Parents of a Teen
“It was your Parenting Safe Children workshop that sparked my intuition, but not soon enough I’m afraid. It didn’t end in sexual assault but in an unhealthy attachment to my son.
My son was in a youth organization that he loved. We were approached by two seemingly well-meaning adults in this group who took a great interest in my son. They started volunteering to take him on short trips related to the activities in the organization. I was very grateful. These outings grew in duration and came to include overnight trips. Then they started to tell me they were my son’s ‘mentors’ and that they were focusing on his best interests and not what I necessarily wanted. They wrote his resume and had “Thank You” cards made with his picture for him to send to scholarship committees in his area of interest. We didn’t ask for any of this.
Then, I can’t believe I did this, I invited them on a trip with me and my son. On this trip, I had my first hint something was amiss. Even though I was paying for half the trip, I wasn’t allowed to sit in the front seat of the RV. Anytime I tried to interact with them as adults, they would focus on my son and actively ask me to move where I was sitting. They would prepare food for him and ask if he was eating and drinking enough. In a sense, they were mothering him in front of his mother.
On the next, and last, trip I went along again, while my husband stayed home with our younger son managing a minor school drama. The couple ‘mentoring’ my son, must have asked me six times a day for three days if I wanted to leave and fly back home, noting that they were perfectly willing to drive me an hour to the airport. Their insistence that I leave was disturbing and resulted in an argument. They made me think I was the cause of the argument and forced me to apologize several times before they were sufficiently satisfied. Looking back on it, it was surreal.
Once home, I monitored my son’s phone and texting conversations and they didn’t contact him for over 6 months, so I didn’t say anything to my son. They did ask me if my son wanted to travel with them to future events, but he said ‘No’ without my input (thank goodness). I was hoping this was over. (Btw, I wouldn’t have let him go, I wanted to see his reaction).
Then a week ago, the wife called my son’s cell phone and spoke with him for 39 minutes. She was trying to talk him into traveling with them though he had refused before. He texted me to ask if he could go, saying she was ‘adamant.’ My husband and I sat down with my son that night and explained why we were cutting off contact with them; he was sad and I’m not quite sure he understood completely.
I then sent her this text:
‘I had a talk with my son tonight and have decided it’s in his and our best interest that you no longer contact him. You have taken liberties with the normalized adult/minor relationship by contacting him independently of us repeatedly and it ends today. I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and I need no further discussion.’
They unfriended my son on Facebook and then blocked me (not him).
In hindsight, I cannot believe I let this go on for as long as I did. They are married adults with no children of their own. They had a history of substance abuse, but had been living their lives free of both drugs and alcohol. They seemed to have attachment issues with children, and my son is not the only one they have attempted to do this to. They literally try to circumvent parents by talking to children in areas where their parents aren’t present.
I have learned through this experience that grooming can be about unhealthy attachments as well as sexual abuse.
Thank you for your time and for teaching your class. You are changing the world one parent at a time and protecting kids. I didn’t catch the warning signs fast enough, but faster than I would have if I hadn’t taken your class. Like all of us, I am just doing the best I can.”
From Feather: This story illustrates a range of grooming behaviors and what it looks like for someone to take an interest in a child above and beyond what’s normal: Short trips to overnight trips without parents, contact without copying the parent, attempts to both include and then isolate the mom.
When someone is behaving with you or your child in a way that makes you uncomfortable and you are questioning their actions, listen to yourself the very first time and respond. No one should be more interested in your child than you are. If you feel like someone is trying to separate you from your child, recognize this and address it immediately. Don’t second guess yourself. Your intuition is almost always correct. You do not have to have proof to speak up and express your concerns.
Feather Berkower, MSW, is Founder of Parenting Safe Children and a Child Sexual Assault Prevention Educator & Author