How do I deal with on one of the attention from a neighborhood kid?
July 15, 2018 2:13 PM   Subscribe

I am a 41 year old adult woman living alone in the city. Over the past few weeks, a boy in the neighborhood has been Increasingly fascinated with me. I’m assuming a crush, but I don’t know. I don’t know the age of the boy, my guess would be somewhere between nine and 12. It’s starting to creep me out. Please help me deal with this situation.

First off, I am very bad with children and have none of my own. I also am bad at unwanted male attention, this feels exactly like that. He usually hangs out with a group of friends in the neighborhood.

I don’t know who his parents are or what house he lives in. Nothing he’s done individually has been out of line, but it’s a pattern of behavior that’s starting to bother me.

It started with him saying hi or asking me what I was doing when I walk around the neighborhood. I tend to walk quite a bit because it helps them back issue I have. I’ve kept my own interactions to a minimum. Friendly but I don’t stop and chat.

Just recently though, he saw me working in my garage. The garage opens to the alley, and it’s hot so I’ve been keeping the garage door open. When he first spotted me, he stopped in the alley outside the open garage door and asked me what I was doing, and I told I was building a bookcase. He then asked me if I was the “lady that walks around in the dress” (I often wear skirts) and something didn’t feel right about that interaction. I told him I had to get back to work and I did and he left.

He now rides his bike REALLY SLOWLY past my garage when I’m out there working, often multiple times. I’m a little flustered because this is really not sitting well with me. The kids in the neighborhood all play in the alleys, and it’s generally not a problem. But this is.

I’m not sure frankly what I should be doing to discourage this behavior. As I sad, he’s done nothing wrong as specific actions, but all together, this seems like a problem. I’m not sure how to find his parents, without talking to him and maybe making it worse? Unless that is what I should be doing. I don’t want to stop working in my garage and it’s too goddamn hot to work with the door closed. Nor do I want to stop walking the neighborhood.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Human Relations (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's definitely okay to say to him, "I'm a person who doesn't like to socialize. I'd rather not talk to you or anybody. Please don't talk to me when you see me. "

But I also want to say that what he's done so far sounds incredibly normal and not at all menacing. He's a kid in the neighborhood, it's summer and he's not in school (I'm assuming -- maybe not correct, depending on where you live), it's incredibly likely he's bored and just looking for stuff to do. He may be deeply interested in whatever it is you're doing in the garage.

And there is a vast area between crushing on you and creep-level fascination in which a child's natural curiosity may fall.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2018 [22 favorites]

I may be missing something, but it sounds like he's possible just interested in what you're doing and in connecting with a human. Like friendship or something. Maybe he's a little different from the other kids.

That said, there may be other factors that you're sensitive to that didn't come through your posting, so ... I guess I'm just saying not to assume all 12-year-olds are creepy if they're not doing exactly the same thing as some 12-year-old-boy archetype.
posted by amtho at 2:22 PM on July 15, 2018 [35 favorites]

It sounds like normal kid behaviour to me. The neighbor boys on my street range in age from 6-14. I've had them tell me I should cut my hair, asked me what I ate for dinner, walked into my garage while I was in it to see what I'm doing, watch me do anything and everything I am doing outside. Kids are noisy and inappropriate and weird. The difference is never once have I felt creeped out by it. You mentioned that the interaction didn't feel right to you. Can you elaborate as to what exactly was unsettling about it?
posted by ilovewinter at 2:24 PM on July 15, 2018 [20 favorites]

I am not a psychologist, teacher, or expert on this in any way.
And I am totally for trusting your gut and that this seems weird or creepy.
But as the parent of a 9 year old boy, who spends time with 9 year olds a lot, this reads to me as if this boy may have something else going on whereby he isn't as good at social norms and cues as you may expect. This behavior reminds me of neighborhood kids I know who are not neurotypical. (Not that all non NT kids are like this of course.)

If it were me, I'd keep an eye to see if he behaves in such ways to others - kids and adults.
Maybe have another adult be in the garage with you when you do this but next time rides by slowly, ask him to stop and ask him a direct question like "It seems like you're curious about something in here, Marcus. What's up?" Try to have this conversation in a more public space. Get more information from him so you can proceed accordingly. Try to also find out from him which house he lives in so if you need to, you can visit with the parents.

