Parenting (?) Dilemma
September 2, 2016 1:25 PM   Subscribe

This summer we spent our holiday together with my cousins, who have children of similar age. While we all get along well, our parenting styles differ greatly in some aspects. This question is about children exploring sexuality, so if this topic is upsetting you may not want ot read on.

We spent our holiday this summer (as in the last several years) together with my cousins, Greg and his wife Molly, and Fred and his wife Amy (all names are made up).
I have known Greg and Fred all my life, they are about 10-12 yrs younger than myself and Greg is not only my cousin, but a very old friend, not close anymore since he married, but we know each other very well.

Greg and Molly have three children, the eldest is a boy, Franky, almost 8, the same age our son (lets call him Mikey for the purpose of this question). Fred and Amy have two daughters, the younger girl, Izzy, is the same age as Franky and Mikey.
We lived in separate houses during the holiday, but met every day at the pool, and often also had dinner / barbcue together with the children playing in the huge garden.

Greg and Molly's son Franky spent al lot of time with us, sometimes sleeping over in our house. Basically he was with us at our house most of the day, most of the holiday,as he and my son are best friends (in their own words) and Greg and Molly enjoyed to have time with their two much younger sons. It was fine with me, as Mikey has no siblings and mostly Franky is a lovely, smart child.

However, this proximity also gave me plenty of opportunity to observe how absolutly misogynist Franky is. He positively hates girls and anything he thinks is girlish. Not sure if an almost 8yr old can be a misogynist but if anyone can he is.
Mike, my son, is somewhat of a girl-hater too, but not more so than his classmates, and other boys of the same age we know, and if left to himself will actually quite happily play with girls. If however another boy joins, he becomes very anti-girl.
So it was fine when it was just Mike and Franky, but when Izzy wanted to join in to play both boys one afternoon it became so rabid I actually asked Izzy's mom to fetch her, as I was unable to stop Franky from insulting and cursing her. I also sent Franky to his parents that night (as his parents were out for the day they could not fetch him straight away and it should have been sleepover that evening). When we were alone, I asked Mikey what was up, he shrugged his shoulders and said girls are stupid. But that actually Izzy was not so bad. I could not get more out of him.

We then tried to keep the boys and girls separate, mostly, but even then Franky repeatedly pushed and demanded Mikey join him in rants against girls. When I told both boys that this was not acceptable in my/our house, Franky either pouted or mumbled that I was stupid, and Mikey said ok mom. They would stop but perhaps two hours later he would start up again.
Franky also endlessly regaled Mikey with methods how he could "torture" the girls, eg. at school. This included physical violence, so whenever I noticed him go off again I intervened and said again it was not acceptable. Rinse and repeat, almost everyday.

I never said anything to Greg and Molly about how upset I had begun to feel about Franky's relentless girl hatred and how I worry it will affect Mikey. The main reason is that they are borderline fundamentalist Christians, and I did not think it would help Franky if I spoke to them.

To be honest, I was relieved when the holiday came to a close. And then something happened that still has me deliberating whether or not to speak at least to Greg and Molly after all.

On the last day, I took both boys to the pool, and on the way we passed a group playing beach volleyball, some 6 or 7 guys in shorts and one young woman in a bikini, all in their early twenties.
Franky saw them and immediately exclaimed it was crazy the guys would permit a woman to play with them, especially in a bikini. He said: if I was them I would pull down her bikini and grab her scrotum (he used an adult crude word, we spoke our mother tongue). Lost for a reply I said that women don't have a scrotum, rather women have a vagina and that was what he would see if he did that. He added: and her breasts (again using a rather crude slang word). Franky was so worked up and agressive in his tone of voice and language I was truly taken aback.

My son chimed in to say, he would also like to see a vagina (using the correct term I taught him from early on), and would I show them mine. While I was trying to formulate why I would not do so, Franky said that it would not be necessary for him after all as Izzy had already showed him hers.

The conversation then took an abrupt turn because Mikey told Franky that I had a beard and shaved (I do have rather a lot of hair on my chin if I dont remove it), and Franky brought up Caster Semenya, speculating if she had a penis or vagina.
Luckily for my sanity we had reached our destination and both boys were distracted.

This happened about 3 weeks ago. Ever since, I am pondering what to do and have two related questions: should I speak to Greg and Molly about Franky's attitude toward girls and women?
Should I tell Fred and Amy that Izzy showed her privates to Franky? I am not sure if he made her or she volunteered (she might have volunteered, to shut him up, she is definitely a strong personality and usually countered his verbal attacks quite strongly).
Also I am not sure if I do one, do I necessarily need to do the other? I suppose I could leave out the part about Izzy when I talk to Greg and Molly.

This is made harder for me by the fact that the brothers Fred and Greg have a very strained relationsship, for years and long before they had any children. Fred despises Greg's wife Molly and often belittles her "jokingly". Both Fred and Amy somewhat dislike Franky already, mostly blaming Molly for Franky's ADHD (it is diagnosed, and in treatment, Franky also has an above average IQ). Franky very openly dislikes his uncle Greg who frequently admonishes him freely.

I fear if Fred and Amy find out from me that Izzy showed Franky her privates, this situation might tip the bucket in the fight among the brothers from animosity to open hostility.
As Izzy and Franky will not meet again until Christmas, it is definitely not ongoing now if anything more than showing that one time happened. Also, I think it is possible Izzy told them on her own, she has a very good bond with both parents. But I cannot know if she did.

I talked this over with my husband, who saw it all. He agrees Franky is more anti-girl than any boy we know, but also says to leave it alone, not to stir up the hornets any further between the brothers, and that sex ed is the parent's responsibility anyway and was Greg and Molly's problem. I agree it is, but this is not about sex ed but what I see as completly inappropriate behaviour of Franky towards girls and women. He is raised in a non-sectarian but nevertheless conservative Christian home, but neither Fred nor Molly are so dye in the wool Xtian that I can't have holiday with them (I used to be an X-tian fundamentalist myself, although a very different church and so am quite sensitive to that stuff).
As the boys are best friends, we visit every couple of weeks and we adults just keep the talk away from religion (they know my history and are able to respect it).

