As phenomenal as the advice “Prudence” gives to the neighbor who might report two teens having sex is the final story on the Dear Prudence page, which I originally missed. Here it is. Prudence — Emily Yoffe — wrote it after advising a grown reader that playing doctor as a kid is not something to look back on in adulthood and re-cast as shameful or even a “sexual assault.”
Q. Re: Playing Doctor: I would add this word of caution. Today these sorts of things are taken EXTREMELY seriously. Last year my family went through hell when my daughter mentioned playing doctor with her older brother to a friend. My children would have been approximately ages 6 and 4 (we never were able to determine this exactly; they may have been slightly older or younger) when it happenedâ€”there was some showing of parts to each other. This friend, appropriately so I guess, told her mother. The mother then mentioned it to the school principal, a mandated reporter. The department of child and family services was called. An investigation ensued that involved two home visits and interviews with my children. In addition my daughter had to undergo a forensic interview with a child psychologist; my son had to give an audio recorded statement to the police. After the investigation, the entire case was dropped, but the entire process was one of the most stressful experiences of my entire life, made more so by that fact that you cannot talk to anyone about it. So I would caution parents who speak to children, as they should, about abuse that they mention that there are some developmentally normal situations during that these things can occur. I had been speaking to my daughter frequently about sexual assault when she mentioned the incident with her brother to her friend, because a friendâ€™s daughter had been raped by a coach. The impression I got from many people I dealt with in this process was that to many of these professionals there is no such thing as acceptable or normal â€œplaying doctor,â€ except the counselor whom my daughter ended up seeing and who helped our family move through all of this.
Lenore here: The lesson here is the same as the lesson below:Â Do NOT Â destroy anyone’s life by summoning the authorities!
WE NOW RESUME MY EARLIER POST!
As if it wasn’t enough that Emily Yoffe wrote one of my favorite journalistic investigations of all time — The College Rape OvercorrectionÂ (in which she writes, “Sexual assault on campus is a serious problem. But efforts to protect women from a putative epidemic of violence have led to misguided policies that infringe on the civil rights of men”), she’s also Dear Prudence! “Prudie” is a modern, brilliant advice-giver,Â daily injecting sanity into a world bent on overreaction, fear and interference. Here is a letter that ran yesterday, as always, on SlateÂ (boldface mine):
Q: Neighborâ€™s Teenage Daughter Has Boyfriend Over: I live in a condo next door to a widow with a 16-year-old daughter. This family and I have been friends for a long time, and we get along well and have never had any problems. Iâ€™ve been home due to recovering from surgery, and one afternoon after school, I saw the daughter and her boyfriend go into the condo when the mother wasnâ€™t there. I also heard what sounded like loud sex going on in the room on the other side of my home office wall. I brought this to the motherâ€™s attention, and she said she knew about it but would tell them to be quiet. When I asked her why she allowed this, she said sheâ€™d rather they be in a safe, comfortable place and have protection than to be sneaking around in parked cars and such. I was absolutely appalled by this and wonder if I can still be friends with these people or if I should call the police, since both of these kids are underage (both 16). Should I turn them in or just turn a blind eye to it?
A: Please give me your address, so I can head over to your house to take away your phone. You need to make a quick recovery and stop snooping on this family. What you heard was loud, mutually desired sex. This was confirmed to you by the mother of the girl. Now that you know that you are next door to two horny teenagers, you have to get out of the business of trying to ruin young peopleâ€™s lives. If you called the police, I would sincerely hope they would back away once they figured out what was going on. But who knows? We do not need more innocent young people put through the criminal justice system and ending up on the sex offender registry. Itâ€™s fine if you no longer wish to be friends with this widow and her daughter, but please just decide to mind your own business and not destroy anyoneâ€™s life.
By the way, those are great words to repeat when someone picks up the phone to report the parents of a child walking home from the park, a child waiting in the car during a brief errand, or a child competently caring for him or herself as a latchkey kid: Do not destroy anyone’s life by summoning the authorities! – L
Not only that but I’m not aware of any U.S. jurisdiction in which consensual sex between two sixteen-year-olds isn’t legal.
Normally, I would think this women crazy, but with the number of times I’ve read about police and CPS involved in case of 10 years old walking alone, I wonder if the teen in the story here is in danger. Or that the mother and daughter could be separated. Please tell me everyone involved is safe.
Yikes it is one thing to tell the mother to make sure she knows about it, but after that leave it alone.
My mother did tell a next door mother about this once too but the difference is that mother did not know it was going on. She would be at work and the girls would have boys over after school till about 5:15 and then right on the dot they would rush out the back door and run off minutes before the mom pulled up from work. She had no idea this was going on every single day.
