Dear Margo: To Mention or Not To Mention Disturbing Behavior?

One of my sons playmates is overly sexualized, how do I tell his parents? Margo Howard’s advice

To Mention or Not To Mention Disturbing Behavior?

Dear Margo: I live in an affluent community where my 7-year-old son has many playmates. Directly across the street is one of his closest friends, “Sam,” 8, who’s the youngest of three boys. I know the parents, etc. Sam has recently started acting out. It’s nothing serious, but he often does hip thrusts toward others. I initially thought it was the result of the “I’m sexy and I Know It” video. However, this past weekend, my son told me that Sam said he’d performed oral sex on his brother.

What do I do here? I don’t want to shirk any responsibility, but I don’t know what to do or how. I’m not close to the parents, although we do talk. Is this normal childhood experimentation? What do I do with this information? And should I worry about my son being unsupervised around these kids? — Alarmed Mom

Dear Alarm: An 8-year-old who is this sexualized is getting input from somewhere. Either he is being molested (possibly by that brother?), or he has unfettered access to porn, which I somehow doubt. Playing doctor is one thing, but fellating a brother is quite something else. I would risk being rebuffed and approach the mother. Tell her what you’ve observed and what you’ve been told. She deserves to know. Then let the chips fall where they may. With luck, the “chips” will fall into a child psychiatrist’s office.

As for your own son, I doubt he’s in any danger because his telling you proves he knows there’s something wrong with the situation. For good measure, explain to him that his buddy’s behavior is nothing that children his age do and there’s definitely something wrong. — Margo, preventively

Things Best Decided Before Committing

Dear Margo: I am trying to figure out whether to break up with my amazing long-term boyfriend. The short of it is he has very suddenly (like on a trip home one weekend without me) decided he wants kids, after telling me for the longest time that he would be happy either way. As for me, I am deeply undecided on the issue, and despite having tried to badger myself into wanting what he wants, I can’t seem to do it. I don’t rule children out, and the idea of adopting appeals to me on an intellectual level. But all the arguments I’ve heard for having children seem pretty sentimental, while the ones against seem more rational.

He is saying this is “not a deal breaker” for him. I have attempted to tease out why he feels this way, and what he says boils down to his being incredibly happy with me and children being something he doesn’t need “right now.” It’s this latter thing that worries me. If he broke up with me over this issue, I would feel that he was prioritizing a potential relationship with someone who doesn’t even exist over me. It’s the suddenness of my boyfriend’s decision that has thrown me for a loop. — Spooked

Dear Spook: Reading between the lines, I would venture that, right now, you do not see yourself as a mother, and you believe he will love you less if he loves a child. While I find your thinking about primacy and different kinds of love unrealistic and perhaps competitive, these are your thoughts, and I respect that. There are women who think “absolutely not me,” and then, often by accident, they have a child and wonder how they ever could have thought as they did. For now, until both of you figure out what you do want, I would coast. Time has a way of revealing answers that often seem unknowable. I do feel strongly, however, that the issue must be resolved before you move to the next phase. — Margo, decisively

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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83 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1:  You have to tell the mother what your son told you.  I don’t know about the hip thrusting in an of itself being a big sign but the oral sex on the brother is not what I would call *experiementation*.  As far as letting you son continue playing with Sam, I think I would restrict his playtime with Sam to playtime at your house or at public places.  I don’t think I would let him spend time at Sam’s house.   But, perhaps, being childless, I am over-protective. 

    LW#2:  I don’t see any reason for you to make a decision about having children or not having children at this point in your relationship.   But you know where he stands.  He wants kids someday.  To marry him if you are not willing to have children would be grossly unfair.   Deciding to break up because you want kids and your partner does not, is not a foolish or selfish thing to do.  It is a smart thing to do.  It may seem like he would be *leaving you for someone who does not exist* but if it comes to that, he will be leaving you because he wants a different life than you do.    

    • avatar boisguilbert says:

      LW#2, I was once in a siuation similar to yours.  BACKGROUND:  My husband, who was somewhat older than I, had been married briefly before he married me; he had failed to impregnate his first wife, so he feared he wasn’t fertile, and so on.  We were students when we married; we each obtained PhD’s from a leading private university; we taught at various institutions for many years.

