Sexual Talk in Children

Parent Q&A

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  • My son's best friend just came out and seems to be flourishing with a newly found freedom. While all of his friends were supportive of him (the are much more mature third graders than I was at that age), a new issue has emerged over the past six weeks (longer, but we took a break from school and traveled for the holidays). My son's friend says things to my son that make my son uncomfortable. He does this with three other friends from their group. With my son (age almost 9), he asks him to go into private rooms of the school to touch my son in his private areas and tells my son he knows he "wants him."

    My son is very naive at this stage so I don't know if he realizes what it means but he's been coming home from school upset. I told him to have his friend over for a playdate so I could monitor. When I'm around, they play, run around and so on. I did sneak up onto them while they were playing in our backyard and I witnessed my son's friend say, "can I lick your -----" (don't know if I'm allowed to write body parts here). "I love you so much. I want to touch it NOWWWWWWW." My son ran in to find me (I had to beat him back to the kitchen) and told me the before part that happened while they were playing earlier that I DID NOT hear, plus this last part, exactly how I heard it. In fact, he left some words out.

    Yesterday at school, he wanted my son to play a game on the playground and my son said, "I don't want to play with you" and the boy cried. He went to the principal's office and said my son was bully. I didn't get called in but in passing to pay tuition, I ran into the VP of the school and she indicated that my son might be mixed up with the wrong kids (we are a tight knit group and I haven't heard this before; I'm open to possibilities but I really don't think he's bullying this friend). At tennis yesterday,  the same friend was in the bathroom as they were changing from swim team practice and he said, "c'mon I want to touch it now." Other kids heard, ran out of the bathroom, at which point I only heard them laughing. My son came out in tears and told me the story along with another friend (their stories aligned almost entirely in unison). Their other friend had less than nice things to say about what happened.

    I spoke to the boy's mother (the one who is saying these things to my son) and this morning, I got a letter from an attorney. Apparently, my son has said some slanderous remarks when it comes to him saying "no" to this boy ("Gross, that's disgusting. I won't let you touch my --------" and "What is wrong with you. Stop wanting to look at pictures of ------ with hair" (apparently he has a magazine with pictures of this). I will probably have to go down the legal action road. I guess my question is, in this day and age, are we doing something wrong here? We have been so supportive of our little friend coming out. Also, not at the discomfort of my own child. *I have never spoke about this issue with any other parent except my spouse, my father-in-law, who was visiting from Europe, and now here. 

    I don't think those remarks are slanderous.  They're opinions, in my opinion.  Ask that the principal and teachers give a lesson, and then another lesson, about not speaking about others' private parts, or touching them, and appropriate behavior in the bathroom.  Consider attending a workshop.  

    9 yrs old is not too young to come out, and not too young to be curious about sex and bodies, but it is too young for hypersexualized and coercive behavior, which this is. This is often is a huge flag for sexual abuse, and I am worried for that on behalf of your child’s friend. I’m queer and want to be clear—supporting a child who id’s as gay does not include tolerating non consensual behavior. And a nine year old of any orientation needs to understand what consent looks like, and needs support if they can’t understand why it isn’t ok to pressure other kids. I would support your child in setting kind but clear boundaries: I do not want to do that and if you ask me again I will find an adult and I will not be able to play with you again. Document, and send in writing to the school and parents. I wouldn’t let my child play unsupervised with a kid displaying these behaviors. I hope he gets some support. 

    Wow. Just wow. I am not a lawyer but I'm pretty sure this family has no legal recourse here. In fact, if anything, you might. What your child is experiencing is sexual harassment. FULL STOP. You need to protect him now. Pull him out of the school if you need to. Do not engage in future play dates. Get him a therapist. Put everything you have heard/seen in writing and request a meeting with the school. I know you mean well by trying to protect this "friend" but coming out does not excuse sexual harassment and if the school is not made aware and does not make this child's parents aware, then he will not learn, and more people will become traumatized as a result. Your priority should be your child so please protect him, involve the school, and do not engage with this family anymore. 

