Inspired by a fellow blogger who was taking a Facebook break, as a family we attempted to take a social media break while on vacation the last week and a half. Movies and music were allowed, and texts to make plans. Unfortunately, I failed and did post to Instagram and Facebook. I only see my family once a year, yet I sat in the same room ignoring them to read crap online? No, I can do better. So last night I deleted the social media apps from my phone. I digress.
On our 14 hour drive home, no tech was still in effect when R (12 years old) needed her phone charged. I noticed messages coming in asking if she was still there. Upon further questioning, we learned that she had decided to text in secret, hoping we wouldn’t catch her. Bad idea, because now she was to be without her phone even longer.
But this morning, I saw she had multiple messages from my cousin (and Godmother)’s stepson. He is 17, and always been irritating. He visited us with his parents this past weekend and seemed to have hit it off with R, who was engaged in all sorts of discussions with him. Evidently they exchanged cell numbers. But due to the unsettling feeling I’ve had ever since he met R 5 years ago, I decided to do something I rarely do, and read her texts.
I scrolled up to see his messages telling her how hot he thinks she is. I scrolled more and saw him expressing desire to have her move in with him, or him to move cross country near us to “help with your homework”. I scrolled again and saw he sent a screenshot to show her that he’d set his phone’s background to be a photo of her. In case we’ve forgotten, even if only by marriage, this is her cousin. Equally important: she is 12 and he is 17.
I screenshot the messages and sent them to my cousin, who was concerned and mortified. I went in to talk with R, prefacing the discussion as I always do, with “you’re not in trouble!”. I explained boundaries and social mores to her. As it became clear to her that I was explaining why this cousin was out of line, she started sobbing and said she’s felt uncomfortable around him “ever since he tried to french kiss me when I was 7!”
I kept it together as she told me of him, 12 at the time, ushering her aside in the basement full of cousins playing. How he told her “come on, R, I kissed when I was in 2nd grade” and then grabbed her. She pushed him, said no, and walked away. This is the first I’ve heard of it.
I’m not sure if that’s because she didn’t fully understand what was wrong until I began talking to her today. But I spent some years working in Child Protective Services, and I’ve heard and seen some horrible things. I know this could have been far worse. But this close call is a bit much for me.
I tried to spin this and say that, well, at least we had a talk and she learned from this. At least all we are walking away from is a yucky feeling and not so much more. Yet I’m filled with anxiety and dread as I wait for her Mom to pick her up today, because I will have to explain this. I was trusted to keep her safe and as far as I’m concerned, I didn’t.
I know (I think) that it’s impossible to keep kids in a bubble. I’ve always struggled with the balance of protecting them from harm and letting them learn their own lessons. I see today how little control I have, especially as they get older. I seriously doubt my parenting ability because I just can’t stomach this stress of knowing I can’t protect them forever.
I never knew there was this much heartbreak in parenting.