02 Jul Sexually Abused at a Sleepover
I remember living for a sleepover while growing up. I was one of those kids who loved spending time at other homes (maybe because I had so many siblings and I needed the break!). On the street where I spent my elementary years, my clan and I rotated between three homes regularly during the summer, enjoying pizza, ice cream, movies, sweets, and late, late nights. Were there risks? Absolutely. We could burn things (and we did). We could share new words (and we did). We could sneakily stay up late and catch an R-rated flick on HBO (and we did).
So, here’s the big question: Has the Internet changed the risk of inappropriate behavior at sleepovers?
I received this Facebook message three weeks ago:
“Hi Chris – I am reaching out to you because I know that you are very knowledgeable and passionate about protecting children from the dangers of the internet and porn. I am looking for some help/resources to help guide me through a tough situation I am dealing with in regards to my 11 (almost 12) year old son.
Two years ago, my 11-year old became friends with a boy up the street who came from (what I thought) was a very good home. I’d had lots of conversations with the mom as the kids swam and played, she was very involved, this kid had lots of limitations, was well supervised, etc.
One night my son was invited to stay the night. I allowed this. I told the mom my rules on internet, movies, etc. and she was on the same page. This was two years ago.
A few weeks ago my son came to me and ask if he could talk to me. He told me that that night this child showed him porn (and at the time we had not had the talk with my son about porn or sex so he was very confused) and asked him to lick his privates. To my dismay and serious heart break my son played along. Not only that but he waited two years to tell me.
After that overnight, my son chose to never play with this kid again. I thought that was odd so I asked him why but he just said he was mean and didn’t like playing with him, so I thought nothing of it.
My son and I have a very open relationship, we talk about a lot and he asks me a lot of questions…he’s very comfortable talking to me. It was just too much for him to come to me with this awful thing and confess…it took him nearly two years.
My son has been experiencing A LOT of guilt and shame. I’ve talked to him for hours upon hours about it, I have not shamed him…I’ve let him cry on my shoulder, I’ve prayed over him time and time and time again, I’ve been a rock for him and a safe place to talk. I’ve explained that I wish he would have said no and left, called me, or told his mom, but he didn’t…and he wished he would have too. I’ve told him Jesus forgives all sin, that this situation does not define who you are. He said he was afraid to say no.
He doesn’t smile, his personality has been altered because of this with guilt and shame he cannot deal with. Honestly over the past year or better I’ve noticed him withdrawing, not smiling, just not being his normal joyful self. We hurt, we are angry.”
There are three things that stand out to me from this story:
(1) Doorways to pornography are everywhere.
One of the steps I invite parents to take is to make a list of all of the doorways available to their family members. This includes Starbucks, Grandma’s house, McDonalds, your home, school, church, the neighbor’s house, etc.
Next to each doorway, write down either “filtered,” “monitored,” or “both.”
Is the Internet signal filtered? Meaning, is there some kind of content filtering going on to remove as much of the filth as possible? Two solutions we highly recommend for filtering are Covenant Eyes and Mobicip.
Is the Internet signal monitored? Meaning, is there a log of visited URL’s being captured so that someone is reviewing them, and a conversation can be had later about the types of sites being visited? This is also referred to as accountability. Covenant Eyes invented Internet Accountability and has been doing it for 16 years.
As it pertains to a sleepover: If you’re a teenager, there are very few productive online activities that happen after around 10pm. Should there be a turn-in time for devices? What about shutting off the router at a certain time? What about sitting all the kids down who are sleeping over and explaining your home’s rules for using the internet?
Remember this – if there is access to the unfiltered internet at a sleepover, this gives kids access to one billion websites, of which, anywhere from 10- 20% of them are pornographic. This means 100-200 million pornographic opportunities. Back when I was a kid, this would be no different than having multiple, hormonal kids spend the night in a home with 10 rooms, and in one of the rooms there was an orgy happening, and you just hope they don’t open the door to the wrong room. I might be exaggerating, but I hope the point is made. The unfiltered Internet, whether accessed through a browser or an app (did you know you can get to porn through the Bible app?), is rife with inappropriate content.
(2) The Internet exposes kids to horrible things earlier.
Parents are way behind the curve when it comes to having conversations about sexuality and the Internet. In the digital age, there’s no such thing as passive parenting. Google never rests, and parents can’t either. I talk to way too many dads who just “aren’t comfortable” about talking to their sons and daughters about awkward things. I’m sorry, but this just isn’t a choice anymore. Dad, you have to lead. Both parents must engage, but especially dad. Look your kids in the eye and ask them loving, probing questions about how they’re using technology. We’ve created conversation sheets for each phase of life to help get your started.
As it pertains to a sleepover: As I said before, I saw nudity at a sleepover. I was exposed to games of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” All of these things happened long before the Internet. But, the Internet increases the risk that it happens earlier, more often, and it provides access to absolutely horrific things. In the testimony above, it was a third grader showing streaming hardcore pornography to another third grader. This was not possible when I was in third grade while spending the night at Eric’s house.
The hardcore, streaming pornographic media being consumed by younger and younger kids hyper-sexualizes their brain and piques curiosity too early. Covenant Eyes has written some spectacular, free e-books on porn’s impact on the brain. Sleepovers might provide the perfect environment to carry out certain curiosities based on what they’re seen online.
(3) Relationships with other families matter big-time.
Facebook and other social media make it appear that each of us has a lot of friends, but who do you really trust with your children? The term “friend” used to carry so much more significance than the watered-down label it’s become.
As it pertains to a sleepover: Because of technology, it’s important for parents to know a lot about the homes where their kids are spending time. This includes understanding the technology rules that exist and having some idea of the value system of the home.
Recently, I received an update from the family who experienced the sexual abuse at the sleepover. Here was mom’s response:
“We have just finished discussing the no sleepover rule for our family going forward. With exception of two to three families who we are very close with and share the same morals, values, Internet restrictions, bedtime routines, and most importantly A love for Jesus.”
What about you? What sleepover opinions or rules to you have in your home? Are sleepovers still ok? Leave us a comment below to continue the conversation.