    Given that an attorney is now involved, I would advise you to also speak to an attorney.  You might also consider removing your child from this school and send him to another school.  You should also speak to the principal about this situation and keep your child away from this other young man.  This has nothing to do with the child "coming out" but is due to your child being uncomfortable regarding what could be considered at sexual harassment.  All child experiment with their sexuality, that is perfectly normal, but this has started to go down a road that your kid needs to step away from.  You should also be keeping a diary of events, of every time such an encounter happens.  You should keep a list of names of other children who have been around this.    The remarks your son made from the example you presented are NOT slanderous and I have included the definition of slander below:  Slander is making statements about a person that is not true and that those statements cause harm.   As a parent I would sit down with your son and ask if he has made the statements and what others he has supposed to have said.  Your son is the victim not this other boy.  The boy is acting inappropriate and has nothing to do with his "coming out"  He is experimenting in attempting to find someone else who is similar to him and has decided that your son is that perfect person.  Do not leave these children alone together any more.  Explain to your son it is for his protection.   You should instruct your son to not go into any private areas with this boy.  This boy is using a friendship in an inappropriate manner.  You need to stop this now.  

    If the friend is doing this with 4 boys, not just your son, you shouldn’t have to worry about legal action from his mother I don’t think. On the other hand, if this has already risen to the point of legal recourse, this boy is sexually harassing your son and the other 3, and appropriate counseling around that issue needs to start now.  This is absolutely not excusing the other boy, but I wonder if part of why he’s specifically repeating this with your son is the strong reaction he gets?  I think your son (as well as the other 3 boys subjected to this) will benefit from counseling too. Good luck to you.

    I think you need to separate the fact that your sons friend has come out from the type of remarks that he is making to your son. Great that you have been supportive of him coming out. Making those remarks to your son has nothing to do with coming out imo and you don't have to be supportive of that. Imagine if the boy had not come out and would be making such remarks to the daughter of a friend of yours. How would you feel about that? And what would you advise your friend to do with her daughter? If your son wants to stay friends with the boy, then I would start by being very explicit around "hey, I want to be friends, but I don't want to have any romantic or sexual relationship with you/do these things with you. Your comments make me uncomfortable and if you keep making them, then we cannot be friends anymore" (adjusted to 9 year old language). In any case, support your son in validating that he has a right to his body (and psychological sense of safety) and not wanting for it to be touched. That he has to be comfortable saying "no" and that you support that. If nothing helps and/or your son does not want to be friends with the boy anymore, then I would cut off contact. The other boy is also young and just learning about his body and wants. Consent is an important lesson to learn for all here it seems. And having your sons feelings of integrity respected is as important as respecting other people's identity. Hope you can find a way out of this without dealing with too much legal stuff.

    Oh wow.  I am reading this and just can't imagine what you must be going through.  How awful.  This is not normal.  Third grade is waaay too young for sexual interest.  I would not be surprised at all if this boy was being sexually abused and passing that abuse on to your son and other boys he is encountering.  Expressing such heavy sexual interest to someone way below the age of consent is abuse.  This boy should not be allowed around your son and it is incumbent on the school to ensure this.  Therapy now for your child.  And since the other side is weirdly litigious I would go ahead and involve the police now so everything gets on record.  This has nothing to do with being supportive of a gay child, something that should be applauded and everything to do with preventing abuse, both of your child and the other child who has at minimum been exposed to things not at all appropriate for his age.

    Your son is being assaulted.  He is not the bully or the malfactor:  he is the VICTIM.  Get that through your head.  Get a lawyer.  NOW.  Do not accept this.  The other child is the one acting inappropriately.  It is fine for him to come out.  It is not fine for him to want to touch your son's penis.  For crying out loud, would you accept this if a girl were doing it?  Would you accept this if you had a girl and a boy were doing it?  You need to get on top of this right now and stop being so nice. 

