A parenting question for all of you

We just discovered that one of my daughter’s “best” friends has been lying about her computer use to her parents. She tells them that she’s going to an approved kid website, such as Club Penguin, and then, when they’re not looking, goes surfing for sex sites. (Did I mention that she’s ten?)  My daughter, bless her heart, told us what’s going on, because she was made very uncomfortable when shown a website with “naked people.” My daughter has no problem with our decision to limit her contact with that friend so that their out-of-school interactions (which my daughter hopes to see decrease in frequency) happen only at our house.  So that’s not the issue.

Here’s the issue:  I think I should tell the girl’s parents.  My daughter is, of course, worried that her friend will figure out that she is the source — even if the parents claim to have discovered the problem through browsing the computer’s history.  I appreciate my daughter’s concern, and I certainly don’t want to turn her into a social pariah, but I still find unnerving the thought of a child, too clever by half, wandering around alone in the big, ugly world of the internet.  Do you think I’m right to want to tell the parents?  And if you do think I’m right, how would you broach the subject?  Should I recommend to the parents a strategy (such as saying that they discovered the problem by checking the computer’s history), so that my daughter doesn’t get nailed as the stool pigeon?  Or do I just reveal the problem and hope that the parents don’t disclose my daughter’s identity?  I’m worried that, if I just ask them to keep my daughter’s identity secret, without giving them a strategy, they’ll do something stupid such as saying, “One of your friends told us that you’re checking out bad places on the computer.”  The other girl would have to be a complete nincompoop not to figure out that the friend is my little bookworm.


37 Responses

  1. Greetings:

    Just like you would want them to tell you if your child was straying or your house was on fire, you should tell them what you know. If your daughter wants to limit her interaction with the child, is it really a problem if the other child figures out where the information came from? I just not a fan of lying about serious matters to save people’s feelings. It’s a good lesson about doing the responsible thing and accepting what consequences occur. Who knows, the other child may come to accept/appreciate your daughter concern.

  2. I think it’s probably more important to tell them while saying something like, “At her age it’s natural to be curious,” so they don’t think you’re accusing them of being bad parents, or perhaps more importantly, so they don’t have a melt-down and think it’s about sex.

    The girl knows to hide it so she knows it’s wrong.

    And it’s quite all right to say, “I’d just as soon you didn’t tell her that my kid told, but I thought it was important to let you know.”

  3. I have to take you to task on this one. For heaven’s sake you are their parents. They are not small citizens they are children.

    Full disclosure, you have a positive duty to do it.

  4. I think your daughter is also, in her way, trying to see if you will protect her from these images.

    If you don’t pass along what you know, after awhile your daughter will be drawn in as well.

  5. I think you’re right — and you’re confirming my own instincts. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t rushing in as a meddling busy-body, rather than a concerned parent. I don’t like busybodies, because I think they’re troublemakers, and I sometimes need a reality check as to where the lines are drawn.

    Also, as I said, I do want to make contact in such a way that my daughter doesn’t get the label of being a tattler. That kind of thing can mean social death, especially in a small community where the kids will be at the same schools through 12th grade. If doing the right thing means there’s no alternative but to get some opprobrium from your peers, so be it. But if it can be avoided, while still doing the right and effective thing, well….

  6. I agree with those who say that you should raise the issue with the other girl’s parents. Don’t worry about whether your own daughter’s role in the revelation might become obvious to the other kid. If it does, the worst that can happen is that the other girl — already practicing systematic deceit — decides not to be friends with your daughter. But nobody needs lying friends. And while the social consequence of being shunned by another kid may be hard for a little while, it can also be part of the general lesson that standing up for what’s right won’t always be easy.

    If one of my children’s friends were doing this, I’d want to know about it.

  7. I agree. Tell. Whenever I wonder about something like that, I ask myself if I’d want to know if it were my child.

  8. BW
    This really does escape me how this could be construed as a “busybody” situation. We are talking about 10 year olds exposed to sexuality in an explicit form.

    Call me busybody, or not, but when it came to my kid I was in it to the hilt. I want to see everything, know everything, and hear everything.

    When they hit 18, well it’s no longer in your purview.

    Huh… happily mine is getting married.

  9. I think I would emphasize the fact that you are worried about their daughter because there might be people trying to lure and exploit young kids. If you take the approach that you all all in this together they may be more open.

