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I am the single mom of an eight-year-old girl. She recently had a friend over; that girl is nine. My dad was watching the girls while I was at work. When I came home, my daughter was in the pool and the other girl was inside on the computer. I reminded my daughter that I didn't want to happen when friends are over. I went in to see the girl and she jumped up and away from the computer. I suggested both girls take showers before dinner and checked the history on the computer. The girl was looking at porn videos! I asked my daughter if she did this too and she said yes and started crying. Then I asked the other girl why she did this and how she knew where to look. She said she saw this on TV at her dad's house (her parents are divorced). I called the mom who in turn called the father who replied that he didn't have time to talk about this. This little girl was also caught stealing from purses at a dance recital. I have repeatedly suggested to the mom that this little girl gets professional help, but I don't think she will do anything about it. The reason I have her around my daughter is that I hope she will see good influences, but now I am concerned about having my daughter around this bad influence. My question to Parental Wisdom is I have great concern about this little girl. At what point does someone report to child welfare? I can only think that if she has such troubled behavior at age nine, what will happen when she is a pre-teen?


Jill Brown Replied: I commend you for trying to give this 9 year old friend a positive influence; however I think it is time to limit the time you allow your daughter to spend with this little girl. (Tell the psychologist or principal at the school what happened.) Kids are exposed to all kinds of things from friends. As a parent of an eight year old, you still have a huge influence on who your daughter is friends with. As your child gets older you won't always know who your child is hanging out with or learning things from at school. I would use this as a "teachable moment" with your daughter. Talk to her about what kinds of people she wants to be friends with. Show her how to make good choices when choosing her friends...give specific examples about the kinds of things she should be looking for when choosing who to be friends with. As far as the porn goes, it is everywhere on the internet and easily accessible. Since your daughter has already seen the videos, I would have the birds and the bees conversation with her if you haven't already. I would explain how people that do those porn acts are sick people. Make sure she understands that type of behavior is not "love" or love making. For the future, I would put your computer in the kitchen where you can see it at all times. I am so proud of you for checking the history, keep that up. Try not to punish but use what they see to teach them your values. However, make your rules about which sites your daughter is allowed to go on and sit with her while she is on the computer. I think it makes sense to have specific computer hours and I would make those hours during the time that you are home from work. I would make a rule of "no computer" while you are at work. There is just too much inappropriate information that your child can access to give them "free reign". Make sure in the future, as your child is allowed to have a cell phone and is allowed to social network that you check their messages, images and activities on a daily basis. It is time consuming and your child will fight you on it but it is your job to protect your child. If you don't know what is going on in their on-line life then you can't teach them appropriate on-line behavior.
Posted On 2010-09-04 08:28:01
Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: Sadly, there are a number of things going on in this situation that will probably remain beyond your control, but I think you have hit all the right notes here. You are concerned about the situation, you have brought the issue up with both girls, you have spoken with the other mother, and you have suggested they seek professional help. Why the father does this to his daughter, why he refuses to deal with it, and why the mom hasn't sought help, are questions you probably won't be able to answer. Although states vary in their reporting laws, you aren't required to report this to social services (only professionals are), but one possibility for you is to speak with a school counselor about what you have seen. The school may well have had other reports about the girl's behavior. Professionally, the most useful approach to this would be family therapy for the girl and her parents, but this seems unlikely to happen. It sounds like you have an open relationship with your daughter. She told you what she had done; you can be proud of her honesty -- and of the role you (and possibly her father) must have had in that! You might ask her why she cried; was she embarrassed? Did she think you would be angry, or that you wouldn't like her? The power in the kind of open relationship you have with her is in your potential ability to discover what she is thinking, and to respond to her concerns. Thank her for her honesty, and for trusting you on this issue. You might also talk about your concerns for her friend, whose behavior is almost certainly less about evil intent and more about a response to whatever is going on with her dad, or her mom, or between the two of them. This would be a good opportunity to talk about the kinds of images her friend is looking at, and what your concerns are about them. That would help her to be more informed and aware when she inevitably encounters these issues out in the world, and it would affirm your role as an askable parent. Both you and your daughter might indeed have a good influence on the friend because of how your home seems to work; for the moment, though, you might explain to your daughter that you will want to be around whenever they get together. It is always hard when you know someone is having a problem but you don't have the power to get them to do something about it. Your instincts are right on target, though, so stay with it.