What do you think I should do? Leave it alone? Talk to all of them? Or only Franky's parents? Other options?
Thank you for reading,
posted by 15L06 to Human Relations (48 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Welp, there's nothing more divisive than parenting philosophy, and I presume you'll get divergent advice here, but here's my personal take:

I don't think you can change other people's parenting. But it's also OK to give your perspective, and to set up rules in your own household. I would do the following:

1. Only take care of other people's kids up to the point you can emotionally handle it.
2. When it's in your house, it's your rules. You can say, "At our house, we don't talk about girls that way." or "At our house we treat girls and boys the same" and you can explain why. And you can maintain that rule by saying things like, "When we have another friend over, everyone has to be included, or else we can't have a play date at all."
3. You can offer your kid and your cousin's kid access to feminist media and you can role model feminism.
4. You are allowed maybe one conversation with this kids parents, but keep your expectations low and keep your mind open. I would suggest opening with, "Could I talk to you a little about Franky?" and if they say yes, say something brief and factual like, "I noticed Frank saying x. I've seen that a lot, like the day before, he also said y. In our family we think it's important to treat boys and girls the same, so I'm worried about how Franky is talking." and then be ready for them to respond in ways you don't like.
posted by latkes at 1:40 PM on September 2, 2016 [16 favorites]

There is absolutely no question that you should tell Fred and Amy what Franky said Izzy did. To be honest, I am gobsmacked that you would think that the possibility of stirring up resentment between the brothers is more important than learning if Franky has been severely bullying, possibly even sexually assaulting, Izzy. Fred and Amy have every right to defend their young daughter from that kind of behavior, even if it "seemed" voluntary. You should be wanting to defend her, too. Do you want to find out ten years later that Franky was touching her in your basement all along?

Based on Franky's aggressive and precocious behavior, I'd say there's a distinct possibility that he himself is or has been abused. That is the only reason I am not also saying that you should not allow Mikey to see Franky. Franky is behaving in extremely inappropriate ways and Mikey is clearly being influenced by him. At Mikey's age, he is too young to be expected to form judgments in resistance to his environment (and too young to have primary autonomy in determining who he spends his time with anyway). This makes me reluctant to see him isolated. At any rate, you need to have firm boundaries about younger relatives can speak to you and how they can conduct themselves in your own home. The first time a seven-year-old told me I was stupid would be the last time they'd be visiting me until they apologized.
posted by praemunire at 1:51 PM on September 2, 2016 [86 favorites]

I'd tell the kid in front of his parents that he's saying things that are unacceptable. I'd tell him why. I'd tell him it's going to affect his ability to be allowed to play with your son, and probably any other children. That you love him very much, but these are values you won't negotiate on and when he says these things and keeps being welcome in the house, you're worried he thinks it's ok with you, and that your own son thinks it's ok.

Say it firmly but with genuine love. He's only a kid. But de-programming your kid will get harder and harder. And the kids at school and teachers are going to notice what your son is repeating/behaving .

By the way, any anti girl dialogue is worrying. At my kids school that would be promptly corrected and if it continued, strictly punished.

In our world, families who accept that in any form, pretty much find their play dates and invites to parties shrinking. The same goes for families of homophobes and racists. Pretty much they end up with a couple of friends of like mind and their echo chamber lives means by high school, they're only able to talk to each other.

No anti girl talk is ok. At all. As you can see, it very easily leads to violence against girls and women. Don't allow the family to think you accept it.

You're not responsible for everyone else. But you are responsible for your own kid and his behaviour. For his future.

Be open. Be loving. Be unwavering. You will not tolerate misogyny and hatred of any kind and he's welcome to choose that over the friendship with your son. But that is the choice. ADHD and Christians be damned. There are millions of Christians and kids with ADHD who aren't like him. They're not the reason. His shit parents are.
posted by taff at 2:01 PM on September 2, 2016 [22 favorites]

I would seek professional advice.

Under no circumstances should Izzy or Mikey be allowed to hang out with Franky. But you need guidance how to approach the rest...

Agreed Franky might have been sexually abused, however, it is clear Izzy has been sexually assaulted by Franky and possibly your son and her parents need to know ASAP but also in a calm way.

Are you male or female? Yes kids experiment, but given Franky's demeanor it's entirely disengenuous that Izzy was not coerced by this aggressive peer.


Seek out professional help, maybe anonymously. Please don't look the other way...

At the very least Izzy should never ever be alone with her cousin again. Fuck the parents relationship. You've missed the point. These children need intervention and protection and I pray it goes well.
posted by jbenben at 2:03 PM on September 2, 2016 [30 favorites]

This does seem to raise some warning flags.

I never said anything to Greg and Molly about how upset I had begun to feel about Franky's relentless girl hatred and how I worry it will affect Mikey. The main reason is that they are borderline fundamentalist Christians, and I did not think it would help Franky if I spoke to them.

Even this is ok to discuss. The consequence stopping you -- a possibly ambiguous effect of you discussing this situation with the parents because of their religious affectation -- is difficult for me to consider more important than making sure this situation is discussed.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:05 PM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

You seem to find this anti-girl behaviour normal for their age. In my culture this is NOT normal and would result in the involvement of Children's Protective Services. I've been around thousands of eight year old boys and have never heard the behaviour and language you describe except from sexually abused boys (maybe about ten or so boys out of those thousands).

I agree with the comment up-thread about "your house - your rules". You should not be role modeling passivity and also encouraging inappropriate remarks from your son by rewarding him with a trip to the pool together when he asked to show your vagina to his friend. The friend's behaviour is worrying enough that not only would I assume the girl is at risk of/has been being physically/sexually abused by Franky but also your son (especially since they were having sleepovers). Are there parenting classes where you live that you can take to help build your skills and assertiveness?