So my mom did casually bring it up and asked if the mom knew. She did not.
I feel like sometimes teens need more supervision not less when it comes to stuff like this as they are smart enough to trick you and be sneaky about it.
But teens are going to have sex regardless so main thing is make sure they are on Birth control.
So she wants to make both kids into sex offenders and have them carry that stigma forever?
People used to get married at 16. You still can in most states with parental consent.
“Not only that but Iâ€™m not aware of any U.S. jurisdiction in which consensual sex between two sixteen-year-olds isnâ€™t legal.”
Several states have 16 as the age of consent, so it would be legal in those. A little over a third of the states have “Romeo and Juliet” defenses, providing that being close in age is a defense.
But some states have 17 or 18 as age-of-consent, and more than half lack “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions. Somewhere in that combination, there’s probably at least one that criminalizes sex between two 16-year-olds. I’m not going to go figure out which one(s), though.
I think you also should have brought up the other letter, which she also nailed. In the same chat, there was a letter about kids “playing doctor” and how these days, where everyone is all hysterical about potential abuse, people seem to have forgotten that kids have been curiously exploring their friends since time immemorial, and have forgotten the line between what’s concerning and what is normal, typical child’s play.
Dear Cotton Mather:
Near my dwelling place resides a widow with a daughter of some sixteen summers. The girl is a comely jade and a true daughter of Eve who hath tempted a young man of this vicinity into sin by her bold, saucy ways.
The widow, heretofore a decent woman whom I held in most loving, amicable regard, said when confronted with her daughter’s transgression that she cared not!
I fear Satan hath made both mother and daughter his own.
My question to thee, Reverend Mather, is whether the townspeople should immediately burn them as witches, or should there be a trial first, and then we burn them?
Goodwife Anne Pinchbeck
Dear teenage neighbors:
Just to let you know, you are having very loud sex. People who had no idea you were having sex can hear you. Other people really don’t want to know the personal details of your sex life. As long as your bedroom shares a wall with somebody else’s home, please keep it down. On behalf of your future neighbors, thank you.
Bravo, Jill! That was brilliant!
Bravo to Prudie, too. I love her advice.
Well that was terrifying. I can’t believe you didn’t mention the part where some poor family got put through CPS hell because her 4 year old daughter and 6 year old son were “playing doctor.” My daughter and son are the same age and they’d never play doctor because they see each other naked all the time because they bathe together and share a room.
“Calling the authorities” is the reaction of people in a police state. (Please note this is different from telling the girl’s mother, which I support.) Please emphasize that talking to the people involved (“I can hear you!”) is all that is required. If this person wants to do more, she should move to a place, like Communist China, where authorities are eager for informers.
Call out these people as the informers they are!
Jill, that was wonderfully written! Good on you! And Powers – there are plenty of states where sex between two 16 year olds is illegal. James Pollack is right (see below) and I also do not know which ones. But OVERALL, the cultural trend is, as we can see from the nosy neighbor, that sex between teens should not occur. Never mind that teens have been having sex for thousands of years and THIS is the only time in history when the idea of people not having sex prior to age 18 was codified in law.
I find Emily Yoffe to be thoughtful and reflective in her writing, even when I don’t agree with her recommendations or conclusions. In the case of free-range kid-dom, however, she’s been on the money — a lot. And she is an influential voice, a worthy addition to/ally of Lenore’s own efforts on this matter.
@Dolly No, all teens are not going to have sex. It kind of depends on the teen and sometimes, the way they are raised.
Not a matter for the cops, but I feel bad she has to listen to it regardless of their ages. Gross.
“‘Calling the authorities’ is the reaction of people in a police state.”
Yes, it is. And, therefore, unsurprising.
I hope,she takes the advice & minds her own damn business, by sadly she probably wont. People like that think their way is the only ‘right’ way.
“But OVERALL, the cultural trend is, as we can see from the nosy neighbor, that sex between teens should not occur.”
Nah. There’s a part of the country that thinks sex is neat, and the decision to have it or not is a personal one, and nobody else’s business. There’s another part that thinks they should be allowed to tell other people whether or not they can have sex (or what kind). These factions have existed for a very, very long time. This question is just one of many that currently divide our nation (and, presumably, others, although I don’t pay as much attention to others’.)
I would have also included. “Unless you never had consensual sex as a teenager (17 and under), do not be the pot calling the kettle black. If it was ok for you back then, then it’s ok for teens today.”
