Yesterday when I picked up N after school, she came running up to me and beckoned my ear down to her lips. “Please don’t get mad at me,” she whispered urgently.
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I responded gently, in the middle of a swarm of parents and kids. “If you tell me the truth, I won’t get mad.”
“I showed my underwear to a boy,” she whispered, embarrassed.
As we walked home, I got the whole story. A boy in N’s class asked her to show him her private parts. When she told him no, he started badgering her with threats. “I’ll tell on you,” he said. “I’ll tear up my phone number (he had written it on a piece of paper and given it to her) and we’ll never have a playdate.” Eventually, his continued pressure wore her down. Embarrassed, she showed him her underwear, while another boy peeked under the table. She refused to show him anything else — she knew it was wrong.
Had he ever asked her to do that before? I asked. Yes, N responded. Three times before.
Had he ever asked another girl to show him her privates? Yes, one of N’s friends. Several times.
Did you or your friend tell the teacher? No, she said. N was afraid that she’d get in trouble for showing her underwear.
Immediately, I called the school and left a message for N’s teacher, who was gone for the day.
Then I spoke with N. First I told her I was very proud of her for telling me the truth. Then I explained that what the boy asked her to do was wrong; that it was wrong for him to try to get her to change her mind after she first said ‘no’; and that she needs to raise her hand and tell a teacher if ANYONE at school ever asks to see her private parts.
This morning, I waited for N’s teacher, Mrs. B., before class. I relayed N’s story to Mrs. B, who responded that she was “shocked.” (Frankly, I was a bit shocked that she was shocked — hasn’t this happened in a Kindergarten class before, with lots of kiddos who are just starting to get really curious about how their bodies work??)
In any event, I requested that N’s assigned seat be moved away from the boy’s, and also that Mrs. B. reassure N that she can raise her hand and tell the teacher if something like that happens.
Today after school, Mrs. B. reported that she had indeed moved N away from the boy. And she did speak with N, although it sounded like a very general conversation (i.e., “you should tell a teacher if something is inappropriate” — not very specific or helpful advice for a 5-year-old).
Mrs. B. also said she sent the boy to the principal’s office.
Clearly he got in trouble, because when the boy returned to class, he spitefully told N: “If you’re going to tell on me, I’m going to start telling on you.”
When N relayed this to me, I asked her whether she was still glad she told us about the incident. After the boy’s threats today, she did not seem so sure that she did the right thing by telling us.
I feel that we handled the situation the right way, but I’m also very afraid of the day that N stops confiding in me. Clearly, something compelled her to tell me what happened with the boy — not the first time or the second, but the third time it happened. I’m extremely relieved that she was brave and trusting enough to share her story with me, even though she thought I might get mad at her.
Tonight we also sat her down and gave the first lesson in “sex ed.” We taught her the proper names for the private parts of boys and girls. We didn’t discuss anything further, but I know it’s just the first step down that road.
This was N’s first experience with sexual harassment. I know it sounds crazy to apply that term to 5-year-olds, that’s exactly what it was.
Later in the day, I happened to hear another mom talking about the same boy. She said he got in trouble for pulling a girl’s pants down.
Did this stuff happen when we were in Kindergarten?? I sure don’t remember it, but it’s possible.
It’s also possible that the world has changed, and little kids are not as innocent as they once were.
I am reluctant to say that we need sex ed in Kindergarten, but I do feel that some kind of talk or information might actually help to prevent classroom situations such as this. What if Mrs. B., at the beginning of the year and again at regular intervals, explained the definition of “bullying” and “inappropriate touching” — ? What if she actually explained to the kids that they should tell the teacher if someone is touching them in a way that is “inappropriate,” or asking them to do something they know is wrong? I don’t think we should be giving explicit talks about how to make a baby — that can wait. But in today’s world, maybe kids ought to be a little better equipped to handle inappropriate situations.
Otherwise, they run the risk of parents like me and G acting on our deepest impulses and collaring the kid in the schoolyards and making our own threats, such as “You better leave my kid alone, twerp — or else!!”