Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.
How to deal with 21YO male relative around 11 and 13 YO DD's...(38 Posts)
Where to start? Long post – sorry. And have name-changed for this.
I have 2DD’s, 11 and 13.
My cousin is a similar age to me and she has a son, aged 21. Let’s call him Lucas. He has some additional needs – think Aspergers – so is socially awkward. This may or may not be relevant. My cousin is always keen to encourage – almost micromanage - her son to have a social life, right from when he was quite young, and I think part of this was from her seeing that he was awkward socially.
He works, drives, but has few friends locally, if at all. They all seem to be online friends - which I appreciate is a thing.
Anyhow, as a family, my DD’s see my cousin on a regular basis – think days out to local attractions etc, and coffees when passing the house etc.
This is really hard to say, but I am becoming concerned about the way Lucas acts around my DD’s. For someone who is generally quite withdrawn he interacts with them physically in a way I have not seen him do with anyone else. Granted, I may not see him too regularly but I have known him all his life.
Things I have been concerned about:
1)For example, at a family get together at Easter the “youngsters” – Lucas, my 2 and some other family kids - were in the snug playing computer games and Lucas had DD2 sat on his knee, bouncing them up and down. This made me uncomfortable and I said something along the lines of “come on, don’t be bothering Lucas” and he said “oh I don’t mind”. I had to insist to get DD2 off his knee. Later I went back in and he had DD1 on his knee. The same thing happened. They were then not left alone again as we all went to eat and then they never went back into the snug.
2)He plays tickle and rough-houses with them. We were at home a month ago and as soon as DD’s walked in the room he started poking them in the ribs and “tip-tapping” with them. Again this made me uncomfortable. I said “leave Lucas alone” and one of my DD’s replied that “he had started it” so I said “perhaps Lucas wants to stop doing it then as a grown up”. It did stop but he wandered off and said “I don’t know why I am here”. I don’t know if this is because I made him feel awkward or if I had correctly called him out.
3)On an another occasion Lucas was stood behind DD1 and with his arms crossed in front of her, his head on her head and his hands touching the tops of her arms. Again, very uncomfortable as hands so near her chest. I took the same approach saying to Lucas / DD’s that as a grown up Lucas might want to stop leaning on DD.
4)My cousin has suggested taking my DD’s to another local attraction in the New Year. There is nothing there to interest a 21 man IMO, but my cousin has said that Lucas would also like to go, and I heard him say that. Part of me thinks that is very odd, part thinks my cousin is trying to organise Lucas again. I am not keen on them going now but they know all about it. This I think is the ticking time bomb (as I can manage Christmas).
Writing them down, I have come to the conclusion that it does not matter what his intentions / motivations are. He may be immature, he may have boundary issues, he maybe a lot worse. HOWEVER his behaviour around my children makes me (and my husband) uncomfortable. In fact me and DH sat down at the same time after incident 2 and said we were concerned. They have not seen Lucas since so we have not addressed it (how on earth to do it?)
How do I manage this? We are going to see Lucas over Christmas. I have no doubt that he will start rough-housing. My DD’s like it, they are active kids.
In the first instance I want to have a word with my DD’s about boundaries. We are quite open as a family talking about sex, consent, feminism, equality etc. That all seems ok in theory, but it looks to me that they are not applying some of the boundary stuff to the relationship with Lucas. Once I say something though, like ”I do not like the way Lucas does xyz”, or “do not sit on his knee or tickle him or let him lean on you from behind and put his arms around your shoulders”, are they going to link that with me thinking he is possible predatory.
I do not know how that will affect how they behave around my cousin (who I love very much), or Lucas.
I am worried about losing the relationship with my cousin if I have to sit down and say to her I do not like the way your adult son touches my pre-teen and teen girls. That’s never going to go well is it.
On the other hand, my DD’s are the absolute priority.
Has anybody been through this / had the same thoughts about a family member?
Any ideas on where to start?
And I absolutely will be making sure there will be no unsupervised access to the DD’s over Christmas.
This is very tricky and I don't envy you. Even if we take the view that the 21yo has no sinister intentions and and just doesn't understand boundaries, he definitely needs to be corrected. I just don't know if it should, or can, be by you.
You say you love your cousin so I assume you're close. Can you speak to her about it? There's a big gap between your kids so it might be that she sees them as 'the little ones' - maybe take the angle that they're getting older so quickly now, starting and going through puberty, that you're keen to get them to take a more grown up role in family occasions and you're also teaching them about respect and safety. Ask if she and her son can take an active role in this and explain how.
I'm just wondering if it might be easier to ask for her and the 21yo's help in enforcing boundaries, rather than saying he's the reason you need to do it.