  10. All computer use should be in a common room in the family home.

    And if you don’t install snooping devices on your children’s usages of the computer, then SHAME ON YOU! Protect your children. It really is the wild wild west out there.


  11. BW,
    I agree with many here that the parents need to know that their daughter is surfing adult sites. It isn’t going to be easy; and making sure that they know not to implicate your daughter is important.
    That said, depending on the parents’ level of maturity, they may try to blame your daughter for the exploration as transference. Be prepared and prepare your daughter for possible retaliation – since the parents will have to come to grips with their little angel probing the various depths of the abyss.
    It may also be time to have the first of “those” talks with your daughter – get the jump on the rumor mill/misinformation that comes from peers. Kids don’t find their way to those sites in a vacuum, which means the topic is being discussed among the little bookworm’s peers.
    Just my two cents; I know I’m dreading “the talk” when my kids get old enough. Though I already have to rein in my son for his flirtatious behavior (at four!). The boy bats his baby blues and women just melt. He was, reportedly, collecting hugs last week – it cracked my wife up when he reported liking hugs better from “cushony” targets. Sigh.
    SGT Dave – “Shotgun, check. Rope, check. Axe, check. OK, send in her date…”

  12. Some further advice. If you can, re-set up your OS (WIndows!) with an admin password that only the parents know. Install snooping software as admin that you can monitor. Allow your children user passwords keyed to each other – if they share, no problem. As long as they don’t have your Parent-Admin user password. And monitor, monitor, monitor!

    Actually, after just a few weeks, you only will need to monitor once per week.

    If you consider how conscious parents are about where you drive your kids to, with whom they stay overnight, etc, this is not a large amount of effort.

    I REPEAT: THE INTERNET IS THE WILD WILD WEST. And it is actually worse than that: The predators are trolling specific sites that your kids are drawn to. Be VERY careful.

  13. Child molestation used to be a game of these predators rolling through neighborhoods in cars, trying various strategems to get the kids into the cars, and once the car door was closed on the trusting child, BLAM. Hell on earth.

    I urge every parent to reflect upon what these driven psychopaths want to do as they – are sexually driven to do – to exploit children.

    What you remember from your childhood – the trolling car – is not the case these days. The internet is the way. These people , whether interested in little girls or little boys – they now communicate with each other, they share strategies, they share video. The Wild Wild West Internet – for all its freedom that we libertarians love – has provided a certain anonymity and cameraderie for the predators to group and to feel strong with.

    You can fight them by educating your children.

    And you can fight them with monitoring. Please see my prior posts above. This is not the old days. Just as aggressive emailers target you because you bought at IKEA, your kids will be targeted as the traverse certain web sites. These psychopaths have no mercy and they are FOCUSED.

  14. Aologies for too many posts! I should put this in Book’s book section.

    However, Dennis Lehane has a truly brilliant fictional book that addresses this problem – even to the uncaring parent. “Gone Baby Gone” is the name of his book. My God, do I recommend it, for so many reasons. Even literary excellence reasons! Dennis Lehane’s “Gone Baby Gone” is to my humble opinion a truly fantastic literary work. And it will alarm you fearsomely about child abduction.

    And present you to the great duo of detectives that form the crux of his first five books. A truly great introduction!

  15. BW,
    As the rest have said, pick up the phone now. In past years, adults were allowed and even expected to discipline other parents’ children for misbehavior. Teachers were allowed to provide appropriate punishment in class for infractions, and then the parents finished the job when Johnny got home. Now for reasons I have not divined, many parents are insulted if someone else disciplines their golden child. I always felt such behavior implied that the parent was unsure of their own ability to be a parent.
    The risks are far too great. The possible scenarios are horrifying. Both emotionally and maybe even legally.
    Be the parent.

  16. I agree. At 10! Tell the parents. Explain why ten-year-olds need to be monitored online, and everywhere else. Have a talk with your daughter about doing the right thing, even if it means losing a friend (or a social circle based around that “friend”). Tell her the dangers, and why it is a caring thing to tell her friend’s parents. You will be teaching your daughter the moral response to really helping friends (later, it may be drug or alcohol use or other destructive or illegal behaviors involved). Then be prepared for the parents to do, basically, nothing, and for some girls who find out to be “mean.” There are still good families and good friends enough out there for your daughter to find a community. You are picking the path she will be on for life, and helping her along the way.

