does his action say about your family and what you stand for?

Regardless of our kids’ actions, I know that as a parent, it affects the very core of who we are.  Can I encourage you to consider that how you respond allows your child to internalize your beliefs?  What kind of message do you want to send?  “Son, you are above the law and we’ll do everything we can to get you out of this.  You have too much potential for a jury to take away your future” or “Son, I know this is not who you really are.  You were intoxicated and not thinking clearly; however, what you did was wrong.  I can’t stand by and condone what happened.  I know you are hurting; we all are hurting.  But, son, we’ll get through this together.  We’ll be right here with you every step of the way.  I don’t know what the future holds as a result of this, but you’ll be all right–we all will.”

Dan and Carleen, I don’t know whether you believe in Jesus Christ who died for our sins, but He knows what your son did and He loves Brock deeply in spite of his actions.  I hope that you have the ability to trust Him with your son’s future.

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Know that my prayers are with you and Brock as well as the girl involved and her family.  May you find God’s peace in the midst of your heartache.

“Let go…and let God”,



2 replies
  1. Diane
    Diane says:

    Thank you so very much for this letter. I need it for family friends. They are starting to lean toward doing everything possible to eliminate the consequences for their son. Somehow they think because he was 17 and intoxicated he should be totally excused. I think they are sending him the wrong message.

    I keep thinking of the young lady who will have life time consequences. She was neither willing or intoxicated.

    Your letter will help me as I talk to them about his long term best interests.

  2. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    Diane, my prayers are with you as you talk with your friend. What a heart you have to speak truth in love. It is so easy to think that kids will be kids, but a 17 year old is so close to adulthood. The consequences at 18 can be life-altering if not reigned in before then. Know that you are doing your friends a huge favor. It is awesome that you care so much. They are so blessed to have you in their life.


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