Again, this is assuming he has no ill intentions. I had a older relative with Downs who - in hindsight - acted quite oddly with us as young teens, but I honestly think he thought of us as his friends and just behaved as if he was 12 too.
If you think he has other reasons for doing as he does, I guess that's a different conversation!
It sounds like he really doesn't understand personal space and boundaries.
It might be an idea to try 'Circles' with him. In each colour category it tells you what behaviour is acceptable. So for example in 'yellow' a handshake is appropriate and a hug is not. In 'blue' we can hug and kiss on the cheek.
You can make your own and put specific people in specific categories.
I use this with DS who has Autism.
It also sounds like his mother still views him as a child rather than an adult.
Hopefully it's nothing sinister but he really needs to learn appropriate behaviour to protect himself as well as others.
I would talk to his mum. If he has SN, he is not like your average 21 year old - it sounds like he has a limited understanding of physical boundaries.
DS has asperger's and although he's still a child, I've had to have many conversations with him about personal space - he had a circle on the floor in carpet time when he was in reception which he had to stay inside to stop him touching anyone!
He has got a lot better as he's got older but still needs reminding. I have no problem at all with other adults telling him that he needs to back off either - he doesn't understand the rules so has to have them (repeatedly) explained to him.
She's not doing him any favours by not dealing with it.
How very difficult for you. As you say, your DDs are your priority, and their emerging sexuality needs careful handling, especially around this young man. TBH if you and your DH feel unhappy about this then it is likely that all is not well. You have talked with your DDs about what is and is not appropriate but they may apply those rules differently to someone they know so well, who is part of the family and whom they have known for their whole lives.
I suspect that your only way forward is to talk to your cousin - I know you are taking a bit of a risk of alienating her, but if she has any love for your DDs she will understand your concerns. It does however seem that she continues to treat Lucas as a child, so it might take a bit of difficult discussion for her to be more aware - for her it involves both an awareness of her son's adulthood and a willingness to protect your DDs.
What a conundrum for you and your OH. We cannot get away from the fact that a sexually mature male (whose sexual outlets are likely to be limited by his social awkwardness and lack of friends) jiggling a developing adolescent girl around on his lap does not sound appropriate.
I really think that your only way forward is to find some tactful way of broaching this with your cousin. When it comes down to it, if you lose her trust and friendship it is better than a problem arising with one of your DDs, who as you say are your priority. I wish you lots of good luck in sorting this out.
No personal experience but I think I would talk to my daughters. Explain to them that a person with aspergers will not have appropriate boundaries all of the time so it'd be better if they behave with him as they would any other older male (maybe use some other acquaintance or relative as an example).
My brother is a similar age to Lucas, same SEN and same issues with boundaries. There is nothing sinister in it at all, so assuming that is the case in your situation too, it's just a case of repeatedly 'teaching' correct boundaries.
My brother will come up behind me if I'm sitting down, or DS who is shorter than him and rest his head on my head and hand on my shoulders for example. All it needs is a kind but firm 'DB, you're in my hula hoop.' This is something we introduced to help DD understand personal space (another aspie) and has worked with him too. You just imagine everybody has their own personal hula hoop around them, and similar to pp's image above, discuss when it's ok to enter somebody else's and when it's not.
He doesn't want to make anybody feel uncomfortable, but socially he's never really progressed beyond a young child so just needs reminding regularly.
I think it helps to recognise his emotional and social maturity levels. Of course, if your gut says there is more to it than this then that is an entirely different issue.
My older cousin sexually abused me in public. Don't let that happen to your dds. A disability label is absolutely no excuse
Thanks for replies so far.
One of my DDs has additional needs as well - ADHD and sensory issues - so I totally get that her behaviour looks odd to people sometimes (not ref Lucas, just generally), hence trying to give the benefit of the doubt so far.
But, like blossom says the priority needs to be my DDs.
I think it might need to be a multi pronged attack. I like the idea of saying Lucas might struggle with his boundaries. That means if I then need to say something over Christmas to Lucas my DDs will understand the context. I hope.
As for talking to my cousin, I really don't know yet. One of her other children was abused by a slightly older child when he was 8 and that is still very painful for her. To effectively raise those potential concerns about Lucas would be tough.
For a start, you maybe need to accept that your relationship with your cousin will change, but that it's a sacrifice you're willing to make for your daughters.
Second, you can talk to them about how Lukas doesn't always understand things the same as other people, so sometimes he doesn't act appropriately. It is NOT their job to control his behaviour, but they can think about whether they'd be happy about another adult male behaving with them the way he does, and if they want to say no to him. Part of the problem is, that even if he is being totally innocent, they are becoming used to this behaviour from an adult male.
