I worry about my 14-year-old daughter’s safety when she goes out. She wants to wear really short shorts, fake tan and bare legs. Her bum cheeks are hanging out. I don’t think it’s a safe way to dress but I don’t want to frighten her. What can I do?
You’re right to worry about her safety and the fact that you do is a credit to you. I suspect that even if she left the house wearing a bee keeper’s suit you’d still worry.
It’s your job as a parent to guide your daughter and empower her to make her own, good decisions. Forcing her to wear what makes you feel better, or keeping her in, won’t prepare her for the real world which she will have to navigate eventually.
In order to create a safer environment for all kids to socialise in, what needs to be taught is respect, boundaries, how to hear “no”, how to say “no”, communication, negotiation, body language and empathy. Take gender out of the equation completely, and teach compassion towards all people regardless of gender, class, religion, orientation, size, shape or ability. Parents need to model this for their kids by living it themselves, and by showing genuine pride when they witness kindness, courage and self-respect.
But in the meantime, here are some tips:
- Ask for details of what a night out entails, including the good and bad bits
- Listen to her lived experience so you can offer relevant support, without judging
- Make her education about general safety – and that includes sex
- Explain that drink/drugs diminish your capacity to make good decisions and to stay safe
- Teach her and her friends to stick together and check on each other regularly
- Give her scenarios and get her to figure them out
- Get her to practice what she’d say out loud, in tricky situations.
- Teach her how to set her own boundaries and stick to them (start at home)
- Helping her to trust her gut starts with you trusting her gut and yours (get her to practice)
- Most importantly, tell her that if the slightest thing ever happens to her or her friends, she can always tell you. You won’t blame her or get angry. You will help and support
- Repeat often
Ever since we got our boy out of nappies he’s wanted to put his hands down his pants and play with himself (he’s three). He says it “feels good”. We don’t mind so much at home but I’m mortified in front of friends and family. What can we do?
Your boy is doing something natural and healthy, and at three he’s able to grasp the idea of public and private. Explain that everybody does this because they agree with him that it feels great. But he doesn’t see them doing it because they do it alone. They keep it private because it’s just for them, and they prefer not to see others doing it.
It’s a special time for him to love himself and feel pleasure and it isn’t for anyone else to see or be a part of. You can come up with a code for it and offer him space each day for his private play. Go with him and settle him in his room so he knows it’s not a punishment or something to be ashamed of and praise him for learning what’s private and what’s public. You’ll need to be consistent, calm and non-shaming. As he’s only three, you might want to simply ignore the behaviour at home so he doesn’t feel excluded from family time, and then enforce the rule when out or with friends. See what works for you as a family.
My daughter and I are very close and she tells me everything. She has just told me that one of the girls in her class was giving blowjobs to boys at a party. She’s 13 and the boys were a few years older. There were possibly about five boys lining up for their turn and taking photos. The girl doesn’t have many friends and is acting like she thinks it’s cool, but she’s being called a slut now. My daughter doesn’t want me to interfere.
It’s great that you have a close relationship with your daughter and that she trusts you. While you don’t want to lose that trust by “interfering”, there is an opportunity here to help these young people.
What you’re describing isn’t unusual unfortunately. It’s become quite common for some young girls to give oral sex to boys as a way to become popular. Double standards create a context where the boys get celebrated for their prowess and the girls get labelled “sluts” and ironically are often rejected by their peers.
It’s an example of how porn culture influences behaviours. While not all young people use porn or are influenced by it equally, the act of giving several males oral pleasure in a public setting is unlikely to be a dream come true for a happy, empowered 13 year old girl with no connection to porn.
While most adults filter the porn they watch, young kids don’t. They often watch it together and/or share scenes they’ve found to be funny or shocking, and over time, things like blowjobs become as tame as a peck on the cheek. Some want to act out what they see and because they’re kids, they can’t easily conceptualise the consequences.
Many kids can feel troubled and conflicted by acting out sex scenes for various reasons. They may not feel ready themselves, they may not feel safe or connected, or they may have been coerced or pressured. But there’s a bravado that goes with porn culture and kids want to feel cool and accepted so they often play along and can’t say anything.
Kids who engage in acts that put them at risk either physically, emotionally or socially will often live with deep levels of shame and self-loathing. They discover that, unlike the porn value, in reality, it isn’t that sexy being objectified, used and labelled. Once a person has a reputation it’s not easy to lose, and they are likely to take it with them into later life.
Here are some things you could do:
- Sit your daughter down and (if you haven’t already) thank her for trusting you and for caring enough about the girl to tell
- Ask her what she would want if she was that girl
- Explore with her what she might be able to do to support the girl
- Ask her what she thinks needs to be done and why
- Find out her reason for not wanting you to interfere
- Explain the concept of bystander power*
- Explain that even though it may be difficult for your daughter for a while, it’s your duty as a human being to try to help
- Explore having the girl over for a chat
- Explore having the boys over for a chat about self respect and respect for others
- Explain how actions and behaviours don’t make a person. Just like some “nice” boys might do unkind or stupid things sometimes, girls should be afforded the same opportunity for forgiveness
* Bystander power is simply the most effective way to combat bullying or any type of antisocial behaviour. If people club together to challenge bad behaviour they have the power to stop the behaviour. For more information check out The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso.