    Any parents who would think you a busybody for doing this have some kind of mental defect! I would be grateful to be told, to have the opportunity to teach my child better and nip the lying and deceit in the bud. Just my opinion.

  17. How about presenting your problem to all the parents at the next parents, teachers meeting. Can’t you imagine all the parents rushing home to check the computers ! Might help several families.

  18. so that my daughter doesn’t get nailed as the stool pigeon?

    Truth is still the best policy if you ask me, if only because what a web we weave when we first practice to deceive. It’s hard to maintain fictitious lies unless you have a professional staff and support with you to handle all the variables and consequences. Or you’re a single man/woman narcissist that has been trained for one whole life in it.

    That doesn’t mean tell the parents so much as if you choose to tell the parents, it is pointless trying to circumvent exposing the “source”. Guilt will expose and be a problem regardless of whether the actual 10 year old girl finds out or not. If you want to circumvent a peer problem, you might just want to talk to the kid directly, alone. She’s curious about something, and is there may be a possibility that she will no longer go to those sites when the information is provided freely.

    You could always go to the parental level and bypass the peers, or deal with the peers directly. If your talk with the 10 year old doesn’t pan out or if your daughter can’t get a satisfactory reason out of her for why she is surfing sex sites, then you could still take it to the parent to parent level afterwards.

  19. I’m not a parent, so my focus is usually towards solving the problem the kid is having. There’s always the parent to peer solution of punishment or negative consequences in order to get people to stop doing something. Even if it is the information given out that there are predators out on the internet and that the porn industry is there to milk people of their people, not to inform, it is still a risk calculation compared to the benefits.

    There’s something motivating the 10 year old girl to these sites, which she probably feels embarassed to have her parents know about. Kids don’t want to talk about sex to their parents and vice a versa, it seems. Along with that motivation, there is also some cause for why the girl told little bookworm when she didn’t want her parents to know.

    The girl may be hooked on this new and forbidden thing. They haven’t become bored with it in a way. Little Bookworm is probably creeped out by this exaggerated interest and don’t really want to see more of those sites.

    So, to get to the point, somebody will have to make a parental decision on how they will want to stop this behavior. Do they want to get rid of the motivation to do it through negative consequences or bypassing the benefits the child thinks she is getting from these sites?

    In terms of protecting Little Bookworm, making the little girl take an interest in something else approved would be a better situation. If the problem is solved because the little girl willingly stops, and not because of fear of punishment or predators, then there’s no temptation and no need to blame Little Bookworm. I say this because there has to be some very high temptation and positive benefits the little 10 year old girl is getting from surfing sex sites for her to be sharing and concealing it, both at that age and to the extent that her peers are avoiding her house.

    I don’t think Little Bookworm would want to avoid her house if she showed those sites “once”, but if she goes there almost “everytime”. That shows an abnormal interest in these sites, that may not be adequately countered by fear of punishment or predators on the net.

  20. Tell ’em.

    And if you’re worried about repercussions to Little Bookworm from the kid in question, forget it. If nothing else, do you want LB to have friends like that? The jailhouse omerta of schoolchildren is a pernicious thing.

  21. Those are all fantastic suggestions, and it’s great to have my instincts confirmed on this one. Mike is right about what a scary world it is out there, and my husband and I monitor very closely what our kids are doing. I won’t call today, because it’s a holiday and both the other parents and I will have kids under foot, but I’ll call tomorrow. Not a pleasant call to have to make, but an important one.

    BTW, as for the friendship with that girl, I wouldn’t weep any tears to see it ended, nor would my daughter. I simply don’t want that child to get vindictive and have that whole gossipy little children’s community castigate my daughter as a tattler. If it has to be, it has to be, but I’d still like to avoid that.

  22. I guess I was a little off topic. I think the safety of your children is paramount. And in a community sense, the safety of other children comes right afterwards. Concerns about stool pigeon accusations just don’t cut it for me, compared to that.

    Unfortunately, there are parents for whom the social niceties of “stool pigeon behavior” take precedence, but what can you do? Slam those parents in front of your kids, define those parents as losers!

