We were sitting in the movie theater, an hour into the movie, when my 9-year-old daughter leaned over and whispered that during lunch a week earlier, a boy in her class asked her to get naked with him.
Kids have amazing timing.
“What?” I whispered back loudly, hoping that I had misunderstood her. But when she whispered back that she told a lunch room supervisor, and that she and the boy had to go to the principal’s office to talk about it, I knew she wasn’t joking.
If there was any advantage to her dropping this on me in a dark and hushed surrounding, it was that I could easily hide the shocked expression on my face, and was forced to sit quietly while this wave of rage rushed over me.
Get naked!? In fourth grade? And the school knew about this, but no one called me? Why wasn’t I notified?
When we left the theater, I gently broached the subject again. The last thing that I wanted to do was make her feel as though she had done something wrong or scare her into not wanting to share anything like this with me again in the future. But if there was a handbook on how to handle this situation, I unfortunately had not read it.
“So … the boy asked you to get naked, huh? What did you think about that?” I asked cautiously.
“I thought it probably wasn’t something we were allowed to be talking about, so I told the teacher, and she made us go to the office together. The principal told the boy that it was an inappropriate joke, and then asked if we were still friends.”
Rage. I felt all the rage. But, because I am a rape victim myself and sexual abuse seems to be on the news every single night, there was a tiny part of me that wondered if I was simply overreacting to kids being kids.
So, when I woke up the next morning still feeling angry, I posted about it on my blog’s Facebook page to hear what other parents might do in my situation.
One of my readers, Steven, hit the nail on the head when he left a comment that read:
“I feel like this is a prime example of Rape Culture in action. By portraying it as a ‘joke,’ your daughter is being told that she over-reacted in alerting the teacher, and the boy is being told that society will basically look the other way when he does something like this. So not only did they screw up by not informing, they also screwed up their response to both the boy and your daughter!”
And he was right. My 9-year-old daughter was sexually harassed at school, was then interviewed with her harasser, told that the harassment was just a joke, and then it was implied that she should be friends with her harasser.
Yep, I’m still feeling pretty rage-y. My next call was to the school to deal with how it was handled. However, the other takeaway I had from this experience is that I, as a parent, need to be doing more at home.
Sex education can’t wait until kids are older these days. It can’t wait until we think they are “old enough to understand it,” because the fact is, it’s already coming at them when they are “too young” to understand what’s happening. Recently, during an appearance at the 2018 MAKERS conference, Jessica Biel was asked how she thought that parents should pick up where sex education leaves off in the school system, and her answer was simple:
“For me in my household, I have a 2½-year-old and we’re starting now,” she admitted, before going on to say “I know he’s really young, but I really believe that you start it this early that there’s no shame.”
And it’s so true. Sexuality has never been a taboo subject in our house. Our kids are taught what parts they have, what those parts do, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. But sex in regard to those parts interacting with other people … that is something that I had not yet broached outside of the typical “stranger danger” and “good touch/bad touch” conversations where I repeatedly reiterate that their bodies were theirs only, and no one else’s.
Still, I feel like I failed my kid a little bit.
Sex is a subject that kids younger and younger are being faced with. Suddenly, there’s a whole new gray area where those “strangers” are their peers, those “bad touches” may seem a bit more confusing, and formal sex education doesn’t happen for several more years. Then, when you add in sexual harassment, personal boundaries, and what is and isn’t considered appropriate or respectful, you realize that wow, our kids are confused, and parenting is hard.
I’m going to be having a more in-depth conversation with my daughter tonight, and although I’m still not exactly sure what to say, the first step is letting her know that even though she, too, may not know what to say, it’s still OK to talk about. This isn’t a taboo subject, and I wish that I had chatted with her about it before she found herself in a place where she had absolutely no parental guidance to fall back on.
Our kids are growing up in a society that is throwing sexual situations at them long before most adults are even telling them what sex is. And while we might not know all the answers as parents, the best place to start is by listening to questions they might have, and letting them know that it’s OK to have the conversation.
Because our kids are talking about it — whether we are or not.