My ex-wife and my kids live next to a boy who is 24 years old and my daughter trusts him more than I like. I have met him and he seems harmless. My daughter is only 12 years old but she wants to do everything with this neighbor boy because he takes her and her sister places and buys them whatever they want.
My daughter used to be close to me but now she makes excuses to not come to hang out with me. Their mom seems to believe it's no big deal because it relieves her of the responsibility of taking my kids places and buying them stuff.
How do I get my ex and my daughter to realize this boy might have different intentions in mind than just being a nice guy?
I am so glad to hear that this situation is tripping off some alarms for you. A 24 year old is not a boy ... he's a man. And although he may seem, or even be, harmless, the nature of the relationship he is conducting with your daughters does not feel appropriate to me.
Buying gifts and spending extended and frequent time alone with neighborhood children can be a way for a sexual predator to gain trust and access to a family so he can abuse the children and they won't tell.
Isolating children from family relationships is another grooming tactic, as is asking kids to keep secrets -- usually small ones at first, and if the child doesn't tell, the secrets get more and more serious.
Even if this guy is as innocent and pure as the new driven snow, the lack of boundaries in this relationship may make it easier for your girls to be victimized by other adults down the road. Frankly, I just don't like the sound of this situation at all.
If this was your neighbor, intervening would be simple enough. You could just go over there and politely request that he help you abuse-proof your girls by not spend time alone with them so they learn appropriate boundaries, and then invite him over to share a friendly dinner with your whole family every once in a while if you like. You would make sure to know where your daughters are and who they are with, so you could monitor their relationships.
It's much trickier since he's your ex's neighbor, and you can't control or monitor his or your ex's behavior. I will throw out a few ideas for you to try on and hopefully at least one of them will feel like a good fit.
You say you have met him. It might be worth casually stopping by his house sometime and saying something like this: Hey, I hear that you spend quite a bit of time with my kids, and man to man, I am sure you will understand when I ask you to protect them by making sure that there are always other adults around when you are with them. You know how it is in today's society - I am teaching them how to stay safe and one of our safety rules is that they don't spend time alone with adults other than family. It's one of our non-negotiables, and I really appreciate you respecting that so they learn good boundaries. Thanks.
This will put him on notice that you are aware and paying attention, and also clue him in if he's genuinely ignorant about the inappropriateness of his actions.
If your daughter is making excuses not to spend time with you, I'd recommend that you make a concerted effort not to allow those excuses to disrupt your time together. Maintain or even beef up your parenting time schedule if at all possible. Your relationship with your daughters is very important. They need your time and attention to fill their tanks. You don't want them looking anywhere else for a father figure.
The next step is to educate your kids. This is tremendously important. Here in Boulder, there's a social worker named Feather Berkower who teaches parents how to make their kids less attractive to predators, and her suggestions make a lot of good sense.
I have taken her workshop, Parenting Safe Children, and found it tremendously informative and empowering. She has written a book to make this information available to those who can't attend her workshops. It's called Off Limits, and it's available here: http://www.parentingsafechildren.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=89&Itemid=61. In my opinion, it's a must read for every parent. You might like to buy a copy for yourself and one for your ex.
In the book you'll learn how predators groom kids, and how to empower your children so they are not easily victimized. Since you can't be physically nearby all the time to protect them, it is all the more critical that you equip them with the information and skills they need to recognize and avoid problem situations, and report any incidents that raise red flags.
It goes without saying that I hope there's nothing sinister going on in this situation. And I believe it's fair to say that this neighbor is already acting very inappropriately, whether he is aware of it or not. Communicating directly with him and requesting that he help you keep your children safe is reasonable, and a reasonable person will modify his behavior to comply with a parent's request.
If he cannot or will not cease spending alone time with your daughters after you've made a clear, direct request, it may be time to take additional measures to ensure that your children are protected and safe, such as involving the courts or local authorities.
One of the empowering things that Feather teaches kids is to trust and honor that funny feeling inside that tells them something is not right, even if they can't explain or understand exactly what is wrong about it. It's the same for adults. Something is telling you this is not okay, and I believe it's important to honor that.
Good luck, and please let us know how things turn out.
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