    I'm sorry that you and your son are going through this.  The things that your son's friend is saying are not appropriate, especially since your son has indicated that he does not welcome this attention.  This has nothing to do with sexual orientation.  If one person, boy or girl, expresses sexual interest in another person and the other person, boy or girl, says that they're not interested, then "no means no." Please let your son know that it is appropriate for him to say no and that he is doing the right thing. This doesn't mean that the other boy is a predator--he's a child and needs a firm message about how to express his interest in others (and where). School is might an an appropriate place to tell someone else that you "like" them, but it is not an appropriate place to ask to touch someone else's genitals.  

    I would report this to the school--with all the details that you have shared.  Your son needs to know that he is safe and will be protected by the adults at school, and the other boy needs help in understanding how to navigate his interest in others.  It sounds like his mother is not teaching him appropriate boundaries and also may need some help with that--but that is not your responsibility. It's okay to stand up for your son, and if things happened the way your son is reporting, he has done NOTHING wrong! 

    Good luck. 

    Wow. Ok, no, this is not about not being accepting enough - in fact I think you have gone too far in that extreme to the point that you are overlooking the real issue. Your child is being sexually harassed and you need to protect him. You should report all of this to the school and take whatever other action is necessary to prevent your son from being further victimized. The child should not be coming over to your home when he is saying sexually explicit things to your child (inappropriate and frightening) and it is making your child uncomfortable and upset. Your first priority is to protect your child. Also, if a child ever is at your house and you hear inappropriate language like that - whether it is sexual or violent or just mean - it’s your job as the parent to tell the child to stop and tell that it’s not appropriate right then and there. Then you call the child’s parent and let them know. I have an 8-year-old son too and they still need some supervision when playing and a parent to step in if things are not going well. This is not about homosexuality. Imagine if this was your daughter and a boy was asking to touch her vagina and telling her he know she wants him. This is 100% not ok in either situation. Please take action to protect your son and not further allow him to be in situations that make him uncomfortable. He needs to know that you will do whatever it takes to him safe. Also, please help him process this and let him know that it’s not ok for kids to be looking at those magazines. You might also consider getting him into therapy. He’s been harassed as it would be traumatizing for anyone. 

    Sexual orientation and gender are irrelevant here. No means no.    If your son says stop and that this is making him uncomfortable, and this boy ignores him, then this boy is crossing boundaries.  It sounds like your son does not feel safe in these situations. There is more and more education available to help kids learn to establish these boundaries in clear and strong ways but also with respect, where respect is appropriate.  It sounds like this boy could benefit from some education and support understanding consent and boundaries, and that it might help your son to be given some tools and language to use in such situations.  I also agree with the poster who expressed concern that this hypersexualized response may be a flag and this is a boy who may need support. Something to ask an expert. Meantime, no unsupervised time with this boy.

    If your account is true, no, you have done absolutely nothing wrong. I can’t believe the other family got an attorney involved. That is insane. Even if your son said something like “that’s gross,” that is not slander. It is seriously laughable that an attorney would represent this as slander. 

    This is an issue of consent. If an adult were doing these things to another adult we would all recognize it as unwanted and inappropriate. Your son has a right not to be touched in that way or have those things said to him, regardless of whether the other child is a boy or a girl. I don’t know what the solution is but I know you need to be clear with your son that he has done nothing wrong by objecting to the touching and that you will do everything you can to protect his bodily autonomy and safety.  

    Oh my goodness this whole story!!! I'm scared FOR this child! Even in our 'progressive' age, is it now normal for a boy of 9 to be asking to 'lick another child's genitals?' I really don't think so. Is there any chance this boy could be the victim of molestation? To me it certainly sounds like it. What 9 year old has a pornographic magazine he carries around?