Meanwhile, I would cool the relationship with the family as your process your feeling with a professional and alert the girl's parents to the behaviour and comments you witnessed.

I hope you and your family can find safer, healthier, and happier relationships.
posted by saucysault at 2:14 PM on September 2, 2016 [33 favorites]

Where is your spouse on all of this?

Your son needs BOTH parents to demonstrate anti-girl talk is not OK. Somehow you also have to find out if your son was involved in anything that harmed Izzy. Your son needs to know boundaries regarding another's body. Apparently you missed an opportunity to set some rules when Franky talked about ripping off a woman's bathing suit and physically assaulting her.

Look. I know this kind of talk from eight year olds was shocking and you missed a bunch of flags. That's why you have double the responsibility to take the right actions now.

I again urge you to get guidance because you want this handled carefully, but handle it you must.
posted by jbenben at 2:17 PM on September 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

1. This all makes me worry about what Franky is hearing in the home.

2. I notice that you are not moving to protect Izzy, even aside from the possible sexual abuse - she was the one who was sent home when Franky started acting unacceptably and Franky was not punished. Franky has learned that if he doesn't want Izzy around, he just needs to be hateful enough and she will have to leave.

3. The conversation that you describe between you and the boys was very shocking to me. Eight years old is too old to have that type of sexually explicit conversation with/in front of adults without realizing that it is inappropriate. I cannot over-stress that the conversation strikes me as very strange - your child and another child were talking about your body and asking to see it, when it is clear from the conversation that your family is not one where casual nudity is the norm; another child and your child felt comfortable talking in front of you about sexually assaulting a woman.

I would be very, very hesitant to put your child and Izzy in the same room with Franky going forward. If you feel that Franky's parents are possible sources of abuse/misogyny and are reluctant to abandon Franky, I feel like close supervision and the willingness to cut visits short or separate the boys would be important.

I am also worried about what your son has already picked up from Franky. He's learned that misogynist conversation may be slightly redirected but will not be stopped and that misogyny results in the removal of girls.

I know Americans are therapist-happy, but I feel like a professional needs to be brought in to this - to advise you, if nothing else.
posted by Frowner at 2:18 PM on September 2, 2016 [101 favorites]

You have only hearsay, but it is very concerning. I'm not sure but I think what you heard would trigger mandatory reporting rules for many occupations in many jurisdictions.

I think you have to tell the girl's parents what you heard. Who knows if it was innocent or malicious activity, or if the whole thing was made up for a lark.

But they deserve to know so they can ask their own questions.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:20 PM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

I feel like there is some cultural thing happening here that I don't understand. Did you find it strange that your eight year old son asked you to show him and his cousin your vagina? This tripped me up more than anything else in your question.
posted by cakelite at 2:21 PM on September 2, 2016 [39 favorites]

I think that you need to prioritize your goals.
If Izzy (your niece!) is being harmed by Franky and you know about it, your first obligation is to help her. I would talk to her parents and tell them that you may be totally wrong but that you heard some information from Franky that indicates that some inappropriate stuff may have gone on this summer and that you'd like them to look into this for Izzy's sake. Don't worry about the brothers' relationship. What if something HORRIBLE is happening to Izzy and you're the only one that knows?

I'd also approach the other family and talk about how you're generally concerned about Franky's behavior. Start with the obscene words - "I don't know where he learned those!" and move on.

Good luck to you.
posted by k8t at 2:22 PM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is way beyond "girls have cooties" kind of talk. This is an 8 yr old boy describing in detail an imagined sexual assault on a random young woman. I think you have to tell his parents what happened, you have to tell his parents what he said about Izzy, and you have to tell Izzy's parents.

It's not a question of differences in parenting style, unless their fundamentalism is of some extreme variety - the only one I can think of is those pseudo-mormons who think they should have prepubescent wives. Regardless, protecting your child and Izzy from this boy is critical. Do not let that kid play with yours. If the parents are unwilling to acknowledge that their son is behaving in wildly inappropriate ways, then cut them off. And consider talking to Child Protective Services.
posted by mareli at 2:26 PM on September 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

FWIW, I am the parent of a 7.5 year old boy and I've never heard any of he or his friends say anything even remotely close to what you're describing. While yes, the boys tend to play with other boys and girls tend to play with other girls, in the classroom, etc. they all get along just fine.
posted by k8t at 2:33 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Should I tell Fred and Amy that Izzy showed her privates to Franky? I am not sure if he made her or she volunteered (she might have volunteered, to shut him up, she is definitely a strong personality and usually countered his verbal attacks quite strongly).

Yes, you should tell her parents. Not because I think she was assaulted (that seems like such a huge jump), but more because she may, like I was around that age, not have totally gotten the memo about why private parts are private. I also think that you should tell Greg and Molly, but I could see why Fred any Amy might not want this to become a whole thing, so I'd ask how they felt before you had the second conversation (or better yet let the brothers work it out between themselves). Kids playing "doctor" is probably harmless in the long run, but it's up to the parents whether or not they want their kids participating.

Gender based group-forming also seems like it's a "natural" thing that kids will tend to do (girls rule boys drool, girls have cooties, boys are icky, etc., etc.,). The fact that Franky doesn't understand why young adult males would spend their time around "a girl" seems to underscore that this is coming from a lack of maturity. Same with the crude slang words/thoughts of juvenile "violence". Franky's behavior honestly seems "normal" in the sense of "poorly parented kids will come up with these dumb ass behaviours because they are kids." This isn't a "boys will be boys" thing -- just that 8 year olds are morons.

Another thing to consider is that apparently kids are hitting puberty earlier than they used to. A bunch of Franky's statements sound like they come out of curiosity/fear about new things he's learning. "Huh -- mikey's mom needs to shave -- she has a beard -- but only boys have beards -- boys have penises -- do you think girls with beards have penises?"