  23. 10 years old? This is like playing w/ alcohol or smoking. Best to clear the air now. Don’t wait a day to have a quiet word with the parents, and if you’re patient with your daughter, she’ll likely come around to your point of view and perhaps even ask you to talk to them – especially if she is willing to believe the subtext in some of the news reports on tragedies where a few overly clever children have been terribly hurt by where this leads. The parents should have the same conversation w/ the child as if they walked in on some experimentation, telling her that as a soon to be adult-in-body she needs to face some uncomfortable facts for her own protection and peace of mind (Mom for the young ladies, Dad for the boys).

    For the technically clueless, advise the parents to buy a new Acer Aspire or HP Pavilion on sale (reduced from $800 to $600) w/ Vista Home Premium (2gb, 15.4”, core2 duo) and turn on parental controls, including site filtering. And not give the children accounts administrator privileges. Will slow the child down for a while and insure logs aren’t altered. Even better, advise they move the PC to the living/dining room area because the parents have some need to share. Another option is using an ISP’s filtering service to insure that (largely flesh-toned and inappropriate words) content don’t even come down the wire and into the home.

  24. I like the idea that you bring the girl’s parents in as much as possible by assuming from the get-go that they care about their daughter just as much as you care about yours. Which means that of course you would hope they would share such information w/you as you are now doing w/them. Will you and Mr Bookworm both approach the other parents?

  25. Defintely tell, but also definitely assume your daughter’s role will come out. People will invariably manage to do things in the most stupid manner possible, so just warn your daughter that her friend’s parents inevitably WILL let it slip that the info comes from her, and she’ll have to deal with whatever emerges from that circumstance.

    It may cost her a friendship, and whether that friendship is a worthy one or not will not be the issue as she frames it to herself. She’ll doubtless be hurt, mad, etc., and not positively reactive to the idea that this may not be a great friend. (Which will then be an issue for YOU to handle.)

    But the news has to come out, and the chips it will inevitably create are just going to have to fly.

  26. If it helps, Book, I had a similar parenting issue xept with one of my daughter’s teenage friends. It involved alcohol and driving. Of course, that girl’s parents (esp. father) turned on my, basically saying the he was going to have to stand behind his little princess’s statement and, now, frankly, we don’t have anything to do with them.

    But look at it this way – if his daughter was to either get killed or kill someone else while driving under the influence, I would then have to accept some responsibility for not having spoken up and perhaps changed the course of events.

    Then again, it isn’t all that hard for me to write some people off and move on, once I have spoken my piece.

  27. Perhaps ladies & girls do suffer more from being social outcasts, so what about this idea. Get, if you do not already have it, in some roundabout, plausibly deniable way, the email of the aspiring pervert’s parents. Then use your Yahoo, Gmail etc. bland, anonymous address and write them.

  28. Tell the parents right away, and don’t lie or scheme to keep Little BW’s name out of it. You can request that the parents not disclose where the information came from, but your daughter will most likely be “found out.” Fortify her against that by telling her she did a good thing – something she should be proud of. She protected her friend (and herself) from a danger she can’t really understand yet. It’s an opportunity to educate both girls about some of the evils in the world (in an age-appropriate way). The parents should be very grateful to you. Let us know how it goes.

  29. “My daughter is, of course, worried that her friend will figure out that she is the source…”

    I really understand this – my daughter was a problem child in that she cared _way_ too much what other kids thought about her…but…
    they’re only 10 years old! What is that…5th grade? 4th? Assume porn child goes to school and spreads it around that your daughter got her into trouble…is she really going to tell her friends that your daughter ratted her out for surfing _porn_ sites? If she does, and if the other kids then give your daughter a hard time, you really _do_ have a problem! But it’s not just that one girl…
    If you go through with telling the parents, I think I’d probably talk to their teacher as well…just to see how things are going at school, and maybe give _them_ a heads up.
    Schools are more aware of these things, often, than parents are, and I think schools need to help parents by making them aware of the problems and if possible the ways to keep track of what their kids are doing as well as how to keep a lid on it.

    Such times we live in.

  30. I simply don’t want that child to get vindictive and have that whole gossipy little children’s community castigate my daughter as a tattler.

    That really depends upon whether the child is willing to have her own secrets released as well. If they strikes through gossip, then who knows what her peers will make of her own activities that was tattled upon?

    The best way to avoid warfare is to communicate that if they conduct a first strike upon you, you will launch everything you have back at them.