    And the letter from the lawyer? UNBELIEVABLE! Really? Even if your son did say those things they aren't slanderous, he's just asserting that he is not interested in what this boy is offering (and bravo to him for speaking his mind!). I think you've been more than gracious, now you need to protect yourself and your son! You may want to schedule a meeting with the principal to share all of these concerns just so you can get your side of the story on record with the school. and I would advise your son to STAY AWAY from this boy. Still can't believe it!

    Being supportive of someone's sexuality does not obligate anyone to accept sexual harassment from them. And that's what this kid is doing to you son. Repeated unwelcome sexual advances, not backing off at a "no"...Seriously, if you got this kind of behavior from a coworker you would talk to HR (or at least you should). Just because the kid is in 3rd grade doesn't make it okay. He needs to be taught that no means no and other people get to set boundaries for their bodies and sexuality. It's definitely not too early for him to learn about consent.

    If they are seriously talking legal action, you need to seriously consider a sexual harassment countersuit. You have far more grounds than they do. 

    That other child is sexually abusing your child. I would change school and get your son a therapist. 

    My first thought in reading this was, is this a real posting? If it is, it sounds like things have gotten way out of control at school and something should have been done at school a long time ago to protect all kids and families involved. It sounds like this puts your son in a very uncomfortable spot and I see no reason why he needs to continue playing with his friend at this time. Maybe I am just a bit conservative but it sounds like the language being used by your son's friend is not something a 3rd grader would usually say, I wonder where and how he is being exposed to this and what might be going on in his own home or at school. If true this is seriously concerning and I'm wondering if there is a social worker or psychologist at the school, if this child was at your house on a playdate I imagine he was brought over by someone, could you talk to his family directly? Can the school intervene and try and mediate in an age-appropriate way with this group of kids? It sounds like your son is comfortable to share this personal information with you which is wonderful, keep those lines of communication open and keep checking in, maybe role playing what he could say and do if put in this situation again (I hope not). :(

    Who involves an ATTORNEY to settle their child’s problems?! Seriously, and you’re asking yourself if you’re doing something wrong. I don’t know who would respond to a situation like this, and frankly they are setting the worst example for their child. The really sad part is, this child sounds really messed up and it’s unlikely his fault. How would he even know about all that sexual stuff? However, that’s not your problem to sort out. He’s not your responsibility, and since his parents are so far in denial that they need to resort to litigation to solve their problems, it sounds like he probably won’t get the help he needs. 

    Your job, plain and simple, is to protect your child, who is clearly distressed by a very distressing situation. I would make it clear that we aren’t going to play with that kid anymore or anybody who tries to touch our private parts without our consent.

    Wow!  Just wow!  I think you need to take a step back and gain some perspective.  You need to protect your son; even the parents of your son’s assailant get that - they’re calling lawyers to protect their son.

    If this were heterosexual harassment, I don’t doubt you would know what to do.  But, although homosexuals have been persecuted as a class, they are still capable of crimes as individuals.  And make no mistake - what your son’s friend is doing is wrong.  No means no.

    I have been teaching third grade for 20 years, so I thought I had seen it all, but I have NEVER EVER heard of anything like this. Then again, I have never heard of parents approaching other parents through an attorney for anything an 8 year old has said to their friend. Something here is way, way off. The behavior you describe is not just kids exploring their bodies, their gender identity, or experimenting with juvenile “romance” or affection, all of which are fairly common for some third graders. Your kid’s friend is hypersexualized at a young age, and has possibly witnessed or experienced some kind of sexual trauma or been exposed to porn. The only time I’ve seen anything close to this, although far less extreme, the children who were obsessed with private parts (their own or someone else’s) were victims of sexual assault or experiencing medical issues around their privates. Obviously, I’m not saying anything like that for the child in question, but I am saying that this is not just a phase.  

