Q: My 7-year-old recently had his 9-year-old friend over to spend the night. At their request, I let them take a bubble bath together. I supervised, of course. They had fun squirting one another with water pistols, throwing bubbles at one another, and pretending to swim. They were having so much fun I took a photo. Later, I showed it to a “friend.” She became angry and told me that letting two boys that age take a bath together and then taking a photo of them bordered on pedophilia. She threatened to report me to the authorities. Do you agree with her?
A: The fact that pedophiles might enjoy looking at a photo of two young boys taking a bath together does not mean that a responsible adult who allows that and takes a photo of the ensuing fun has done something morally wrong. Motive is everything. In this instance, several considerations are relevant:
1. You were not motivated by prurient inclinations. That’s a reasonable assumption, given that you showed the photo to another responsible person.
2. The boys’ request to bathe together was not motivated by inappropriate intent. Children do not announce to adults their intention to do what they know is wrong.
3. The children did not object to your supervision. That’s further evidence they were not attempting to do something they knew was inappropriate.
4. Nothing about your description of the boys’ behavior suggests anything more than two boys wanting to have some childish fun. That there are still completely innocent children in the world is rather refreshing to know.
5. I’m assuming, again, that the photo in question was not “revealing.” Bubbles would have effectively prevented the photo from being salacious.
With all of that in mind, your friend’s reaction to the photo was a tad over the top. Nonetheless, it is understandable given that general awareness of and sensitivity to the issue of sexual exploitation of children has risen significantly in the last thirty years or so. That sensitivity is not, however, equally distributed throughout the population. Some folks are sensitive to the point of being unable to make reasonable distinctions. Despite good intentions, they conflate apples and oranges. (By the way, wrongful accusations of child abuse not only hurt those wrongfully accused, they also have the potential of doing significant emotional harm to the children in question.)
Having said all that, I would have advised you not to let the boys take a bath together, even if the other boy had called his parents and they had given permission directly to you over the phone. One cannot be too cautious about such things these days, especially given that when investigating reports of child sexual abuse the default position of many child protective service agencies is to assume guilt. Whether that’s generally good or bad can be argued, but it is what it is.
In short, assuming you are representing the situation accurately, you are definitely guilty of a lapse of common sense, but nothing more.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.