People seem to forget many things in their childhood, including lessons they learned. As adults, we end up going through many things that change who we are since we were children. Some for better, some for worse. But it’s a choice made by us. No one twisted our arms to be the person we are today. That’s our choice. And if some people have become fearful and sanctimonious, then that’s their choice. Just don’t drag others down with them. As Prudi said, “Mind your own f’n business. Maybe even get laid every once in a while. Then perhaps thoughts and decisions made by you aren’t out of frustration and evny”. Ok, she didn’t actually say that exactly. But I’m pretty sure she was thinking it. lol
@Powers….I’d like to think you’re correct on that Powers and that consensual sex between two 16-year-old kids is not illegal BUT in this day and age of sex hysteria involving “children” it wouldn’t surprise me that it has been made illegal (I certainly hope not!). Common sense, however, should tell you that it’s not but when it comes to sex and minors being mentioned in the same sentence, we Americans seem to lose all common sense and over react.
Now you can debate the permissiveness of turning a blind eye to your 16-year-old daughter having sex with her 16-year-old boyfriend until the cows come home. To me, the mother probably should be a little more cognizant of it BUT that is just MY opinion which I’m entitled to. The reality is that it’s really none of mine nor anybody else’s business what this mother allows her 16-year-old daughter to do.
The lady who wrote the letter was wanting to be a vigilante of sorts in trying to “protect the children”……sigh. But Ms. Prudence did a splendid job of setting her straight although I’m sure your Child Psychologists and sex abuse counselors would blast her for her answer. The problem with these “vigilantes” who want to “protect the children” is that they are oblivious to the fact that they will do a great deal of harm to these kids and their families by notifying law enforcement over these trivial matters much more so than help them. They’re unaware of the fact that our justice system is NOT perfect so they insist on taking the “better safe than sorry” route and letting the police sort it out. BUT as we here have seen, it’s not quite that simple.
“Thereâ€™s another part that thinks they should be allowed to tell other people whether or not they can have sex (or what kind). These factions have existed for a very, very long time. This question is just one of many that currently divide our nation (and, presumably, others, although I donâ€™t pay as much attention to othersâ€™.)”
This era has become the “I’m offended” era. Where NO ONE is allowed to feel offended. And feeling offended justifies ruining people’s and families lives. The “me, me, me generation”. What’s even more disturbing is the adults who are having kids, or have kids, are teaching them this. It’s like they are teaching their kids, “It’s all about you. don’t let anyone else tell you different. Your special, so you should be treated like as such. Whatever makes you happy, and comfortable. Regardless of how it affects everyone else. Just think about what YOU want, and make sure to speak up so that you get it”. Or as I’d like to put it, “The sidewalk teachers”. Teach your children to walk in the middle of the sidewalk, and expect everyone else to go around them. As oppose to walking on one side, and giving room for others on the other half.
She’s appalled that the mother won’t force her daughter to sneak around in cars and such (and skipping the birth control because she doesn’t want her mom to accidentally find it) but treats her like a human being with a (sex) life instead?!! And wants to call the cops for it???
What a lunatic.
I like Prudence’s total lack of sugar-coating, is she always like that? 🙂
@ John: Iâ€™d like to think youâ€™re correct on that Powers and that consensual sex between two 16-year-old kids is not illegal BUT in this day and age of sex hysteria involving â€œchildrenâ€ it wouldnâ€™t surprise me that it has been made illegal (I certainly hope not!). Common sense, however, should tell you that itâ€™s not but when it comes to sex and minors being mentioned in the same sentence, we Americans seem to lose all common sense and over react.
If two sixteen-year-olds sending each other nude selfies is “distributing kiddie porn” it won’t be long until two sixteen year olds having sex will be prosecuted as pedophilia. I’m guessing the first kids it happens to will be Southern and Black.
“Do not destroy anyone’s life by summoning the authorities.”
It’s just too bad that this advice, heard daily in the old Soviet Union, now is heard daily in this once great country, the United States of America, which now has devolved into a communist dictatorship.
That article has nearly 1500 comments. Amazing.
“Not only that but Iâ€™m not aware of any U.S. jurisdiction in which consensual sex between two sixteen-year-olds isnâ€™t legal.”
Try California, where more than 12 percent of Americans live. (California Penal Code section 261.5.)
This particular response was spot-on, but in general I don’t like Dear Prudence. Too judgemental, “matronizing” to her letter writers, and uses the word “creepy” too often to describe situations that require more psychological nuance than she provides.
Carolyn Hax at WaPo is my pick for best advice columnist – just my two cents, mind you.
