Danger lurks in the most unexpected places.
Each time I talked to my kids about inappropriate touching and the sanctity of their private parts, I had a villain in mind. I thought of the gymnastics teacher whose touch turned into uncomfortably lingering rubs when I was 12. I imagined a substitute teacher or other stranger getting access to say something or do something to make my kids uncomfortable, but I never imagined the danger could come from a child, a teenager.
Jack told me what happened in his usual nonchalant style, sitting behind me as I drove our minivan into Chicago last week.
“Hey mom, guess what.”
“What’s that sweetie?”
“You know the room at the pool where the boys go to change?”
“You mean the locker room?”
“No, not the men’s locker room! The place at the pool that’s just for boys.”
“The boys’ pool changing room?”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s the room.”
“What about the boys’ changing room sweetie?”
“Oh yeah. Well, when I was in it today, a boy asked me if I wanted to see his penis.”
“A boy? What boy? A boy your age?”
“I don’t know his name. Not my age. Older.”
“Older like Bella or older?”
“Older than Bella. A big boy.”
“Older like a lifeguard?”
“No, lifeguards are grown ups mom. This was a boy, a big boy.”
“Okay. And he tried to show you his penis?”
“Yes. I walked into the room and he asked me if I wanted to see his penis.”
‘So what did you say?”
“I said no. I didn’t want to see his penis! Then I walked out, but because I wasn’t dressed, I had to go back in. He was still there and he asked me if I was sure that I didn’t want to see his penis.”
“So what did you say that time?”
“I told him no again, mom. Why would I want to see his penis? That’s gross. I don’t even know why he wanted to show it to me.”
Once I had gathered all the facts and was sure that Jack walked out of the locker room without being exposed, I spent some time praising him for his choices and reinforcing his certainty that the boy’s request was completely inappropriate. I wanted to make sure Jack didn’t feel like he was in trouble in any way and give him the tools to react as confidently in another difficult situation. We talked about who should be allowed to see his private parts and why he did the right thing by walking away from a strange request. Then I changed the subject and moved on, to not make Jack uncomfortable by dwelling too long on the topic.
But inside I was a mess. I have no idea what the boy’s intentions were, if this type of thing is typical locker room behavior, or the actions of a more disturbed individual. I’m just so incredibly thankful that Jack didn’t feel peer pressured to say yes, and I hope that he will keep that strength.
I may never find out the identity of this boy. I’m not even sure what I’d do if Jack pointed him out. Confront him? Speak to his mother? I’m not sure any of that would do any good and could potentially hurt or embarrass my son. Instead, I’ll use the incident to protect my children from molestation through open discourse about their bodies.
This was obviously a very personal incident and I struggled with whether or not to write about it. I ended up choosing to share it with you in the hope that my wake up call can be yours as well. Please talk to your children about their bodies and inappropriate touching. Books like Kimberly King’s My Body is Private or the Berenstein Bears Learn About Strangers can be a useful way to bring up the topic. It’s a terrifying topic to broach but you never know where danger lurks.