Posted On 2010-09-03 09:40:43
Eric Hsu Replied: Hi I'm sorry to hear about your situation. I think you are (clearly) absolutely right in taking this situation very serious. The obvious problem with exposure to pornography for children is the interference with positive cognitive and emotional development. The less obvious problem, however, lies in the fact that predators, whether they be much older teenagers, or grown men, like to use pornography as part of the grooming process - the process where they break down resistance, isolate from support, and blackmail, so that their victim becomes more compliant. Most often pornography is a favored tool and is used to desensitize the desired victim to sexual activity. In the situation you have conveyed, the fact that your daughter's friend is exposed (knowingly it seems) to pornography not only means that she is much more susceptible to sexual predators, but, coupled with the lack of concern from the father, it also raises concerns that there might be abuse going on in the father's house. That being said, for these types of situations, I generally do not recommend making a report to child welfare. The problem, and I've seen it repeatedly in my previous capacity as a criminal prosecutor, is that since the exposure to pornography can be easily explained away by the father, there is likely little that child welfare will do other than investigate and ask a few questions, at which point the father will probably know that you are the reporting party. The child welfare system being what it is, it is then very easy for the father to, if he is inclined, file false reports with child welfare about your parenting with the intent to cause trouble for you. I have, as I mentioned, seen cases of this nature even end up in criminal court and, for this reason, do not recommend making reports to child welfare unless there is a serious risk of harm to a child. As for your daughter's continued relationship with her friend, however, I am afraid I have to recommend you do what every parent dreads doing, and start to put some serious distance between them. It would be a different story if the friend's mother was willing to pursue some professional help (which is what I would have recommended). However, this type of acting out by the friend seems indicative of some serious problems, very possibly involving abuse. Peer influence is enormous in the early adolescent years (many leading child cognitive development experts place it as THE MOST INFLUENTIAL FACTOR, ahead of upbringing, socio-economic status, family status, and other major influences) which behooves us parents to really be proactive in helping our children choose their friends while they are still young enough to let us. I think the question to ask is whether the friend is one you would want influencing your daughter when she is 12-15. If the friend doesn't receive professional help I think the answer would an unequivocal "no." My final bit of advice is to tread carefully when it comes to taking steps to distance your daughter from her friend. While I think this definitely needs to be done, it does come with some risk of conflict with your daughter, especially if she does not understand and/or buy-in to the reason for your actions (ie you really do just want the best for her). One book I found to be a really good reference for parenting when there is conflict is "Good and Angry" by Scott Turansky. I hope this advice is of use to you and that things start taking a turn for the better. Eric
Posted On 2010-09-03 00:44:16
Amy and Charles Miron Replied: First, let us applaud you for your excellent parenting and watchfulness. Checking the computer's history and calling the nine-year-old's Mom were all great. It's also wonderful that your daughter was honest with you, even knowing that you would not like her answer. We hope you reinforced how much you value her truthfulness. As far as the issue of your daughter's friend, we believe that while you have every reason to be concerned (and we would be, too) we're really not sure that the Department of Child Welfare will be able to do anything at this point. While this child's behavior is deeply troublesome, it does not sound like you have any evidence that she is being neglected or abused...which are the criterea for most state's Child Welfare intervention. At another level, calling Child Welfare would probably result in cutting off all communications with the child's Mom. While you don't believe that the Mom will do anything now, at least you still have access to her which will enable you to gently repeat your opinion that this child needs professional help. Next time there's an opportunity to speak with the Mom about her troubled daughter (and we believe there's a pretty good chance that they'll be a next time if you continue to encourage your child's friendship with her) you might want to add that you're worried about what will happen as her child reaches her pre-teens...and that you've always believed in nipping a problem in the bud and hope she'll think about it.
Posted On 2010-09-01 22:32:49
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