Jake and I had to have a talk just the other day.
He loves girls, especially blondes. He thinks girls are a wonder of nature, which they are. They are especially mysterious to 14 year old boys. I’m 38, and I still haven’t begun to crack the code.
He has what I would consider a typical biological and age-appropriate response to girls – he gets awkward around them, he gets a little tongue-tied, and it makes him behave stupidly; just like any other 14 year old. Where the difference comes in is that he hasn’t developed the sense of shame and/or caution that a “normal” (I hate that word) teenager has. He claims girls as his wife. He tells them he loves them. It’s made the occasional girl uncomfortable.
He hasn’t crossed the line into sexualized behavior. There’s been no overt leering, no groping or touching, no inappropriate comments – thank God. He did cross a line the other night, and I’m not sure my discussion with him afterwards got anywhere. To be honest, I always think that in the short term, and it’s only after multiple repetitions and variations on a theme before he really “gets” life lessons. Here’s what happened.
He videotaped a girl at the beach, and uploaded the video to his YouTube channel. It was a short clip, but he zoomed in on her bottom with her unaware. Thankfully we’re not complete tech-idiots, and keep close tabs on our kids’ web activity. The instant he completed his upload, Beth got an alert on her iPad. She clicked over to preview his video. She didn’t like it. We immediately deleted it and I went upstairs to tell him that we had, and to tell him why.
Beth would have gone with me, but she’s still crippled from our mountain trip. That has little bearing on the story, but like any good husband, I’m trying not to pass up a chance to mock her during her time of suffering. 😉
I went upstairs and called Jake away from Gabe so we could have some privacy. I told him that I’d just deleted his video. “Good,” he said. He was looking away from me for most of our man-to-man, but this comes with the territory, anyway. He certainly knew I was serious, probably because of my tone, but I had a heck of a time explaining to him that he wasn’t necessarily in “trouble,” but that he couldn’t do things like that. I tried my best to explain to him that it’s okay to think girls are pretty and want to look at them, but that it’s NEVER okay to film them (especially without their permission), let alone post it to YouTube. He mumbled some sort of agreement, and deleted the video from his device and from his ‘deleted’ folder without me telling him to. What a weird rule: you can look at girls, provided you don’t make it obvious; and only briefly. No staring. They don’t like that.
I tried to tell him that I was once 13/14, and know exactly where he is coming from. He got fixated on the fact that I’m 38, missing the point. Like I said before, he’s not been inappropriate, and hasn’t flashed himself, or masturbated on the lawn, or groped anyone … yet. I know these things happen, and have talked with other parents about the social stories they’ve had to create surrounding these sorts of impulses and behaviors. Think about how complex explaining private vs. public, and when you’re allowed to touch yourself, to a kid with Jake’s level of understanding. The subtle nuances of love, lust, crushes, and keeping tabs on your body’s ever-changing reactions to them is a challenge every young teen faces. We have been blessedly spared from facing this head on in the past, but I’m imagining how much worse it will be as we pass through this summer and into high school. Many of the girls he sees over the next three months will be less than fully clothed, and those he sees at high school will all be older, and likely more developed than the ones he’s been hanging around with in middle school.
He has enough trouble with friendships and relationships now. If he gets labeled the ‘pervy kid,’ we’re in big trouble.
As I sit before my keyboard and reflect, I guess the plan is to keep handling things as they come, with social stories as necessary, and with a healthy dose of perspective and humor. It’s worked so far. Any advice from someone who’s been here is always welcome.
Why even bring it up, you may ask? A reader had asked me to share some of the aspects of autism that nobody sees. Everyone deals with sexuality with their kids, though maybe on different levels. I knew enough not to blab to my parents and sister about every girl I thought was cute. I also knew not to tell the girl! Jake doesn’t have that filter.