California and perhaps a few other states criminalize having sex when you are 16 or 17. Apparently both parties could be prosecuted for raping the other, but I assume that police and prosecutors usually trying to do that, but there can be worse problems if one turns 18 and the other is under 18 and they began to have sex when both were under 18.
About playing doctor . . . wow . . . I did not realize that people would react so badly to a report of playing doctor . . . Here in Seattle, back in 2003, I helped create the traditional naked bike riding at the Solstice parade and, since then, nearly nude ok walking or sunbathing at Greenlake park . . . but thank God the rcw (revised code of washington) has reasonableness or unreasonableness criteria when it comes to indecent exposure.
Regarding the letter about the teens having sex — it reminds me of the movie The Secret of My Success (1987), starring Michael J. Fox. There’s a hilarious scene where he can hear people going at it in the apartment next to him and he stands up and acts like he’s conducting the proceedings as if it was an orchestra.
Regarding the letter about playing doctor. Don’t get me started about how ridiculous it is that people try to equate playing doctor with sexual abuse. When my youngest was in Kindergarten, it was discovered that he and three other kids (a boy and two girls) were “playing doctor” during nap time. The other three parents were furious and wanted all of the kids to go to counseling to discuss the sexual abuse they’d endured. One of the mothers of one of the girls wanted charges pressed against the boys involved. Fortunately, eventually, cooler heads prevailed and the solution was to simply separate the kids during nap time. Of course, I was an “irresponsible parent” for taking a “kids will be kids” attitude and insisting that while the kids needed to be separated because it was inappropriate behavior in school, it was completely normal and everybody should just calm the heck down.
Interestingly, my son, who is now in high school, still goes to school with one of the girls who was involved. They’re friends (just at school, they don’t hang out anywhere else) and still joke about the time they played doctor during nap time and the parents flipped out like it was a big deal or something.
If i were that principal I would never have reported those two children fro playing doctor, mandated reporter or not.
“But some states have 17 or 18 as age-of-consent, and more than half lack â€œRomeo and Julietâ€ exceptions. Somewhere in that combination, thereâ€™s probably at least one that criminalizes sex between two 16-year-olds. Iâ€™m not going to go figure out which one(s), though.”
One would hope not, thought somebody just mentioned it might be so in California. If so, does that mean the 16-year-olds are each guilty of mutual statutory rape? Good grief!
Although as Troutwaxer mentions, it’s not really any crazier than two kids being mutually guilty of kiddie porn.
” If so, does that mean the 16-year-olds are each guilty of mutual statutory rape? Good grief!”
They call it something different, but yes. (of course, having the law on the books and having a prosecutor who will actually follow through with charges are different things entirely.)
The one for labeling people who photograph themselves as “child pornographers” at least has some logic to it… the reason possession of child porn is illegal is because a market for child porn creates an incentive to create more, which usually creates victims. Therefore, the state has an interest in breaking the market, even in cases where the specific individuals involved are not victims (and, in a few rare cases, are not even underage).
@Coasterfreak………Coasterfreak (I like that nick), you pretty much gave an excellent example of the over reaction hysteria of the typical American parent that ends up ruining kids’ lives. The fact that your son and this girl are now in high school and look back at that little “doctor” experience with laughter pretty much proves that the adults did indeed over react and that everything is now fine. Thank God cooler heads did prevail otherwise the situation may not have had a good ending. Turns out that it was the adults with the psychological problems and not the kids!
Mandatory reporting has turned something very helpful (asking advice) into something as dangerous as Russian roulette. It’s now debatable if the safer option is to ask for help or just keep quiet. It’s also multiplied a bullies power 100 times. Before they could take away your lunch money. Now they can take away your kids!
Q. Where did mandatory reporting come from?
A. There is no ‘one’ reason. However the biggest reasons for mandatory reporting are because of headlines such as, â€œTHE AUTHORITIES WERE TOLD BUT FAILED TO ACTâ€ or â€œTHE DOCTOR (in the above story about the 4 and 6 year olds) TRIED TO COVER UP SEXUAL ABUSEâ€. Headlines such as this are used in even the most ridiculous situations.
Again I blame the media. However I put equal blame on the drama junkies that swallow this shit hook, line, and sinker. (and help spread it) If they didn’t supply the market for hype, the media wouldn’t cater for it.
“Where did mandatory reporting come from?”
It comes from scandals like the one that affected the Catholic Church, various schools, and the like. Places where loyalties might be divided (“If I report the pedophile priest who works for me, the priest gets punished but the Church looks bad. Better to just send the priest to a new parish, pay off the family to keep quiet, and say nothing”)
There’s just too many situations where a person who knows something might have reasons (even good ones) to keep quiet and assist a cover-up.