I also got a sense that maybe something else is going on - racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic differences perhaps? That can sometimes make it harder to read people too.
posted by k8t at 2:27 PM on July 15, 2018 [19 favorites]

Maybe his mom never built a bookcase so he's fascinated that you are. Maybe his mom doesn't take long walks so he's interested by you doing so. Is your own behaviour broadly normal around your neighbourhood (as in are there lots of regular walkers and people building furniture)?

He sounds like he could be a normal slightly bored child to me. I don't know why you think he's crushing. Without seeing an interaction it's hard to say but it is incredibly normal for kids to ask inappropriate questions, not respect personal boundaries, and generally act like, well, kids.

I too am curious as to why you feel so uncomfortable and wonder if it's a spectrum thing. My 12yo (daughter) has aspergers and and weirded people out a lot with her attempts to be social when she was a little younger. A thousand unhappy interactions in the past 3 or so years have led to her now not talking to strangers at all as she tells me they are all always inexplicably angry and/or tell lies (which is how she interprets the neighbour saying ges going out then watching him sit in his car not leaving). On the plus side if anyone ever said to her "i dont want to talk right now" she would immediately say okay bye and go off on her merry way. Have you tried being extremely direct? Like if you think what you are saying sounds blunt to the point of being rude then you're on the right track.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 2:35 PM on July 15, 2018 [9 favorites]

OK, a bunch of people have said that he might just be lonely, which makes sense. At the same time, that doesn't mean you have to just be accepting of whatever he decides. You're the adult, and it's good for you to either a) have your own boundaries, which you can explain kindly and clearly, or b) if you decide to be a little open, still have boundaries, which you explain kindly and clearly.

What those boundaries are is up to you. However, as he is 12 years old, he probably won't guess them. He may just be coming out of cute kid-hood and not have any idea how to politely indicate an interest in friendship, or that he needs to guess or ascertain other people's boundaries, or even that you have your own entire interior life. So, now you're part of the village that it takes to raise all the children.
posted by amtho at 2:55 PM on July 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is 100% a gut feeling that has me creeped out, and I’m inclined to believe it because it’s been pretty right on most of the time, and I’ve ignored it at my peril. Not that I think I’m in danger, but this just feels off.

As for some of the ideas and questions- he does play with other kids, they seem to run in a loose pack that changes and can range from 3 kids to a dozen or so. I haven’t notice anything outside the norm but I’m not watching them that closely. So I suppose it’s notable he’s not with those friend when he’s slowly riding by my garage.

I doubt it’s an interest in what I’m doing for the sake of being interested in what I’m doing. The neighbor next to me has a real workshop and the kid has never shown any interest in that neighbor or his garage. He’s also not looking around at my stuff, he is staring at me.

I am the same race as the kid, and presume we’re from similar socioeconomic background based on where I live, and the clothing and bike I’ve seen him with. Of course, that’s an assumption.

I’m not saying my gut feeling can’t possibly be wrong, I’m sure it could be. And I don’t mind short, friendly conversations with the kids in the neighborhood, it’s just a very specific attention I’m getting from him that has me feeling something is wrong. In nutshell, think Glen from Madmen. This is exactly the feeling I’m getting when he is around.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 3:17 PM on July 15, 2018 [16 favorites]

I doubt it’s an interest in what I’m doing for the sake of being interested in what I’m doing. The neighbor next to me has a real workshop and the kid has never shown any interest in that neighbor or his garage. He’s also not looking around at my stuff, he is staring at me.

Male neighbor. Kids who haven't encountered it before are often fascinated to see someone violating gender roles in a benign way - sometimes a fascination that leads to a crush, sometimes not. If he hasn't seen a woman doing carpentry-type projects before, he may just be interested because you've broadened his mental landscape of Things Women Do.
posted by waffleriot at 3:25 PM on July 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

I believe you. I think it's creepy if you have a creepy vibe from it. I think that is a Tell.

Close the garage door, use a fan for now, deal with the boring logistics to stay away from him.

You can't get anyone to do anything about a feeling about being creeped out; it's not actually a crime to give people the creeps.

But again, I believe you and understand why you'd be creeped out given the facts you have listed. What I think you should do about it is avoid him. Maybe someone else has a terrific idea but so far people don't really even seem to agree that what you have described is reason to be concerned.

I get why people are jumpy about ascribing negative motivations and general 'creepiness' for a whole host of reasons in this world as we are currently living in it, but I can only say 'if I were you in the situation you described, I'd be creeped out."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:39 PM on July 15, 2018 [19 favorites]

Do you have any male friends who might be willing to come hang out, maybe act vaguely boyfriendish in front of the kid? I bet you'd be able to judge his thoughts much better in how he reacted to such a situation.
posted by mannequito at 3:52 PM on July 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm assuming that where you are, it's summer break--there's a good chance his attention on you will drop once he's back in school.

