Wendz’s post today decided me. For various reasons, not least Dandelion's question as to whether I think young people now have it harder than in the past (still a post in draft Dandelion, sorry, I should just post it and be damned), this incident has been in my mind. I haven't told anyone until now and still know that I'm breaking a confidence and hope that, by changing a few unimportant details, anonymity is preserved.
It was just before Christmas, two years ago. My young friend, the daughter of friends too, was thirteen. We chatted sometimes online, and for the couple of days, I had known that something was on her mind. Delicately, I asked what was the matter. A pause. "Oh, nothing really. Just a stupid pregnancy scare, it's all right now."
Thirteen, remember. We 'talked' for probably a couple of hours. I asked if she was sure she wasn't pregnant, no she wasn't, but had convinced herself she couldn't be. I asked what had happened.
She had visited a friend's house, and a number of other teenagers were there. The parents were out and the kids were drinking. She had got off with a sixteen-year-old boy from school, lots of them were kissing, it got heavier... I was asking personal questions I wasn't comfortable with, with a child who was not my own, but she wanted to confide and I wanted her to face it, acknowledge it to herself and (I hoped) practice telling an adult. He was putting his fingers inside her, then he got semen on his fingers and put them back in her.
I did wonder if she was letting imagination take her here, so asked some specific questions. The answers rang true. Simple, descriptive, how it felt.
I told her that it was not likely she was pregnant from what she had said, but if she was anxious then it was not too late for the morning-after pill. I asked her to talk to her parents or, if she felt she couldn't, to go to the school nurse. A weekly drop-in clinic had recently started, for advice, chat or whatever was needed for students who did not want to go to the doctor. She said that she had been able to cope with writing it down, but talking, face to face, was impossible.
I felt in a real quandary. I knew that I should not keep it secret, but it was such a delicate position that telling her parents could do more harm than good. Breaking her trust would be seen as a betrayal and I hoped that telling me would be the first step to taking responsibility for her actions.
I advised her again to tell a nurse and to talk to her parents. I told her that she must not risk drinking alcohol away from home. With her parents' permission, it was all right at home as she would learn how it affects her. It alters judgement, so that one does not realise one is going too far until it is really hard to stop, and this goes for the boy as well as the girl. Boys are obsessed with sex, I told her, they can't help it. He knew well that he should stop, and it was appalling that he hadn't - and illegal, too, he was guilty of assault, at least - but her judgment was impaired too. She hadn't asked him to stop. I asked if she felt she loved him? No, she liked him but that was all. Afterwards, he'd walked her home, held her hand, been really sweet to her.
I still don't know if I should have done more. She did promise to take my advice, and also to consider talking to her parents. I was going away in a week's time, to spend three weeks in India, and Christmas was in between - at least, I knew, she would be busy with family things for the holidays and she promised to email me if she needed to talk. What I did not do was raise the subject of contraception at all. I strongly felt that this could encourage her to think that it was all right, that I might be condoning this happening again.
So, why did this happen to this child, with loving, united parents, who was cared for and treasured? I'm afraid that I think that it was because she had been encouraged to grow up too fast. She takes acting and dancing classes, she is poised, attractive and outgoing but, actually, it's a cover for quite low self-esteem, common to most teenage girls. She is smiling, charming, eager to please. She wears, and wore even then, very short skirts, low-cut cropped tops, makeup, had an expensive haircut - you might know she was thirteen, but you would still take her for sixteen or more. She does not dress tartily, but quite provocatively. Her mother, as far as I'd ever seen, wanted to be her friend and encouraged her. She loved having an attractive, popular daughter. Her father, a kind man, imposed the household rules but assumed that if his wife approved the clothes, they must be all right.
A while later, I asked if things were okay. She told me they were, but didn't take it further. Later again, her father and I had a chat. She had confided in him and his wife. They had talked it through and (he wasn't specific) agreed some sort of ground rules - largely, this seems to consist of her being honest. Also, she has stopped drinking, even at home. She still dresses the same way, but I guess this becomes less outrageous as she gets older. She has, at present, an elaborately dyed and layered hairstyle that is, actually, very attractive but must have cost a fortune and is way OTT for a fifteen-year-old.
I think it is a shame that she was encouraged, in various ways, to behave beyond her years or her capability to control. Her nice, polite, middle class background made it harder - if she was tougher, streetwise, assertive, she would have been more able, perhaps, to tell the boy to shove off and not abuse her. She is not alone, I know other girls like her. She has so many material things and, thank goodness, she seems to be coping with things reasonably well now, for which I credit her father. But the modern age does these children no favours at all.