These days, I can easily imagine the mom charged with child endangerment, even if the teens’ activities are found to be legal.
And, anyone imploring someone not to “summon the authorities” charged with dissuading a witness.
Wasn’t there a case in Utah recently where two 13-year-olds had sex and both were charged with some sort of sexual crime (don’t remember the exact charge)? Both were listed as the victim in the other kid’s case. So, no, not really beyond a prosecutor to go after.
Three cheers for the brave and sensible mother who allowed her daughter to have sex at home, and I’m glad to hear Emily Yoffe (Dear Prudence) is giving confused people such great advice. In my blog I specifically warned parents to inform children that sex is healthy but also needs to be kept secret from anyone outside the family. Kids need to learn that lying to teachers, police, etc. is wholly appropriate to protect ourselves from nut cases who think playing doctor is a matter for government investigation.
I don’t mean to start an argument, but when I looked at that penal statute, all of those paragraphs seemed to address age differences between minors. Did I miss something?
If you all think it’s crazy that some states have laws that criminalize two 16 year olds having sex, just wait til you read about the case out of North Carolina where not only was a minor (17) charged with exploitation of a minor for possessing (not sharing, which was a separate charge) nude pictures of himself, but he was tried as an adult! He also had another charge for exchanging nude pics with his underage girlfriend (16), who was also charged as an adult for exploitation of a minor (herself), and separately for the exchange. She plead out to disseminating harmful material to minors; a sentence that included 1 year without a phone and a class on “making better life decisions”; he’s still facing 10 years and lifetime sex offender registration if found guilty (the state is proceeding with this).
Yet we’re still told that we’re pedophiles or sympathizers if we dare oppose a law meant to combat actual predators because it could technically be misused against kids… “Police and prosecutors would never abuse a law that way! Why do you support child rape?!?!?!?”
Coming soon: 99.9999% of teenagers jailed for violent sexual crimes as prosecutors charge them under rape laws for touching themselves; THEY CAN’T CONSENT!
I am completely confused with our sex laws that claim a 16 year-old cannot consent but an 11 year-old can be charged as a sex offender for dirty pictures on their cell phones. If you read to the end of this article, the danger they felt was that these kids enabled their locations so a sexual predator could get them.
I am a mandated reporter also because I work at a school, in the training we got (in PA), I believe they said if it was age 14 or younger it could not be considered as sexual assault/molestation or what-have-you.
” the danger they felt was that these kids enabled their locations so a sexual predator could get them.”
There are children all over the place. Nobody needs a “locator” to find children. Sheesh.
Playing doctor–common garden variety childhood behavior. Not so common in households with little boys and girls nearly the same age sharing baths and bed rooms. Or in large families in which older kids diaper younger ones, bathe them or clean them up after “accidents”. Familiarity breeds contempt.
But here’s a twist. How about a ten year old girl telling a stranger at a park that she was waiting for her boyfriend and they were going to play “Doctor Ruth?
My friend was sitting barefoot with his feet in a pool near a fountain having a bite of lunch.
He said he gulped down his beverage, tucked his biscuit in his pocket with his socks, slipped on his shoes and headed for the nearest exit!
I do not understand how it works if a 15 year old murders someone they try to try him as an adult and say he was making adult decisions and has an adult mind BUT if a 15 year old girl has sex with a 18 year old boyfriend all of a sudden she is this innocent child and he was taking advantage of her and poor her and OMG.
Yeah those are hypocriticial statements and ideas.
It is either one way or the other. Either they can be adults or they can’t. No picking and choosing when to apply it or not apply it. It needs to be absolute.
The neighbor boy played “Butt doctor” with me when I was a kid. I was little like 4 and he was a year older. I don’t feel molested. I just came home and told my mom and said I was not doing that again (all he did was look at my butt) and she told his mom and his mom spanked him. Now there were suspicions his Dad might have been molesting him but nothing confirmed-just a sense my mom felt because of certain things. But I certainly did not feel molested nor was CPS called.
Playing doctor was my favorite game as a kid. Only as an adult did I learn what most people thought of as “playing doctor.” For me as a kid, playing doctor meant pretend surgery and pretend shots and using up all the band aids in the medicine cabinet. Never once did anyone get naked and look at each other’s privates. I had a toy doctor’s kit with a stethoscope that sort of worked. I can only imagine how much trouble I would be in as a kid today if all my playmates went home and complained to their parents, “All she ever wants to do is play doctor.” and their parents freaked out without knowing what kind of play we were really engaged in.