My brother’s boy of six has started telling his parents that another cousin has been teaching him stuff involving the 6-year-old playing with the cousin’s penis. The cousin is 13. I just can’t believe it. It’s ripping the family apart and the two dads aren’t talking to each other. The 13-year-old’s dad says there’s no way it happened and the 6 year old’s dad says it definitely did. Could the 6-year-old be making it up? – A concerned uncle
What a difficult and painful situation for everyone. I think it’s quite common for adults to want to wish away such hurt, for themselves and their children. Sometimes, imagining a child has lied can be easier than coming to terms with the accusation being true. But in reality, it’s more common for kids to deny that real abuse happened, than to make it up.
As their uncle, I would suggest you believe the 6-year-old and don’t blame the 13-year-old. Try to help their dads to see both kids as potential victims to something bigger, and to get the right help for all the families, not just the kids.
While concerned adults will often jump into action and protection modes, they are also dealing with their own trauma, and may need to talk to a professional to help cope with their own guilt at not protecting their child, and to process the actual abuse. That goes for the families of both children by the way.
Both children need to be supported (separately) by counsellors who specialise in sexual trauma. Art, play or drama therapy can all be excellent ways to provide kids with a means of expressing themselves when they may not have the vocabulary or awareness to do so verbally.
While the age difference between the boys is a concern, it’s not uncommon for children to play games with each other involving nakedness and touch. It isn’t sexual for them like it is for adults. It’s about learning and experimenting. Because we’re so protective or our children, for good reason, it’s easy to panic. But there may be a chance that this was simply a game and nobody was abused. It’s worth finding that out from the children, and not projecting adult fears onto the situation.
During the therapeutic process, where the level of abuse/damage can be established, it’s vital that concerned adults don’t add more shame or trauma to the child’s experience. If the little boy experienced the game as fun and funny, and isn’t showing signs of trauma, it’s important that the adults acknowledge that and don’t get caught up in the “what ifs”. Then the best approach may be to focus more on teaching him about public and private, how to set boundaries and how to say (and hear) “no”.
It’s also vital to learn how the 13-year-old came up with the game and if he’s had any experiences that need exploring. He’ll also need a lot of help to learn healthy behaviour going forward.
Both kids could be worrying about their dads fighting and blaming themselves and this is worth considering as a family.
Try www.cari.ie for advice.
My son is six and a very normal, healthy and happy kid. We haven’t told him anything about the birds and the bees yet. But he’s started wanting to go for sleep-overs with a friend who has an older brother. I’m worried my son will be exposed to something before he’s old enough so I won’t let him go. But not being old enough won’t be a good enough reason soon.
It’s great that you’re concerned about your boy, and natural to want to keep him safe. As you know, the world we grew up in is gone and the ease with which kids can access adult material is frightening. We focus mainly on sexual content, forgetting that violence, lack of empathy and overstepping boundaries are also modelled.
If you’re only worried about sexual material, I invite you to broaden the scope of your concern, because your child will be better equipped to manage difficult situations in general if he understands his own right to say “no” and to have that respected. Teaching empathy helps kids to respect others’ boundaries and to figure out if particular behaviours they might witness (online or in person) are kind or mean. A lot of free porn is violent and disrespectful and if a child is really clear on their own standards around violence and respect, they find it easier to draw lines with sexual content.
If you teach your child about boundaries you’ll need to model that by allowing him to hold his own. This may mean giving him choices around who he kisses and hugs for example. If you break his boundaries and explain that “sometimes it’s okay” he’ll be very confused in a real situation so even though it might be annoying at times if you can’t help him get dried or dressed, it will pay off in the long run.
You could also have a chat with the parents of his friend and ask them what their policy is on access to the internet. They may have rules in place that will ease your worry. This can be tricky, but if you approach it gently it can be a great way to build trust as they’ll know their child is safe with you too. If they get offended or have not rules, then maybe it’s not the house for your son to visit and it’s better you know in advance.
The other day we were on a long drive and our three year-old daughter was dozing in the back. But when I looked to see if she was okay, I noticed her rubbing her teddy against her privates. She was totally happy and unselfconscious. I asked her what she was doing and she said “Teddy makes me feel good”. We were silenced and just left her to it. Is that normal?
It’s totally normal, and well done for not shaming her. She’s learned young (as many do) how to feel pleasure. It’s simply pleasure and not “sexual pleasure” as adults experience it. All you need to do is help her to understand public and private. She’s a great age to learn that certain touch is just for her and nobody else. That lots of people do it but in private because it’s just for them. Keep it simple with lots of repetition and if there’s a chance of other adults seeing her and shaming her, you could warn them that it’s not how you’re doing things.