      Having made the remarks above, I shall address your present situation–again, by way of background, describing mine.  I am very professionally oriented; I knew that having children would impede my establishing myself in a career.  Yet at the same time, I knew that I eventually would want children and that if I waited, as many women now do, to have them in my forties, they would be twenty when I was sixty.  The upshot was that I DID have children.  Much of the time, I am glad that I did.



      • avatar Lila says:

        Boisguilbert, my Dad was 41 years older than me, and a close friend had her son at age 42.  As it turned out, a 40-year age difference was not a big deal in either case.  My grandparents also had several children when they were in their 40s (in the era of very large families).
        However, I do think there is definitely such a thing as too young or too old reasonably to become a parent, and the woman especially must consider that her fertility will typically be in swift decline past about age 35.

  2. avatar toni says:

    LW1: protect your son! Do NOT allow unsupervised ‘play’ time w the other child. Your son told you this for a reason. Protect him. Btw that 8 yr old told your son for a reason too. And that reason was an interest in show and don’t tell.

    • avatar mac13 says:

      How did you deduce the reason the kid told her son. It could easily have been he was wanting to get an opinion of how wrong the oral sex was. If he has been exposed to it for awhile, he might be trying to find out if it is normal or is he needs to complain to his parents. I get the feeling the kid will have a tough life ahead of him if he doesn’t get help. I agree she needs to protect her son, but don’t put ill motives on an already abused boy.

    • avatar Priscilla L says:

      Toni, you are wrong. I was molested when I was a child, and I told another child what happened to me. I told her, not because I wanted to molest her, but because I was freaked out and scared by what had happened to me. 

      It is probable that “Sam” is also feeling scared and confused and he told the LW’s son what happened because he didn’t feel safe telling anyone in his own family.  

      I agree that the LW should protect her son from the molestor, and furthermore, she should take steps to protect “Sam”too. But your accusation against “Sam”, who is a VICTIM, is unkind and frankly, ignorant.  

  3. avatar Janice Haines says:

    LW1-I disagree with the advice that the LW’s son isn’t in danger.    I wonder if the other child was mentioning the oral sex because he wanted to do this to the son, and if the brother or someone is molesting the other child then you son is in danger whenever he’s out of your sight around this other kid or his relatives.     I would tell the mother, and when she ignores it, or minimizes it then I would call CPS.    And it would be a cold day in hell that my child would be around the other kids, they would be on my property, or anyone of them would have access to my child for a single second.   Someone is molesting the child, and if it’s the brother he learned it somewhere too, and it could very possibly be at home.      You need to protect your child now.

  4. avatar americanabroad says:

    I COMPLETELY disagree with Margo (a rarity) in regards to the safety of LW#1’s son.  To echo what is shaping up to be popular sentiment, your son is not safe.  While it does speak well of your son to recognize wrong behaviour and come tell you about it, it does nothing to protect him.  As clever, understanding and reasonable he might seem, he is only 7.  You need to step in and protect him now- he is not equiped to deal with the situation.  Yes, it might be difficult and uncomfortable for you to address your concerns with the boy’s mother, but it needs to happen ASAP.  She needs to hear it to protect her own sons (and get them whatever treatment they might need, that is, if she’s willing to take on board what you are saying).  At the same time, explain that you can no longer allow your child to play with his friend.  Yes, your son might be heartbroken that he can’t play with his friend any longer, but would you really want to take the risk?  It’s too late once something happens.

    • avatar Lila says:

      “… explain that you can no longer allow your child to play with his friend.”  I disagree.  Protect, yes.  Supervise, yes.  Forbid play at the neighbor’s house, yes.  But not just shutting that kid out, when he is a victim who hasn’t done anything to the LW’s child, other than reveal that he has been victimized.
      Like Malasha writes, the LW’s son may think “I told the truth and now I can’t play with my friend.”  Something else he might learn from that:  “Don’t be friends with victims.”
      How about what the victim might conclude?  “I told someone what happened to me, and now no one will be my friend.”  So molestation at home makes one a playground pariah as well.  Better cover that up and never tell anyone again.  If I tell a teacher, will I not be allowed to come to school?  If I tell a coach, will I be kicked off the team?  If I tell anyone else, will I lose my other friends?  Will I end up in foster care? 
      Cut off the kid’s friendship in response to his revelation, and he won’t reveal anything else.  Cut off the kid’s avenues to the outside world of normalcy, and he’s trapped.