Anyways, I'd tell Fred and Amy about what Izzy supposedly did, and I'd ask them to talk to tell Greg and Molly. I'd keep enforcing rules about no violent behavior/talk in your household, and I'd keep exposing the kids to good female role models and trust that both kids grow out of the "girls suck" mindset. If the violent talk continues to bother you, I'd talke to Greg and Molly about that.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:34 PM on September 2, 2016 [8 favorites]

I think priority 1 is to call Amy and tell her what the boys told you about Izzy.

Priority 2 is to not let your kid play with Franky anymore. If that means no more beach with them, well, it means that. That kid ain't right. Whether he's been abused or just subject to pernicious influences (the language suggests to me that there's someone teaching him these awful ideas, rather than him coming up with them spontaneously) you can see his behavior is far from normal and that these ideas are infectious and no good for your boy. Tell your kid why, too.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:34 PM on September 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

Echoing cakelite and Frowner, I am super crunchy granola; nudity is normal in my family, my kids all saw their siblings' home-births and sexual talk is very open. My son, not at eight, nor at any other age, would NEVER suggest showing my vagina to another boy. I'm struggling to think of any culture I am familiar with where that would be appropriate.
posted by saucysault at 2:37 PM on September 2, 2016 [12 favorites]

I’m stunned by your story. It describes one or two boys being gigantically misogynistic, hatefully discussing severe sexual abuse, your own child offering your vagina to his friend, and a young girl being harassed by two boys, one of whom may have harangued her into sexually revealing herself to him. To be honest, if I’d been involuntary witness to some of the things you describe, I’d have gone to the police (and I am from a country where police/ social services are even worse at dealing with such matters than the US).

I’m noting my shock only to confirm your own judgement that this situation is all kinds of wrong. This is how a misogynistic system perpetuates itself; this is how rape culture stays alive. How to act on your own feelings re. this situation depends a lot on the people involved. Issy absolutely needs to be helped through the potentially major harm that has been done to her. Even if Franky’s sexual exposure story is made up, what you describe as her interaction with the boys (and her punishment at their misbehaviour) can really screw children over. For a girl in today’s society it can be one of several ‘break her spirit’ moments. Franky’s behaviour is so far beyond the pale that only a professional can advise on how to proceed there. TBH he sounds like he’s on track to become a fully-fledged sociopath; if the kid is to have any chance at a normal human life intervention is necessary.

I’d also like to join others in recommending therapy. Your instincts seem very good on this, but you also seem very uncertain of your own judgement here. Please forgive me if this is too forceful, but my feeling reading your account is that you were spot on with your observation of the issue, but just didn’t trust yourself enough to stand up to two little boys and your husband. BTW, I think husband is also far afield in his judgement here – might his own involuntary misogyny shine through here?

PS. Boys CAN be mean to girls, but what you describe is from a different planet. No, that is not normal and it should not be condoned. I come from a VERY misogynistic culture and have worked with and around children for many years, but have never ever heard anything this bad, not even from known wife beaters (at least not while they were sober). I have also never ever heard a child of either gender make demands about or interfere with an adult’s sexual organs after about the age of 5.
posted by miorita at 2:41 PM on September 2, 2016 [35 favorites]

Exactly what fingersandtoes said. Call Amy and tell her about the disclosure about Izzy (note that it didn't necessarily happen, but you need to report that it was said and let them get on with what they need to do). And blank Franky entirely. If this results in "tipping the balance into outright hostility" then quite frankly it sounds like this would be a pretty good result, for your kid and theirs.

But most of all, of course, find some better influences for your kid and reinforce everything that you thought you thought he knew. Asking you to show your private parts to him and others is way out of line and he should know that by eight without doubt. Make sure he also knows without doubt that "pulling down her bikini" would result in the police and many others getting involved, and most likely the end of any kind of pleasant life for whoever did it.
posted by tillsbury at 2:44 PM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

it is clear Izzy has been sexually assaulted by Franky and possibly your son
Woah... where the hell do you get that from? Its not at all clear that Izzy has been sexually assaulted by either boy. "playing doctor" is considered a totally normal part of childhood development. We have no evidence that anything more has gone on here that normal childhood curiosity

Franky sounds like an asshole but I'm sure his parents know that already. He's learned that hatred somewhere. If I had a kid, I would not let him anywhere near that boy. 3 weeks on is too late to be telling your son why asking to see your vagina was inappropriate though, he's likely forgotten all about it
posted by missmagenta at 2:45 PM on September 2, 2016 [19 favorites]

Kids get naked, I wouldn't jump to conclusions about what happened there but I sure as heck wouldn't be let him be my kids bff any more. If I were Izzys parents I'd likely be more concerned about what he said to her and the names he called her. I'd be livid if another adult overheard and did not tell me.

This kid is headed for serious trouble without intervention and his behavior now is disturbing enough I wouldn't want him around my kid even if they got along, but I 100% wouldn't let my daughter play with him.

He's also an ill mannnered little jerk if he's speaking back to you, refusing to comply with your rules and cussing but that's a whole separate issues, don't conflate it with the overly sexual stuff. Lots of small kids are ill mannered, not too many are obsessed with sex and violence.
posted by fshgrl at 2:50 PM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

He said: if I was them I would pull down her bikini and grab her scrotum (he used an adult crude word, we spoke our mother tongue). Lost for a reply

Oh my, where is he getting ideas like this? Has this happened to him? Agreed that this may indicate he's suffered or witnessed abuse. I think one reply would be to talk as though he's describing things that have happened to him. "Oh no - we don't talk like that around here. What's underneath someone's bathing suit is private. Nobody can touch it without permission. Nobody should grab someone's [non-crude word for scrotum]. If someone hurt her in her private area, that's against the law, and she could get help from a doctor or teacher or another helpful adult. And in our family we don't hurt other people, so please don't let me hear talk like that again. [Then say something loving.]"
posted by salvia at 2:54 PM on September 2, 2016 [24 favorites]

Playing doctor is normal, but in context with his aggression toward her, his verbal fantasy of assaulting a stranger, and his boasts about torturing girls at school, I would not assume Izzy voluntarily exposed herself to Franky. At the very least, you have to speak to her mother.
posted by Mavri at 2:58 PM on September 2, 2016 [61 favorites]

I would at the very least speak to Izzy's parents and a child therapist. If Franky is being abused by his own parents, going to them isn't going to help him without professional assistance.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:59 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think it is worth ending the relationship with these adults, if you have to, in order to a) make your best-faith effort to get their daughter help if something has already happened to her, or might at the hands of her brother or some other person that seems to be influencing them b) either get their son help if something has happened to him (which is certainly one reason that children behave like this) or intervene before he gets any worse.

