I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), and I know how hard it is. Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician, as well as my answer to this parent.
I hope this is instructive and helpful for other parents who may have wanted to ask the same question and who will appreciate some guidance on this tough issue.
Dear Dr. Meeker,
I have three sons and absorbed [your book] “Boys Should Be Boys.” I do have a question that I need special guidance on regarding an unfortunate incident in our neighborhood where a six-year-old boy coerced (signs point to coercion) my seven-year-old boy to engage in sexual exploration. He also videotaped it with his iPad.
Now I need guidance and have questions on how to proceed or not proceed, to minimize damage to both children. When asked why he did what the boy asked, the answer was, “He said he wouldn’t be my friend anymore.”
I am stunned, angry, and concerned about my son, who is a “shy pleaser” type. The video was three minutes long and disturbing. My son feels ashamed and confused. The other boy was the very vocal “director.”
I am surprised that at this age he felt so at ease with ordering my son around [and] telling him what to do — SO many red flags here. This is an upper middle class neighborhood, educated kids, educated, loving parents. The other mom is calling it typical boy curiosity and feels both boys were instigators. I don’t see it that way as it was her son’s iPad, her house, and her son doing the directing, even correcting my son at times — no! I am feeling like I need to help my son navigate this and quite possibly other instances.
But he won’t talk. I also have a nine-year-old, and I’m concerned he has been sucked in as well, but he swears nothing has happened. His dad and I both have an excellent relationship with our boys, but they are not talking. Do you have any idea on how I should proceed (obviously high supervision)?
Thanks for your help,
Very Worried Mom
Dear Very Worried Mom,
Young boys are naturally very curious about their bodies and it is not uncommon for boys in early elementary school to ask to see and touch another boy’s genitalia. Of course, when this happens, it is important to talk with the kids and tell them that there are certain areas of our bodies which are off-limits to others. While the desire to see or touch another boy once or twice is not uncommon, it is important that they be taught to stop. And when you talk to your son about this, try to be as matter-of-fact as you can about it. Most boys feel ashamed and you don’t want to make that shame worse.
Your situation is different because your son’s friend videoed his genitalia. This takes the experimenting to a whole new level and brings added shame to your son. He has the fear that others may see the video or pictures of him and having a camera put on him makes the simple act go beyond a private touch and a laugh between two young boys.
Here’s what I recommend that you do.
First, talk to your son about the importance of protecting his private areas from others either touching or seeing them. Make sure that when you talk you don’t get angry or blame him. Second, talk in a very matter-of-fact way and do not make this into a larger deal in your son’s eyes than it need be. It was humiliating to him but part of him probably enjoyed it a little because of natural curiosity. Third, talk to the boy’s mother. Don’t get angry with her, but tell her that you want either the two of you together or just you alone to sit down with both boys and talk about what happened. Tell the two of them that in no uncertain terms should either of them ever video anyone’s private parts.
Good parents take the lead and tell kids they need to listen even though they feel embarrassed.
If I were this boy’s mother, I would lock away the iPad. Clearly this young boy is too young to be using electronics. Unfortunately, many six-year-olds can do this but the ramifications can be serious and far-reaching.
Your son doesn’t want to talk about the episode and that’s OK, but you need to talk anyway. The same is true with your older son. Most children don’t want to talk about sex, their bodies, and growing up because they are naturally modest.
That’s why good parents take the lead and tell the kids that they need to listen to what you have to say even though they feel embarrassed. Don’t belabor your points, but you have to make them.
I want to encourage you that your son shouldn’t suffer the consequences of a boy who has been sexually abused by an older man or woman. When two young boys “play” with one another in this manner, the emotional impact isn’t nearly as profound as when a person much older than the child is involved. In the future, make sure that whenever your sons are playing in their rooms, their doors are open. You’ve learned a tough lesson about keeping electronics away from kids unless supervised.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.”