    I commented earlier, but i find this very disturbing and wanted to add something. This would be a good time to continue to talk to your son about how he can say no. But one key piece of this is that if someone does or says something in appropriate to him, he should say “no” firmly, but he also needs to find an adult and tell them immediately, especially of the behavior continues - AND he needs to know that the adult he tells is actually going to do something about it. This is critical. So if he tells you, you immediately talk to the boy and his parent, or just his parent. Then the parent needs to make sure he knows not to ever do that again. If it happens at school, he should immediately tell a teacher and they need to take action to prevent it happening at school. In my earlier analogy, I compared it to a girl/boy situation, but also think about if a coworker talked to you like this at work. You would tell them to stop, but you would also tell your supervisor or HR and expect that they take action to protect you and prevent it from happening again. Your kid needs that same protection or even more. The boys should probably not have further contact - the friendship likely needs to end. Also, where is that boy getting porn magazines? It’s hard to say what’s going on there, but it sounds like he is being sexually abused or some adult is being really appropriate with him otherwise where is he getting all these ideas at such a young age? This isn’t about homosexuality. He’s free to like whomever he wants and when he gets older free to explore relationships and it’s good that the other kids are supportive. But unfortunately, he’s acting really inappropriately and that has nothing to do with his budding sexuality. He’s sexually harassing other students and that is never ok.

    Dear Friend- I have no idea why so many parents here are dilly dallying about what you should be doing.  You MUST understand that the other child has been MOLESTED.  Those behaviors are not those of "coming out" but cries for help from being molested.  I cannot disclose how I have the right to this advocacy, but be assured it includes professional training and 30 years experience dealing with children at risk.  These behaviors are not those of a gay child.  They should have been IMMEDIATELY reported by any school faculty member you have contacted.  If they didn't they are legally liable in serious ways.  Your child must NOT play with said other child as he is in danger of being victimized. If no one else has, you must call the appropriate agency asap and report.  Start with the local police department requesting help with the issue.  They should know who to call first.  Just tell the non-emergency dispatcher that you need to report a possible molestation.  They'll take from there.  Again, this is NOT gay behavior.  Gays are NOT predators.  Please act as soon as possible.  Ignore the lawsuit.  do not take any action until you show the papers to the case worker or whoever shows up.  Please save your child and possible another's  Being a gay child is a gentle beautiful behavior.  Being molested is a horrific tragedy.

    This is absolutely not ok.  Imagine you had a daughter and boy friend was saying that stuff to her, showing pictures, and wanting to touch her or her to touch him.  Everyone around will be in an uproar and correctly identify the girl as a victim and the boy as sexually harassing her.  The fact that you have a son and not a daughter and they are same gender, should not change it.  Make sure to keep evidence, written record of what's happening, and talk to the teachers and principle, etc.  You wanting to protect the other boy is admirable, but now that the kid's mom escalated, it is time to put your son first and act to protect him. 

    I would echo some of the other posters here — your son’s friend coming out as gay and the non-consensual sexual harassment are two separate issues. It may be worth reaching out to BayWAR to get some advice. Your son’s friends comments may be a sign that he is being sexually abused himself ( There might not be anything you can do to intervene there, but your instincts to want to protect your son seem right on. 

    I am a therapist for children with behavioral issues, and I want to second what others have said, which is that your child’s friend is displaying coercive behaviors that are not okay, and that unfortunately this type of coercive sexual behavior in a third grader is often a red flag for a history of sexual abuse. I agree that your child’s reports of what is happening to him should be formally documented and shared with the school - if you haven’t already, you could tell them you would like them to write an incident report. Any time something inappropriate happens to your son at school, the facts of what was said and done should be written down and shared with the school principal.

    From what you’ve shared, your son has previously been handling a lot of the other child’s behavior on his own and in unsupervised situations. Now that your son has sought help from you, I strongly agree with others who have advised you that your son should Never be left unsupervised with the other child again. I don’t think they should have play dates any more even supervised.  You can be open with your son that you feel his friend’s behavior is not okay, and so you are keeping them separate to keep everyone safe. I suggest also requesting that the school monitor interactions between your son and this boy more closely due to the history of harassment. For example you could ask school staff to make sure they aren’t allowed to go to the bathroom at the same time. There are rules about sexual harassment in schools - it isn’t allowed- and once you formally document it, the school should be working to make sure it doesn’t happen again, or I recommend you get a lawyer or even move your son from the school if problems continue. The reason is, it is Very important that your son feels listened to and kept safe by you and other adults in this situation, to impress on him that his friend’s behavior is not okay. Unfortunately sometimes children pass trauma onto other children and that may be happening to your son. Please continue to communicate with your son about what is appropriate versus inappropriate behavior. Validate that your son was right to feel uncomfortable and to ask for support.  