Your son doesn't need to be friends with this child until this situation is resolved. Being lonely would be a far better fate than continuing any further to be influenced by this child (or within reach of this child's predator, if that's the case). Not having to go on vacation with them is not the worst possible outcome here.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:02 PM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

"Woah... where the hell do you get that from? Its not at all clear that Izzy has been sexually assaulted by either boy"

Izzy experienced aggression from Franky, his behavior got her sent home, his behavior created a situation where Izzy was left out every time Franky and Mikey were together. Anything that happened of a sexual nature between these children wasn't friendly. Maybe assault is the wrong word? Maybe it's abuse? Coercion (the technical definition of using force or threats?)

Sadly, I it was not a friendly event, whatever occurred. I'm OK saying thus far the OP under-reacted where Izzy's safety is concerned and I hope this changes as a result of this thread.
posted by jbenben at 3:04 PM on September 2, 2016 [20 favorites]

Agree with jbenben. The context of Franky's terrible attitudes is what makes it likely that whatever happened with Izzy's privates was not a mutually-curious game, but something sinister. This isn't some theoretical game of doctor, this is Franky of the violent words and fantasies, and you must report what you heard to Izzy's mother.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:33 PM on September 2, 2016 [14 favorites]

I'm reading Charter for Compassion and will say that religion has compassion at its core, and the Divine has favored women, so if compassion is guiding your actions, you'll stay on solid ground. Stay out of denial and shine some light on the situation. Kids know a bit at this age but this is well over the line. The kid needs to know that this talk burns bridges and leads to more anger and isolation.
posted by childofTethys at 3:33 PM on September 2, 2016

I have a cousin who was much like Franky when we were kids. He was about the same age as I was. He constantly discussed very explicit sexual stuff, like Franky, and was violent and misogynistic from a very young age. I have no doubt he was abused himself, but I have no clue who would have done it.

He did engage in unwanted sexual contact with me, and did some very inappropriate sexualized things to my brother, as well. We went to school together, and I witnessed him doing the same thing to other girls. He would have been no older than 8 or 9 at this time.

My family would have considered me a "strong personality" at 8, too. I was not "strong" enough to counter another 3rd grader who was sexually violent, however. Despite what another comment in this thread has claimed, it is not a stretch to worry that he has sexually assaulted Izzy. It's possible, and it will be the progression of events if he is allowed continued access to her.

My cousin grew up into an unstable and extremely unpleasant adult. His adult interpersonal behavior is so terrible, that my very even-keeled father will not speak to him anymore. My grandmother has voiced concerns that he might be physically abusing his own daughter.

However you decide to proceed from here, know this: You are not overreacting to Franky's behavior. Izzy and your son must be protected from Franky. While Franky didn't learn this behavior on his own, and deserves compassionate intervention, other children must be protected from him. He is absolutely capable of doing damage to other children with his behavior.
posted by Coatlicue at 3:41 PM on September 2, 2016 [56 favorites]

In response to the question: I am female.

Re Izzy going home: Izzy asked to go home. I rewrote it so often, and kept shortening the question, so it got cut out, sorry! I phoned Amy, and told her what happened, she agreed to fetch her. I would have preferred to send Franky home but it was impossible, his parents would not return until late at night as I had agreed to have Franky for the sleep-over (which did not happen, and I did say it was because of his nasty behaviour towards Izzy. But I had to wait for his parents to return).

re request to see vagina: it did not and does not put me off. Mike said it to help his friend, he thought it would satisfy his curiosity. Alone at home I explained in more detail it was not appropriate to ask that of me, and he was fine with it. He was most definitly not offering my vagina to his friend. His friend wanted to see one, he knows I have one, so would I show it. He totally accepted my refusal.

For anyone worried about Izzy's safety: Izzy and Franky do not live in the same country. They only see each other 2 weeks in the summer (and this is over), and at Christmas (but never staying in the same house). So whatever happened it is not going on now and I will make sure cannot repeat at Christmas.

I will call Amy, thank you for pointing out I have the obligation to Izzy, and it makes the most sense to start with calling Amy.
posted by 15L06 at 3:51 PM on September 2, 2016 [13 favorites]

Franky's ADHD (it is diagnosed, and in treatment, Franky also has an above average IQ).

It sounds like he is twice exceptional, not getting enough support and getting a lot of crap off of people for it. This can go bad places pretty rapidly. Kids like this often get treated pretty badly for being different and the bad treatment they receive is not a means to foster civil behavior in a developing child.

However, his strong hostility towards girls is most likely a reflection of his parents' attitudes. Talking to them about this is not likely to go good places.

The kindest thing you could do for him is to try to get his parents exposed to information about the social and emotional needs of gifted kids and get them exposed to resources for 2xE kids. They tend to be hugely frustrated and end up taking that frustration out on other people because, as children, they have very limited ability to genuinely solve their own problems.

I would start there and see if addressing that piece makes him less of a little monster.

I would ask Izzy her version of events as neutrally as possible before jumping to conclusions. But she needs greater protection in the future. Whether she felt forced to show her privates by Franky or whether she felt compelled to show him to prove he is wrong and stupid, it is a no win situation for her.