I do think the only thing you can do that has the least amount of possibility of escalation is to close your garage door.
posted by girlmightlive at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I spend a lot of time with kids. I think it's totally OK to say, "I like to work by myself. I'm not in the mood to talk right now." and if he doesn't take the hint to say, "Keep moving" or otherwise get increasingly clear and explicit that you want him to stop talking to you.

Kids learn about social behavior from the adults around them. You will be giving him some valuable feedback and social learning if you simply say directly, "I don't really like talking - keep moving friend" or whatever you're comfortable saying to communicate this isn't working for you.
posted by latkes at 4:19 PM on July 15, 2018 [19 favorites]

(I'd add, it's OK to say, "It's not cool to stare at my house when you pass" or whatever other specific behavior is bothering you.)
posted by latkes at 4:20 PM on July 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Theoretically, this kid of 12 could be in a short time a kid of 15 at 6 feet and 200 pounds and stop being a creep and become a threat. Boys should be taught that women (family members, friends, and strangers alike) have boundaries and that they should respect them. Whether this kid is neurotypical or not, whether he's bored or not, whether he has present parents or not, whether he's curious or not, doesn't really matter. What matters is that he is doing something that upsets you, that he needs to know that, and that he needs to respect your boundaries. He is still a kid, so it might require some repeating and restating and finesse, and you should allow for kindness (as opposed to an adult to whom I would just give a resounding 'fuck off'), but what latkes said above is true. Communicate whatever you need to this kid--in the long run it's doing him (and women as a whole) a favor by teaching him to listen to and respect boundaries.
posted by greta simone at 4:38 PM on July 15, 2018 [48 favorites]

It's fine to tell kids things like, "do you realize it's rude to stare at people like your staring at me?”
posted by quince at 4:58 PM on July 15, 2018 [15 favorites]

First of all, your feelings are yours; they are real and they are valid.

I was a latch-key kid, and that's kind of how his behavior reads to me. He might be at home alone all day with no direction, and just super bored.

Would it make you feel better if you knew more about him? If you asked him his name, age, who he stays with, what grade he's in, what he's doing for the summer (ie, do you go to summer camp?)

Maybe with a few details your might be able to figure out firmer boundaries with him.
posted by vignettist at 5:24 PM on July 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

I believe you. I also think dudes in this thread should maybe back off on telling OP she’s wrong about whether or not this is creepy or threatening.

The hard thing about a 12 year old boy is that he’s a kid, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a threat. And even if his relative lack of inhibition control isn’t violent, it’s enough that he’s creeping you out. The exact reason harassment and this weird stalking shit is so damaging is because we never know when it’s really dangerous and when it isn’t, and there’s no way to tell who escalates and who doesn’t, so every creepy dude is terrifying.

Sorry, but 12 is old enough to understand that you don’t creep on women. It’s sure as shit older than most girls are when they have to learn to start dealing with creepy men. So I’m inclined to tell everyone who’s implying that you’re somehow responsible for more emotional labor to help, what, raise this kid at your own peril, risking escalation with any confrontation? To take a goddamn seat.

Now. Do you know anyone in the community? It sounds like you don’t. I might ask the people who own the corner store or other adults who are around a lot if they know the kid or the kid’s situation. Because maybe it is something that can be dealt with.

If they don’t, and that doesn’t provide any other avenues...I don’t know. The way I’d deal with this is by closing the garage door, and then waiting it out to see if it peters off.

Which fucking sucks. It should not be how women have to live their lives. But the police don’t give a fuck and can’t be trusted anyway, and that is the world we live in.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:36 PM on July 15, 2018 [40 favorites]

Tell him it’s rude to stare and bike past your garage all day. Tell him you don’t have time to talk and you need to work alone. Keep the tone light but it’s okay if you scare him off. This is unwanted attention and you should trust your gut— you do not want a strange kid with an inappropriate crush on you hanging around. Hopefully you’ll only have to shoot him down a few more times before he cuts it out.

This isn’t the kid of a friend or relative, therefore you have no responsibility to diagnose or rehabilitate the cause of this unwanted behavior. FWIW, I agree this is creepy, but the one thing we can all agree on is it’s unwanted.