      • avatar bright eyes says:

        I agree with you Lila- talk with your son about what is going on. Explain to him that it’s not right and that if something like that happens to him (preferably before it happens) and that it’s not right. Have the kid over and do supervise but allow the child to play with your son. Supervise so that if something inappropriate is said, then you can intervene and talk with the kid. (from what little I know) Most kids who suffer abuse are isolated from their friends and from people so that they won’t tell. You need to establish a safe place for this kid to go so that if nothing is done – either by talking with the mother or by calling CPS, then he will at least have a safe place to go to. And it may be heartbreaking for the Mother to listen to (if something is really going on) but she can document times, places, etc if nothing is done by calling CPS and her son is still allowed contact with the other child – then you have proof enough to go back to CPS. 

    • avatar boisguilbert says:

      americanabroad, I agree with what you say. The LW’s son is not safe.  He should be kept away from his erstwhile playmate.  Period.

  5. avatar jlou says:

    I have to disagree with Margo on letter 1. The neighbor is being molested in his home. Telling his mother, who may be aware, will give the family time to close ranks. The boy has admitted molestation in the home – call CPS now! To do otherwise is unconscionable. He has cried out for help – so help him!

  6. avatar Malasha Martinez says:

    For LW 1. Tell the mother and call CPS if she downplays. As for all the people who say cut of your childs interaction with this child I think that may be the wrong approach. Children can be very concrete thinkers at this age even when they are as intelligent as your child is. If you completely cut off the relationship your son may think I told the truth and lost my friend and he may not trust you with the truth anymore. Instead I think supervised play is the better option. Only have the child come over to your house and they don’t play in your son’s room. Also talk to your son and let him know he did the right thing. Children should also be taught there bodies are their own and no one should be touching them without their permission, that even means if he does not want to hug grandma they don’t have to.

    Start talking to your son about sex before he continues to learn from inappropriate sources as he has already started to. There are plentyo f books at the public library that can get you started. I know there are people who equate ignorance and innocence but I think you child learning through you or books would protect his innocence more than his learning through a molestation or inappropriate sexual play. Knowledge is power and it is up to you to provide your child with the tools he needs.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Malasha, I think you have a good point – the kids are only 7 and 8, so they are likely to misinterpret the adults’ reactions.  Also – the neighbor boy needs some outside friends, a view of what other families are like, and some refuge from whatever might be going on at home.  Supervised play will give him that. 
      I’d like to tell the LW not to cut this child off and abandon him just because something happened to him.  That’s victimizing him twice. 
      Although – if the LW ends up calling CPS and the neighbors realize who it was, they would probably forbid their child from playing with the LW’s son anyway.

    • avatar boisguilbert says:

      Malasha, your advice to the LW that she should start talking to her son is good.  When my son and daughter were in elementary school, my father-in-law sent my husband and me some books from a source styled “The Life-Cycle Library,” which described various matters involving sex, reproduction, et cetera.  I don’t know if the books are still available, but you should be able to find excellent sources on the subject.  Ask a physician or a librarian for advice.

  7. avatar Malasha Martinez says:

    Sorry “cut off”  not cut of

  8. avatar harmer says:

    Wow, you know you’re on the Internet too much when. LW #2 posted this exact question on a totally unrelated website I frequent…

    • avatar boisguilbert says:

      Margo’s column appears in more than one site.  What is your “totally unrelated website?” 

      • avatar harmer says:

        It wasn’t in a Dear Margo article on another site; I’m not an idiot. For the sake of the privacy of LW2, I’m not going to disclose the other website.

  9. avatar Karin Smith says:

    LW1: Like several others have said, do not let your son play unsupervised at Sam’s house; there is clearly something unhealthy going on there, and since you have no way of knowing who is responsible and whether or not the parents are enabling, it’s best to keep your son safe and away from that house.

    Also, I think the best course of action is to contact the police, find out who you need to contact to report a claim of sexual abuse, and set up an in-person meeting with you, your son, and the officer/social worker/whoever. Double-check and make SURE ahead of time that the person taking the report is qualified/specialized to work with children, because you don’t want your son to be traumatized by being questioned by someone who doesn’t know how to work with kids.