One of the problems here is that sexual attitudes of children tend to be rooted in parental attitudes towards sexuality. So when you criticise what happened here, you are probably opening a huge can of worms from which your relationship to the parents may never recover. If you make it clear that Franky's attitudes are abusive, misogynistic etc, you are making it clear that his father's attitudes are also misogynistic and implying his mother is a victim who should not willingly stay with the man.

The odds are good they will deny that there is any problem or punish Franky severely as some means to "prove" that there is nothing wrong with themselves and their attitudes. If mom knows her husband is gross, getting a bit of backing could cause her to leave him. If she is in no position to leave, you may catch hell so she can mollify her husband.

It is probably okay to talk to Izzy's parents, express concern and wonder how to keep her safe. But talking to Franky's parents may not go at all like you expect it to. Before bringing these issues up with them, I would advocate for him wrt his 2xE status as best I could in case this mess results in a huge schism somewhere down the line.
posted by Michele in California at 3:51 PM on September 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

As a fellow Christian I would like to reassure you that you have the authority to rebuke your brothers and sisters in Christ. And in fact, it sounds like this is a situation where you have to.
posted by tel3path at 3:56 PM on September 2, 2016 [14 favorites]

...if, as Michele points out, it's safe to do so.
posted by tel3path at 4:02 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have an 11 year old boy and have never heard anything like this girl boy thing, with the exception of having been asked (at 5 years) to show him my vagina which was a great opportunity to talk about privacy and dignity.

I have dealt with a close friend and friend's child where the child, also really smart and with an ADHD diagnosis, was behaving in ways I found disturbing.

I like how you told them the misogyny was unacceptable even if they kept going and you had to reinforce it. Sending Izzy back to her family was non-optimal but in my opinion you stood your ground okay. I think you probably should call Izzy's parents and say these incidents have stayed on your mind, and in the interest of being the village that raises daughters you wanted to make them aware of these things. Not dramatically, but give them the information.

With Franky I think you have a big responsibility to let his parents know, and establish the future ground rules.

With my friend's child, who was screaming awful things about killing people and hurting kids deliberately, I told her basically that I cared about her and her child. And that I wanted to let her know how extreme the behavior was and how concerned I was that they needed help. And that as much as I wanted to be a tribe, my children's safety and emotional well-being and development are my primary responsibility. My husband and I instituted a 1-strike rule. One thing like that, and he had to leave. In fact we never enforced it because it ended up awkward and we didn't hang out. But I feel I compassionately spoke my truth. And our family reinforced our values about behavior in our home.

Finally, I think you need to take the next opportunity to sit with your son and talk a bit about Franky's behavior and how it's very much not in line with your family values. Then, if Franky is over and says anything like this (you have given warning via his parents), you send him home, immediately, the end.

Or, you just don't see him again...your son will connect the dots to that conversation.

Hope my thinking helps.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:03 PM on September 2, 2016 [24 favorites]

My best guess is that Franky's dad is awful or outright violent towards Franky's mom behind closed doors. Second guess is Franky is mostly unsupervised and engages with a lot of media content (maybe including violent video games) that he shouldn't have access to as an eight year old.

See if this interpretation resonates on some level. You know these people, we don't. I would guess witnessing violence and mysogony as the primary form of abuse experienced by Franky. But who knows? That he requires extra care or intervention is certain.

PS - I knew you said you were female, but thought maybe you had masked your gender along with people's names and other identifiers. I couldn't parse your under-reaction to the woman in the bathing suit or what happened to Izzy. Thank you for clarifying.

I'm really sorry this is going on. Thanks for doing the difficult heavy lifting for these families.
posted by jbenben at 5:07 PM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

And you and his father absolutely have to talk to your own child about privacy, consent, and no meaning no. It doesn't have to big a big sit down come-to-Jesus lecture, but the message needs reinforcing. Letting your son think that the things Franky says and does about women are remotely ok leads to the Missing Stair fallacy, where everyone covers up someone else's unacceptable behavior because they are too scared to make waves.
posted by MsMolly at 5:43 PM on September 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

should I speak to Greg and Molly about Franky's attitude toward girls and women?

I would personally. I'd do it as nicely as a I could, and I would know that it may not go down well - might go down terribly, in fact - but I would do it. As a parent, I want to know when my kids are a) having issues, b) having behaviour issues, and c) hurting other children or saying hurtful things. I absolutely want to know that as a parent. And I wouldn't be afraid to tell Franky and his parents - if no change happens - that Franky won't be able to come around any more.

Should I tell Fred and Amy that Izzy showed her privates to Franky?

Abso-freaking-lutely. Playing doctor is a part of many children's lives, for sure. But you don't get to decide if that's okay for someone else's kid - and that's just putting aside the troubling gender elements here. It's not your decision, Izzy's parents get to decide. If someone was touching your son's penis, you'd want to know about it right?

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 7:39 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

"While I was trying to formulate why I would not do so, Franky said that it would not be necessary for him after all as Izzy had already showed him hers."

I agree that everything about this is concerning. You need to talk to Izzy's mom. But unless I've misunderstood this situation you should tell her that this is a "Franky said" thing. It's possible that Izzy did expose herself voluntarily, it's possible that she was forced or coerced into doing it. It's also possible that Franky is lying and nothing like that happened. That's not a reason to ignore this!

