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My 4-Year-Old Is NOT a Sexual Predator

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Are we taking our quest for safety a bit too far?

girls hugging

Jeanne Sager: I could hear the clucking across the playground. The tsk, tsk of a judgmental older woman made my eardrums ache, the hissing sound like a rattler ready to strike.

And she did, even as I pushed my 4-year-old toward the parking lot in desperation to avoid the confrontation that I knew was coming.

I wasn't angry at my 4-year-old.

All she'd done, after all, was throw her arms around a little boy in her swimming class and kiss him. Full on the lips. "Goodbye, Dylan (name changed to protect the not-so-sexually-harassed)!"

She was so happy, she was skipping, bubbling over with the pride of putting her face underwater. "I did ten bobs, Mommy! And did you see who's in my class? Did you see, did you?"

I saw. And I heard, too. Her joy at seeing a friend, and the sexualizing of an innocent gesture by a 4-year-old child. A gesture that earned me a warning by an unknown woman that I had "best get a handle on my child before someone thinks the wrong thing."

Too late. Because as this woman was warning me that I could be staring down the barrel of a lawsuit, she'd made it clear that she saw merit to the claims against toddlers across the country.

By giving credence to the theory that innocent actions should be stamped out lest a litigious-minded individual kick things into gear, she proved why these lawsuits are successful. Kids aren't kids anymore. They're money waiting to be made in the form of warning shots to the parental establishment: Keep your kids in line, or else.

What happened to the words "frivolous lawsuit"? As one lawyer I know has told me many times: "People can bring a lawsuit for anything. It doesn't mean the suit is with merit."

Why then are we living scared?

The sexual harassment allegations against preschoolers, the suspensions of kids my daughter's age -- and sometimes younger -- have no doubt grown. According to an ABC News report last summer, "166 elementary students were suspended in Maryland [in 2007] for sexual harassment, including three preschoolers, 16 kindergartners, and 22 first-graders. In Virginia, 255 elementary students were suspended for offensive sexual touching [in 2007] as well."

The allegations have become no less newsworthy as they've become more frequent. That's the good news: they read as headlines best linked with the letters WTF or OMG.

A sampling of responses to the story of a 4-year-old who was put into an in-school suspension for hugging a teacher's aide in Texas in 2006 included indignant letters to the principal and a prescription for a "swift kick up the pants" for the "prudish and ridiculous attitude towards an affectionate toddler" by the aide.

But read on, and the fearmongers drop in with this tidbit: "You can't be too careful these days, with everyone being lawsuit happy. What if she didn't document the incident and the child did something even worse down the road?"

To borrow a phrase from the post 9/11 world: if we don't stop the kids from hugging, we let the litigious win.

Or is it the other way around? Hasn't the woman who "tsk, tsked" at my daughter for an innocent smooch on her buddy's mouth just allowed those who would bring a lawsuit to force the innocence from her young lips?

To ignore the fact that there are young children committing true sexual crimes is irresponsible. Justice Department statistics have shown the age of people charged with sexually-based offenses is trending downward, and the Safer Society reported that the number of sexually-based treatment programs for kids under twelve has been growing since the late eighties from none to more than four hundred as of 2002. Forty percent of sexual crimes committed against kids under 6 were committed by other kids. Unfortunately, these same groups have been able to link past abuse in many of the children who are now abusing others.

But compare the 33,000 kids under 18 accused of forcible rape, violent and nonviolent sexual offenses in 2004 with U.S. Census figures showing more than 73 million kids under 18. That's less than one percent of the juvenile population committing some sort of sexual act, no matter how heinous.

And for this we put the kibosh on hugging in high schools lest someone say that a teen girl or boy was inappropriately touched at an awkward age when they crave touch the way I craved grease during my pregnancy. And we hiss at little girls overcome with happiness to see a nursery school friend in a summer swim class.

Fortunately, her ears were still a bit water-logged.

62 comments so far | Post a comment now
MyKidsMom February 3, 2010, 11:06 AM

My kid’s are kissy and huggy too. When they are happy and love someone they are encouraged to be affectionate. They see that their parents are affectionate towards each other and to them. We have had to tell them that not everyone likes open displays of affection. We have told them that it depends on the person’s past or their culture. We have also told them that they need to respect other people’s bodies and that no means no. They also know about good touches and bad touches.
But with that said, if your dtr only kissed him once and the mother let you know that she has issues (and I do mean issues) with it then that should be enough. I would just tell my daughter that the boy’s mother isn’t comfortable with other people kissing her son. Then your daughter can still be her loving self and not play with the boy with the litigious and paranoid mother. We have all seen Psycho, I’m sure we know how that’s going to end. :P

Anonymous February 3, 2010, 12:53 PM

When I was about five, I was at my neighbors house playing with their five year old daughter. When we were in her room alone she took off all her clothes and tried to get me to do the same. When I wouldn’t she tried to forcefully take them off. I ran home and told my mom about it. Apparently the neighbors had “relations” in front of their kid and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I know that I was very uncomfortable with that. Kissing a kid at a pool is no big deal, but it is possible for kids to sexually harrass one another. I don’t think a lawsuit is the answer though.

egene February 3, 2010, 5:25 PM

The child’s mother must be filled with joy to realize her 4 year old is compassionate and expressive. Compared to the increasing number of bad behaviored kids this child is a blessing to us all. The lady in the park is at best a puritanist and we all know the journey of such thinking. Praise the child, embrace the child and do nothing to enlighten her at age 4 to the suspecting world she will grow into.

Aisling February 14, 2010, 4:53 PM

The tsk-tsk woman sounds like a nasty, bitter person. She probably hasn’t had nearly enough hugging in her own life.

my oh my March 12, 2010, 5:25 PM

what on earth is happening tho the world… Are we going to have a “Don’t touch her/him or you get suit” world.. What’s wrong with a hug or a kiss from a 4 year old girl or boy.. There’s nothing sexuel about that in any way. Ofcause not all kids want to be hugged or kisses, but can’t the kids tell of the other kids not to do it.. I have to say that the tsk tsk women are to sick her in head to think so bad about the kids.. And i think is so lame that you can suit who ever you want for what ever you want… America have some bad laws when it comes to that… I believe it’s time for America to wake up and remake the laws….

Monica October 29, 2010, 4:49 PM

I have been struggling with something similar to what some of you have expressed in your comments. Yesterday my son’s teacher at daycare called me aside to complain about some “inappropriate touching”. Turns out that my 4 year old son was hugging another girl. I simmered on this quite a bit and concluded that it was being blown out of proportion. Do I really want my son to grow in a world where expressing your affection with a hug is considered wrong? Perhaps if we all, as a society, expressed our love a little more, things would be better.

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