    Finally, I completely disagree with Margo’s statement that she doubts that Sam has “unfettered access to porn”. If, at age 8, he is the youngest of three boys, it is very likely that an older brother already has access to porn (today’s kids are EXTREMELY computer savvy), which is how Sam has become exposed to that kind of sexuality. With the proliferation of porn online and its relatively easy access, an increasing number of boys are becoming addicted to porn and sex; one of the main symptoms is re-enacting what they see. If the older brother access pornography and showed it to Sam, that would explain why Sam performed (willingly or not) a sex act on his sibling.  This behavior needs to be stopped for the entire family’s sake.

  10. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Margo’s advice. You must say something, however awkward and unpleasant it will be. Good luck.

    L #2: Have you asked him why the sudden change of heart? What occurred on that weekend trip home (apart from you) which prompted this change in him? Was there a birth in his family he went to celebrate, or perhaps he bonded with a niece or nephew? I hope you guys can sort this out.

  11. avatar mabel says:

    Holy moley! How much older are Sam’s older brothers??? If there’s more than a year or so age difference there is almost certainly some element of coercion here! This parent ought to place an anoymous call to social services and, without adding any interpretation or speculation, just tell them what your son told you! Even if the brothers are about the same age, an 8-year-old shouldn’t be having that kind of contact with ANYBODY! If what he said is true, there desperately needs to be an intervention! And if what he said isn’t true and social workers descend on the house to interview everybody in the family, that’s not your fault. Any child who would make up these kinds of stories for attention probably has serious issues that would benefit from professional help, so either way you’re probably getting the kid the kind of assistance he desparately needs. And do NOT send your son over there to play. There’s an older brother who’s a potential predator, and often young kids who are victims of sexual abuse proceed to abuse other kids! I normally adore Margo, but I think her response should have been quite a bit more forceful on this.

    P.S. I had a couple of childhood playmates in my neighborhood (from a “nice” family who lived in a “nice” house) who told me around this age that they had this kind of contact with their father. I thought they were making it up and never told anyone. A couple of years later they and their buddies held me against my will out in the woods and made me strip for them, and they only let me go without doing anything worse because the younger brother was so clearly uncomfortable with it – although they later went around bragging that they had sexually assaulted me. Looking back, all the pieces fit together all too well, and I suspect that what they said about their father was probably true. DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD PLAY UNSUPERVISED WITH A CHILD WHO MIGHT BE GETTING MOLESTED. Just don’t do it!

    • avatar mabel says:

      P.S. Skip talking to the mother. I would guess than 90% of mothers would refuse to believe something like that about one of their kids. Let an unbiased 3rd party (i.e. social services) figure out what’s true and what’s not.

  12. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1: Insist that Sam and your son play at your place only, and be sure to ask Sam what this hip thrusting is all about. Tell the mother. Depending on her response, call CPS and get input from that agency on how to proceed without naming names. Think twice about naming those names. You have no idea what kind of retaliation might be in store for you or your son. Do these boys go to the same school? Consider alerting school authorities.  

    • avatar mabel says:

      This is why I would recommend she go straight to CPS. If you tell the mother and she responds badly and you call CPS she’s going to know who called. If you call them first you can stay anonymous.  

      • avatar sandra b says:

        Who cares if she knows who called. I would talk to her and if she blew me off I would pretty much tell her that she left me with no choice but call CPS.

      • avatar chuck alien says:

        oh no!  and take responsibility for my actions?!?  deal with the people involved like… people?!?   NEVER!!!!

  13. avatar mmht says:

    LW#1:  I am COMPLETELY FLOORED by Margo’s response to this letter.  Yes, tell the mother, if she doesn’t believe you there isn’t anything you can do about that.  As for your child DO NOT allow him in that household.  Margo’s belief that because he’s telling you means he won’t be molested is so beyond illogical.  Children aren’t molested because they don’t understand what is happening is wrong, they are molested because a PREDATOR is forcing them into these acts.  The brother is a predator and if he’s doing to his brother then there is a chance he could do it to your son.  Allow Sam over at your house but his house is off limits to your son.  Period.  And, let his mother know this when you tell her what your son told you.