I'm just saying, especially in a situation where it's so fraught or you think Izzy might suffer consequences from her "participation" in this, that you need to tell Izzy's parents exactly what you have heard and exactly what you do or don't know and have or haven't witnessed.
posted by Hypatia at 8:17 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Given how hateful Frankie is to Izzy, I find it impossible to believe that they "played" doctor in any sort of friendly consensual way. I (female) played naked in the sprinkler with my best friend (male) when we were 6, and I specifically remember that we looked at each others bodies and laughed hysterically. It's kind of a funny/happy memory because it was just so innocent and silly. THAT is what is normal/common and what people handwave as kids being kids. This doesn't sound like that at all.
posted by gatorae at 8:19 PM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you're on top of things wrt: protecting Izzy and letting her parents know what's going on. You may also want to seriously re-consider letting your own son spend time with Franky unsupervised, because it sounds like Franky is a seriously disturbed child, and while his sexually aggressive acting out is focused on women and girls right now, that might not exclusively be the case, and your son may be in danger of assault or abuse. I'm also worried about Franky--- 8 year olds throwing a public profanity tantrum when seeing a woman in a bikini playing volleyball with a group of men, getting worked up into a rage, and yelling that the men should pull her pants down and grab her genitals is not OK, and it's not remotely normal. The fact that Franky's default phrase here was describing a person with a scrotum (ie, his own genital configuration) being violently stripped and grabbed makes me also suspect abuse. A lot of people are guessing that Franky has learned this behavior from his father, but honestly, my first thought after reading that his parents are fundamentalist Christians is that Franky has been sexually abused by a member of his parents' church; either an adult or older child or children. I don't think it's your job to rebuke Greg and Molly in Christ (although the commenter above who suggested this was spot on that they deserve it) but to alert them that something very sinister may be going on in their religious community. Calling Izzy's parents to check in is a good step, but you may want to get in touch with Franky's parents as well.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:53 PM on September 2, 2016 [15 favorites]

Second guess is Franky is mostly unsupervised and engages with a lot of media content (maybe including violent video games) that he shouldn't have access to as an eight year old.

This. A child for whom I am a part-time foster parent was recently reported to the authorities for similar behavior. After interviews, it was decided that the parent of the child had done nothing wrong, least of all abused them. Later, I talked with the parent about the incident, and pointed to the media use. They seemed to not completely understand to what degree the language in the gaming culture is inappropriate for children, either because they are too preoccupied with their own issues, or because they are unaware of child-raising norms and values.

I can't even link here to what this child is watching - maybe some younger mefites can, but the language and attitude of some gamers is horrendous, and in no way appropriate for children. When the child is in my care, I now monitor all media use carefully, but at first I had no idea, and let them use media for instance while I was preparing food.
posted by mumimor at 12:04 AM on September 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I read the whole question with some concern until I got to the almost by-the-by statement that this kid has ADHD - I'm the mother of a 10 yo with ADHD.

ADHD has numerous symptoms. For instance, impulse control: you told them repeatedly to stop with the girls-bad talk and every few hours they went back to it anyway - actually being able to go a few hours is pretty awesome. My kid lasts 2-20minutes between this sort of reminder. (yes she is medicated)

Lack of Social Awareness - he did not realise his misogynist talk was bothering you, even after you had repeatedly expressed that it was, he made no attempt to keep what happened with Izzy a secret and did not temper his violent fantasies around you.

Sexual curiosity - this is generally more pressing in kids with ADHD. In fact on of the statements on the Conners 3 (a diagnosis tool where you rate statements from "not at all true" to "true all the time") is "this child has coerced a peer into engaging in sexual activity". It is not rare, in ADHD kids, to be quite precocious in this area nor does it mean he's a horrible predator in the making. It means he has the sexual curiosity of a child his biological age, and the emotional maturity of a child only two thirds his age. Put it in context. Is he 7? Is he using the restraint and wisdom of a 4yo? His upbringing is relevant because ADHD brains often are compelled to do or say the unacceptable thing, thus the more the non-violent, respectful expectations at home, the more his brain will push back by doing and saying The Forbidden. Think of it as a subtler sort of Tourette's if it helps.

Added to all this, he is VERY YOUNG. Kids with ADHD really do tend to have maturity about 2/3rds their biological age.

What to do:

-tell both sets of parents about the possibility of sexual experimentation between Izzy and Franky. Tell them in a "just a heads up, no big deal" kind of way. They need to have conversations with their kids, but nobody needs to freak out unless, under further investigation, it turns out that there was malign abuse. Which I think is unlikely (i was abused as a child, by an older child, for 7 years, but this doesn't sound the same - izzy has "shown" franky, by 7 I was being raped) but whatever has happened they can't figure it out until you mention it.

-do not stop your child being friends with this boy. He probably has precious few friends. ADHD isn't a friendly condition. Instead, monitor more carefully when the boys are together, intervene more frequently. Be patient. You have every right to correct Franky when he says or does unacceptable stuff, but realise too that he can't change his neurology so you might have to do it eleven times an hour whenever he is with you for the next fifteen years. Be patient, be firm, be consistent. In 20 years he'll have grown out of it (somewhat).

It might help to do some reading around ADHD, your question framed it as an aside, whereas it is the CENTRAL REASON this child has behaviour problems.

Finally, thank you for being there for this kid. These sorts of things are hard to live with and turn families into fortresses (because yes, parents get blamed for them and you harden off to that blame, just in order to cope with the reality of dealing with it). My ADHD child also has autism, and I have another little 3yo autist so I do tend to put my cape on and superhero through on these things. Growing up with one of these conditions can be so frustrating ("i didn't break it, my hands did!") and lonely ("he isn't talking to me any more, I didn't mean to call him stupid, it just came out"), self-esteem is usually eroded to almost nothing (how can you be a good person if you repeatedly fail to prevent yourself doing the wrong thing?). It's hard, especially for a little kid who knows they're not doing quite right but can't fathom the problem or fix it. Your kindness and patience, as a non-parent adult who is in his life, could change the whole course of his future, so be proud of that. You are a kind person.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 2:19 AM on September 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

intergalacticvelvet, this is of course very important, and I should have included that my foster-child is also ADHD and very intelligent. This is what makes the whole gamer-thing interesting to a 9-yo, who would otherwise prefer age-appropriate activities.
posted by mumimor at 2:35 AM on September 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Franky's general emotionally and verbally abusive behavior towards Izzy (and towards women and girls generally) is important and worth engaging with, but I have some reservations to the way a lot of folks are addressing the (alleged) overt sexual interaction between Franky and Izzy.