  31. Not sure why it has not been suggested but…

    What about seeing if you can coach your daughter through handling this herself. Let her know that the end goal must be “parents are notified of the behavior” and see if she can come up with an acceptable way to do it. You can always backstop her if she doesn’t want to come up with anything.

    Perhaps she could:
    1. Try to convince the kid that she has to tell her parents (unlikely since you judge this friend to be low quality)
    2. Talk to other friends to see if they can come up with a way to get porn-girl to talk.
    3. Brinkmanship: she can ask the parents and porn girl to sit down and say that she has something she needs to say. She can then give porn-girl a chance to tell her parents before she does.

    Little-BW might not want to do any of those. But it is not that often that you get such a nicely packaged morals lesson that you can hand to your kid.

    Good luck. Let us know how it goes. 🙂


  32. You should check this out, Book, and anyone else interested in the parent situation.


  33. Something that you could suggest to the other parents is the use of a free filter, ala OpenDNS ( http://www.OpenDNS.com/ ) that does the filtering for such content without controls on the client side. It’s VERY easy to set up and I don’t worry about having to deal with that particular issue on any of the computers at my home.

  34. …it is not that often that you get such a nicely packaged morals lesson that you can hand to your kid.

    I could not agree more.

    So often in life we try to shield our children from potentially painful experiences instead of realizing that often they are the best of what the education industry likes to call ‘teachable moments’: opportunities to grow, and to grow stronger. A child doesn’t develop character by taking the easy path, nor by having the right thing done *for* her, but by learning that it is best to do the right thing early with the loving guidance and support of her parents.

    This is what I tried to do with my sons.I don’t claim I was always successful or always wise, but that was the general idea, at least. I think I will try to write about this tomorrow – it’s an interesting subject. Thanks, Ymar 🙂

  35. By the way, I really like Joe’s suggestions. Very much.

    A relative of mine (very close) recently had the parent of his youngest boy handle a similar situation in just the same way. His son came clean with him immediately. He was the only child of 5 involved in an incident who did tell the truth to his parents.

    The wise handling of the incident by the other boys’ parents defused a potentially painful situation, gave the boy the chance to salvage something by doing the right thing and owning up to their misbehavior, and taught them all a great lesson. I recently watched his kids.

    They are teens and were utterly delightful company. I can’t help but believe from my own experience that kids pay far more attention to how we *act* than to anything we say in life. I am 48, and have never forgotten the day my Dad went back into a store to pay for a 19 cent package of frozen spinach at the bottom of our grocery cart.

    The lesson has stayed with me, always. I was never prouder, and to this day I worship my Dad.

  36. Graphic sexual images pop up unbidden sometimes just by turning on the computer. Parents should get blockers to prevent kids’ access to sites they would not want their kids to see. This is part of normal parental supervision. Parents need to be aware of the risks of MySpace, chat rooms, graphically violent or sexual video games, and pornography access at library computers.
    Through my work I have invited an attorney from the local DA office to speak on cyber-safety issues to parents. Many parents simply are unaware of all the risks on the internet. Perhaps you could look into whether a speaker like this is available in your area and could do a presentation at your school. Many parents would be grateful for this information. Perhaps these parents would also appreciate information about blocker sites- you might say that you use one or the other yourself. Once we got this ourselves, it was a relief not to be trying to send an e-mail and have some “big tits” or “insatiable housewife eats…” flashing across my screen.

    Is the site simply pics of naked women, men, or porno? There are some truly gross things out there that could really be bad for kids to see. Your daughter’s reaction was appropriate and healthy for a child- basically, yuck, I’m not comfortable. I am more concerned by a 10 year old who wants to explore porn sites. Why so much interest in sex at her age? Kids may have some curiosity of what the future holds for their bodies but elementary school age kids are generally repelled by, and not comfortable with sex itself, unless they have been exposed to it somehow- prior viewing of porno, sex, or molestation.

    In any event, we enjoy it when other parents tell us, “Your child was well-behaved.” We need other parents to share information that will protect our children from harm. Be tactful, but if they can’t take it they will be unable to protect their daughter from this and future risks.
    Please let us know how it went.

  37. Did anyone else think that ten years old seems very percocious for a child to be actively persuing porn—what is happening in that home?

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