I feel like if a dude wrote in saying a 12 y/o girl had a crush on him, stared at him, rode her bike slowly by, commented on his clothing, etc., we’d be advising him how to disengage, not questioning his assessment of the situation he’s in.
posted by kapers at 5:41 PM on July 15, 2018 [19 favorites]

I’d just simply tell him, “hey, kid, stop staring and me and scoot...Now.” And every time he tries to, just make a waving-away hand gesture and tell him to scoot. Simple.

(If you feel like he’s doing this because he needs some sort of help, go ahead and ask him, then tell him to scoot.)
posted by MountainDaisy at 5:50 PM on July 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm furious at all the gaslighting in this thread. What happened to "believe women"?? You're not wrong to feel this way and you owe this kid nothing. I'm super not into kids and am often home alone and there are many young boys in my neighborhood. They never ever ever talk to me and if they did I'd think it's weird as hell. I'm very non-confrontational so I'd probably just do my best to avoid this kid and hope he goes away. If he keeps talking to you and you have to say something I'd keep it short, like, "I'm busy, can't talk!", and close the garage door until he's gone. If he escalates, I'd get his parents' name and number and give them a call to discuss leaving strangers alone, and just frame it as being concerned about HIS safety. Good luck!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 6:48 PM on July 15, 2018 [27 favorites]

Are there other neighbors around who you could quietly ask about the basics on this kid — age, how close his home is to yours, who his parent(s) is/are? I feel like the range of appropriate and useful responses or reactions could vary quite a bit just depending on how old he is (the gulf between 9 and 12 is immense!).
posted by LadyInWaiting at 6:55 PM on July 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

Unwanted attention is unwanted attention, no matter what the age of the person giving the attention is.

I'm somewhat surprised to see all the responses that are basically telling you to not listen to your own feelings, and rather try to extend yourself to someone who is making you feel uncomfortable.

This is absolutely no different than if an adult man were creeping you out. Your feelings are your feelings, they are valid, and they deserve to be honored. Do your best to avoid him (I agree with the advice to leave your garage closed for a while and use a fan) and if you can't, very tersely and in no uncertain terms explain that you are not interested in chatting.

Don't let people gaslight you or invalidate your feelings. Yuck!!
posted by nirblegee at 7:33 PM on July 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

12 is a great time to teach boundaries and set limits, fyi. Anytime is, really.
posted by yueliang at 8:40 PM on July 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Do you have a better idea of an age? Because 9 and 12 are hugely different developmentally. Don't disregard your Little Voice, but please remember that you're talking about the actions and behaviors of a child who perhaps does not understand how to interact with adults.

That doesn't mean you don't have the right to feel creeped out, but approach your boundary setting with the knowledge this this is a kid, not an adult, and the expectations of behavior and social ease are different.
posted by mccxxiii at 9:29 PM on July 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

As a fellow non-kid-having adult woman, one thing I've had to remember is that kids below the high school kind of level do not respond to adult-level hinting that you would like to be left alone, and it is not somehow rude or unforgiveable to tell a child whose presence you are not enjoying, for any reason, that they need to go find something else to do. There's much more of a need to say directly "you need to stop doing this, it isn't okay", and mostly the embarrassment of that confrontation is all the extra oomph that needs. Which is not to say you might not need a step 2 if that doesn't work, but I'd try that as the step 1. I've never had to go past that with neighbor kids being weird or annoying.

This would 100% unsettle me, too, just like... remember that you're the adult here and you have the right to tell kids what to do when it specifically involves the way they're behaving towards you or your stuff, and that they aren't good at picking up on what an adult ignoring them means as far as whether what they're doing is okay or not.
posted by Sequence at 10:38 PM on July 15, 2018 [11 favorites]

Nthing that it is entirely OK to directly, matter-of-factly tell the kid that you don't feel like talking, and that it's rude to stare. I was a kid who'd cruise the neighborhood and knew which neighbors were OK with me randomly dropping by and which weren't. Always entirely understood the neighbors who weren't – it was their home, after all, and I was just some kid dropping by.
posted by fraula at 11:59 PM on July 15, 2018

yea, I think it's totally ok for you to tell him that you don't like what he's doing. It's making you uncomfortable, and learning that this isn't an appropriate way to behave around women is a really useful lesson. Right now he's being rude, and getting away with it, so he's learning that his own gratification is more important than the feelings of the person he is turning his attention to. Whether he's doing it because of a crush, or boredom, or an inability to read social signals isn't important, you would be doing him a favour to say "hey kid, it makes me uncomfortable when you keep staring at me, could you please stop it?"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:18 AM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow! Lots of interesting answers here.

