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Sexual comments by grandma.

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

My son, who is 13 years old, told me his Grandma told him she bruises during sex. 

Response: 
Please share your feedback

Dear Concerned Parent,

When you hear something that makes you have that “gut feeling”, it’s vital that you dig a little deeper and not ignore what you’re noticing, as that is so important in keeping your son safe. I’m so glad you’ve reached out to us for more information and guidance. 

Identifying Warning Signs
First I want to validate how fantastic it was that your son came to talk to you after his grandmother made him uncomfortable! That shows just how much he must trust you. What his grandmother said to him was extremely inappropriate and is one of the Behaviors To Watch For When Adults Are With Children. Please take a look at that tip sheet as well as our page on these Signs an Adult is At-Risk to Harm a Child and see if you recognize anything else in the way your son’s grandmother behaves around your child, or other kids in the family. Also, is there anyone else who has been concerned, like other relatives or friends? You may want to share these tip sheets with others to see if you have allies in your concerns; this can sometimes help a person put a finger on a feeling they had or an action they witnessed that they previously couldn’t put into words. 

I also want you to know that sometimes adults who are at-risk to harm a child may engage in inappropriate behaviors to slowly desensitize the child and the child’s caregivers to certain actions or touch, but sometimes well-meaning adults also engage in the same or similar behaviors because they are not aware how their actions may put a child at risk. Although I can’t know the intentions behind this grandmother’s behaviors, it’s still important to take action – as this boundary crossing behavior is not appropriate. Her words set an unsafe precedent for your son with regards to how adults should treat him, and Makes Him Vulnerable to any adult with unsafe intentions. 

Having a Conversation
Have you talked to this grandmother yet about what she said? Often, we encourage people to start with a conversation – to make sure that this person is aware that his or her behavior isn’t okay, but approaching the talk in a compassionate way that is both non-accusatory and non-judgmental. So, it’s possible that you (perhaps together with a spouse, relative or another ally) may want to sit down to talk directly with your son’s grandmother. 

You can say something like “I know that we both want what’s best for the children in our lives – and I can tell how much you love your grandson. I feel uncomfortable talking to you about this, but it’s important. My son has told me that you told him that you bruise during sex {and describe any other behavior that worries you}… And it’s important that adults keep good boundaries around children, and that includes making sure that we’re not talking about adult topics with or around them. It’s important that we give children good messages about how adults should be interacting with them – and this conversation should not have been shared with a child. I’d appreciate it if you {follow the family safety plan – described below – and} not talk to your grandson about any adult subject matter, which includes material with explicit content, adult jokes or sexual topics, or adult language.” For more information about how to have this discussion, I’ve included our guidebook called Let’s Talk.

Addressing Safety in the Family
Along these same lines, now may also be a great time to review your family’s safety plan, and to share these guidelines with this grandmother too. Safety Planning articulates the rules about body boundaries, privacy, respect, and consent to your son, and asks caregivers to model and respect these healthy boundaries too. Safety planning is a great way to get everyone on the same page about body boundaries, and is often useful because it doesn’t single any one person out. I’ve included some additional helpful tools below.

Make sure your son knows that if anyone ever makes him feel weird, scared or uneasy that he can always talk to you – just like he did this time. Let him know he absolutely did the right thing by speaking up – and that you’re so glad he did; that was very brave. And, further, that sometimes people we love and trust may break the rules with us – but he always should talk to you (and name a few other safe adults) so that caring adults can help everyone be safe. 

Finally, although children are resilient, it would be important to keep an eye out for any changes in his mood, behavior or development like these Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse and follow up with his pediatrician and outside supports as needed.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: February 14th, 2019