    If he was open to meeting a few times with a therapist, that might be another person to support your son -and you- around processing how he’s feeling.  

    As others have said, someone’s sexual orientation and coming out process does not necessitate sexual harassment - this behavior is not normative for a straight or gay child and it is not okay. 

    I would start by not hosting playdates or letting your child be with this child without being in the presence of an adult whom you trust. The other child's behavior is hyper-sexualized, aggressive (in that he is unwilling to take no for an answer), and totally inappropriate. Your son should be free to simply be a little boy right now and should not be being drawn in to this level of explicit sexuality. Something sounds seriously off with the parents of the other child. What is their role in this? How does a child that young have pornography? Where would he get it? Since he could not possibly buy it, perhaps it came from the parents? Why is the child suggesting (almost insisting upon) oral sex? Something in his life is sexualizing him way too early. I would put the school on notice that your child is being aggressively sexually propositioned at school and that you do not want you child unsupervised (in the bathroom, on the playground, etc) with this child so the school assigns someone to function as an aid to the child. The litigious behavior of the parents says it all: rather than getting help for their child, they want to exploit the situation to make money off you or punish you and your child. If the school is unwilling to supervise to the point that your child can safely move around without being hounded for oral sex or shown pornography, I would find him a new school. This whole thing has nothing whatsoever to do with gayness and everything to do with a very strange level of entitlement (why does a nine year old feel he is entitled to sex at school or on a playdate? Why do the parents feel entitled to sue you because your little boy, quite understandably, thought oral sex sounded unappealing). 

    I am the parent of two young adults, one gay, one straight. Neither gave any thought to sexuality until the 7th grade, and were not even interested in dating until several years later. I have no doubt that this child is being abused. Since what you heard did not happen at school, it is up to you to make an anonymous request to child protective services that you believe he is being abused. His language and behavior is not in the normal range for his age (I say this as a mom, not as a legal or health professional). So sorry you and your son are going through this.

    Response from author of this:

    (I also learned that a parent involved is on this forum, which I didn’t really consider, but it turned out to be helpful).

    My son is meeting with a therapist on Friday. We have learned more and many of the perceptions stated here are spot on (well, of what we know so far). One takeaway is this: kids often act out what they witness at home. They are watching us.

    On the flip side, it takes two (or three or four) to tango. My son didn’t have the language to use when he initially felt assaulted (he called it “used”) AND when he felt violated, his reaction was to say, “stop acting gay to me.” Apparently he repeated it often. So that probably fueled a fire within the other children involved. Without helicoptering or plowing, there must be a way to tune into our kids, am I have learned this day and age, this is essential. This past week, just spending ten mins a day with my son and freely talking about his day, while dribbling a basketball has done wonders. 

    The legal part is no fun - is it ever. I hope this is a major learning opportunity for us. 

    Thank you for your responses. It seems like this isn’t common; however, certain parts of this story or its manifestations are (or will be as our children grow older). Many motifs have emerged and it shows us we (my spouse and I) need to up our level of parenting. 

    As a school counselor, I would chime in that it is worth a visit to your child's school counselor who is trained to recognize signs of abuse and can take action about next steps to see what support the other child, and yours may need.  I would be very alarmed to hear a 3rd grader saying these things as a counselor and could work with admin to take the next necessary steps to see what is going on with him and any action that needs to be taken.  In addition, this incident may wake the school up that they need to do more in their curriculum to address consent and appropriate behavior.