You have a gut feeling something is off. Trust your gut.
posted by james33 at 4:57 AM on July 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

My first thought was that he's casing you as a target. Or your house. Whatever. I'd start acting more assertive, see if you can get some big-looking male friends to hang out with you more, close the garage door, and maybe install a camera or two. Maybe it's nothing, or maybe it's something bad, but sadly we must always assume the threat is real, and if your feeling says something is off I'd go with that. Do whatever makes you feel safer.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:21 AM on July 16, 2018

The suggestions to have a man hang around or to not wear skirts make me sad and honestly a bit angry. How are boys ever supposed to understand how to respectfully treat women if we keep actively leaning on and reinforcing societal sexism?

Kids aren't good at taking subtle hints about boundaries. You don't have to explain to him complex hypotheticals about how all of this feels to you, just briskly and not-unkindly tell him what actions are okay or not okay. You handled the initial incidents (friendly but not stopping to chat, answering his question about what you were doing matter-of-factly) absolutely in the right way.

Likewise, when he rides his bike slowly back and forth, tell him that he's distracting you and to go play somewhere else. (I'd probably start with a lighthearted "hey, kid, beat it.") If he asks why, you can tell him that it's rude to stare at you when you're trying to work in your home. And then ignore him and refuse to engage further.

You may want to change up your schedule a bit for a few weeks so that he can't find you quite as predictably.
posted by desuetude at 10:21 AM on July 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

[A few comments deleted. Folks, the question is what can OP do. It's not "let's speculate about the kid" or "what if you're wrong" or "what in general should women do or not do" or "what do you think about other comments in this thread". Please focus your constructive answers on what the OP can actually do, how she can handle this.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:04 PM on July 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

Is it possible to find out who his parents are? Kids that age can be pretty open so if you ask him where he lives he'll potentially tell you without a fuss.

We've got a neighbor whose kid (while lovely) would be around at our place 24/7 except that her parents have told her she's not allowed to come over because they're worried about her annoying us. She takes that in stride and is perfectly happy to be friendly from a distance as a result.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 1:36 PM on July 16, 2018

You're the perfect age to tell a kid to get lost without any repercussions. His parents are likely close to you in age so you can leverage that type of authority. It's a bit different doing it as a dude, but as a woman I had no problem telling minors to get off my lawn (literally, in a few cases). They respected that 100%. It must trigger a "mom" part of their brain.

Use your best mom-like voice and tell him "don't bother me, go play on a different street." Unless he has serious mental health issues I almost guarantee he will.
posted by AFABulous at 4:45 PM on July 16, 2018

I'm super disappointed at all the responses telling OP that he's just a kid. Do y'all not remember how fucking creepy boys that age can be? Because I do, and one of the things they're learning is that they can be creepy under the radar because of all the adults who want to be like "oh but he's just a kid!" No. Listen to your gut. Your gut has information.

If you can find out about him and his family, cool. I would not necessarily expect the parent(s) to
be responsive, or for their response to work, but having the information can't hurt.

The big thing is, you're an adult and he's a kid. Don't take shit from him. Don't think you have to be friendly to someone who is being creepy, because you don't. Be blunt and tell him to leave you alone, you're busy, you don't want to talk. This is clear language and it doesn't leave ambiguity. If he's on the spectrum, he'll get it. If he's not on the spectrum, he'll still get it. You're not responsible for socializing this kid, but it's totally find to tell him to go away and you don't have any obligation to be nice to him especially when he's creeping you out.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:02 PM on July 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

He sounds lonely and bored. You have every right to have boundaries, privacy, not feel creeped out.
I'm pretty busy right now. You might enjoy the library/ sportsball/ teen center.
posted by theora55 at 11:40 PM on July 16, 2018

TOP, I’d find it incredibly creepy too. I wonder if you asked him directly where he lived and who his parents were that might make him back off a little. Not in a friendly way, but in a "let me speak to your manager" way.

And maybe it’s just me, but if that didn’t work I’d follow up directly with the parents and say the kid was spending a lot of time cruising past your house and you’d like it to stop and report the frequency and duration of the contacts to them. If weirder stuff happens in the future they won’t be able to pretend they didn’t know.
posted by winna at 8:38 PM on July 17, 2018

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