I'm surprised how many people are taking it as given that Franky saw Izzy nude at all. AFAICT, the original poster only has Franky's report on that. And kids—even untroubled and neurotypical ones—sometimes tell boastful lies. This is not to discount the story, but there's an entirely different possible series of events which few people have really mentioned. For this reason whatever followup is done with Izzy needs to be sensitive and open, inviting confidence but not coaching a specific narrative. Because there could be anything from consensual play (unlikely, as others said) to coercion (entirely possible) to nothing at all (also pretty possible). Approach the story looking for something salacious and she might figure out a satisfactory story for you without regard to its truth. Approach it assuming nothing happened and she may agree with you that whatever went on was of no consequence. It's important that whatever inquiry is done isn't leading.

Kids (and, hell, people generally) aren't extremely reliable witnesses even under the best of circumstances, but if you let them know what you expect to hear, then they're terrible.
posted by jackbishop at 7:39 AM on September 3, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think Franky may well be in a bad situation, whether it's abuse or mental illness that is not well-managed. Which is why I would hate to see the kid totally cut off. He is a family member. But.

Franky is absorbing very misogynist messages at home, a home which Mikey also seems to spend time at. OP's husband does not sound as if he particularly cares what sort of attitude Franky has towards women. And from OP's description of events, I'm guessing she may have a gentler, quieter, not-particularly-forceful affect. Meanwhile, Mikey is clearly being led by Franky, at least in some areas, Franky clearly has little to no respect for OP, and it sounds like most of the supervision is coming from OP.

If OP has Franky over, tells him twelve times a day to stop talking about how stupid girls are, but then otherwise just permits him to carry on his behavior, OP is just inviting Mikey to learn to disrespect women, including her. A few men saying horrible things while the other men look away and the women protest weakly but without real consequence is a fantastic atmosphere for misogyny to flourish in families.

Sometimes people are just harmful to be around. Whether it's their fault or not. Mikey has already demonstrated that Franky is a very bad influence on him. If OP wants to take on the work of continuing to engage with Franky, she needs expert advice on how to do that in a therapeutically appropriate way before she ends up with a couple of twelve-year-old boys swearing at her and trashing her house (and then on from there). Because that's where this is most likely going if she keeps on as she is. Trying to engage with Franky would be a compassionate thing to do, I agree, but OP has a responsibility to raise her own child with good values, not just through words but through example, and the right to dignity and respect in her own home. (The latter may be somewhat negotiable in the interests of Franky. The former is not.) This is not something she should be taking on ad hoc. If she wants to do this, perhaps she could arrange to speak to whoever's treating Franky.
posted by praemunire at 11:03 AM on September 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

2xe kids have tough lives and live with a lot of frustration. They end up with too many negative social experiences and too few positive ones. For example, they get told "no" a lot, often for things they cannot entirely control due to brain wonkiness.

But the brain wonkiness can be a big factor here in terms of magnifying the problem. The degree of aggressiveness, etc, may not suggest he is being or has been sexually or physically abused. Some kids are just incredibly aggressive due to brain wiring issues.

So, while his dad is kind of jerk, you need to be careful to not attribute too much to his parents. Their personal shortcomings may be getting heavily magnified by his brain wonkiness.

I would try to be supportive and compassionate the first time I bringbit up and try hard to not sound in any way accusatory. Parents of difficult kids are often doing all they know how to do and feeling overwhelmed.

posted by Michele in California at 11:16 AM on September 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

For anyone worried about Izzy's safety: Izzy and Franky do not live in the same country. They only see each other 2 weeks in the summer (and this is over), and at Christmas (but never staying in the same house). So whatever happened it is not going on now and I will make sure cannot repeat at Christmas.

I was Izzy, when I was about 12. I assure you, you have absolutely no way of making sure this doesn't happen again at Christmas or next summer. Neither of these two children are yours. You have no ability to control what their parents choose to do with regards to leaving them alone. My own parents had no ability to control me being alone during the summers at my grandfather's house with my sexually precocious cousin or his child-molesting father (who used to kiss me and stick his tongue in my mouth before I knew that was a thing grown ups even did).

My parents also thought they could preserve the family relationship with my mom's sister by just "making sure it didn't happen again." One time I got grabbed by the throat and held on the front porch with a hand over my mouth and nose while we were playing chase in a circle around the house and my father was right inside, on the other side of open sliding glass doors. He just grabbed me as I ran past. And this was after I told my father about the tongue-kissing.

Whatever happened to Izzy or didn't happen, you have absolutely no way of guaranteeing it won't happen to her again. The very closest you can come is to explicitly tell her parents and Franky's parents what happened. The very kindest you can be to Izzy is to let her parents know so they can investigate it, and if they find out it was something not right, get Izzy some help dealing with it. Failing to do that could result in her feeling isolated and alone with trauma she doesn't know how to handle, and destroying her ability to trust adults.

Maybe it was nothing, maybe it was kids playing doctor. But maybe it was worse, and given what you've said of Franky, are you really willing to bet it wasn't? Tell her parents, and tell his.
posted by kythuen at 4:22 PM on September 3, 2016 [14 favorites]

You are not required to set your child's emotional health on fire to keep Franky's emotional health warm.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

intergalacticvelvet - wow, thank you. I had no idea ADHD had this aspect. Thank you so much for sharing, this is such a huge insight for me and extremely helpful.

Michele - thank you also so much for your encouraging words and insights.

kythuen - I am so sorry you had such truly terrible experiences. my reason in writing the above in the update was to make it crystal clear that those children are not at this point in time in any way close enough to meet, but you are right I cannot guarantee the outcome of any intervention.

To everyone - thank you for sharing personal experiences, and giving your perspective of how all this appears to a stranger. I am strengthened in my resolve to act. I appreciate everyone's input it a lot in navigating this difficult situation and it is very helpful in mapping my course of action.
posted by 15L06 at 2:18 AM on September 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

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