People on the spectrum can be years behind emotionally and socially, but even a 15 year old male wouldn't behave like this normally, so you do need to say something. You probably need to talk to either Lukas or your cousin, and say that they need to remember how old your DDs are now, and that this isn't how people their age behave, so you would like it to change. That both Lukas and your DDs need to learn how to behave in a more adult way which doesn't involve so much physical contact. If they were all a group of 14 year olds behaving like this I would say it was fairly normal, but I would bet that they fancied each other and would be acting like this as an excuse for physical contact.
I teach 11 - 18 year olds, have a daughter on the spectrum and have years of teaching kids on the spectrum as well. Yes, I have seen some (but not many) inappropriate touching, but they are just told 'that isn't socially OK' or 'people don't hug each other that much' and hands removed etc. It doesn't have to be about sexual predators, it can just be about social norms, which we all teach our children.
Bouncing on knee is not something DCs do in normal play in me experience.
Has he physically developed, body hair etc. If so then I would suspect it is not innocent play but also he might be unable to understand the accepted boundaries- if his DPs are ignoring then it's not fair on him.
I also think saying directly to Lucas in a non confrontational way that I would prefer that x y and z didn't happen could help.
A) if all innocent then it gives him a steer re interacting with DDs
B) if more sinister then it's a heads up that we are aware of and observing behaviour.
Difficult one. I wonder whether it's possible for you to encourage your DDs to speak up if Lucas is making them uncomfortable - I know as an 11/13 year old I wouldn't necessarily have spoken up in that situation, so if you let them know that it's fine for them to tell him to back off that might help?
We had a similar situation in our family with an older male relative. No SEN (that I know of); he'd just never spent much time around teenage girls and simply hadn't realised that comments / physical contact that was fine for a 5 year old was not so appropriate when they were 15! We handled it by the adults redirecting the conversation (and giving the girls an easy 'escape route') and his brother having a tactful word later on.
kickass - absolutely they are not responsible for his behaviour so it's being very careful how I say to them he might have an issue with boundaries. If I say don't let him do x y and z that could make them feel it is their responsibility then and that's a whole other issue re victim blaming etc
I am so sorry to hear that
And yes he is physically mature, beard etc
One of her other children was abused by a slightly older child when he was 8 and that is still very painful for her. To effectively raise those potential concerns about Lucas would be tough.
You're not raising potential concerns about abuse though are you? Your concerns are around boundaries and appropriate behaviour.
Yes but ultimately inappropriate behaviour and boundaries could be part of a bigger picture that includes an abuse situation.
I know she will make that link very quickly. Hence the difficulty in handling the situation.
My older cousin acted very inappropriately towards me when I was younger. I didn't think much of it at the time and luckily my mum stepped in. He is currently in jail for sexually abusing his step-daughter.
I'm not saying this is the same as your situation but listen to your instincts and look after your girls. He may or may not have any sinister intentions but better safe than sorry!
Not their responsibility maybe but we can't control our children's environment all of the time so it's better to arm them with confidence and teach what is and isn't acceptable so they can protect themselves.
I was sexually abused starting at age 11 by a 23 year old family member, (not SEN) sometimes in front of family members and my parents. At that age I didn't necessarily feel uncomfortable about him as I really liked him and thought he was fun. SEN does not stop a young man having sexual feelings so if I were you I would insist that your cousin addresses this issue for his sake as well as any young girls he comes into contact with.
As someone with friends who have Aspergers and other difficulties I do feel you.
Gut reaction? He likes it. Not necessarily sexually and even if so, he's not meaning to. Not having the usual social understanding he doesn't realise it's inappropriate, he just likes the feelings or brings.
I would be just honest. Straight forward, non emotional talk works best.
"the girls are getting a bit older now and I don't think it's appropriate to be tickling anymore. You are an adult and they are still children."
I don't expect he is trying to do anything untoward but I do also know someone with CP and other needs who abused his niece and a few others.
I think it's a difficult one.
You sound sensible to be cautious in case here. I have a relative with aspergers and he doesn't always gauge personal space and used to try to pick our DC up past an age when they were happy to be lifted but otherwise has a very healthy relationship with each of us and I'm not ever worried and the DC love him too.
The things you mention raise concern though and personally I wouldn't leave them with him alone any more but I admire how you've spoken to your girls already. I'd also ask to have a word with him as lightly as possible but just to remind him of expected behaviour.
And I hope you all have a lovely Christmas together and that the issue disappears
She (or is it they - is his dad also in the picture?) are being very unfair if they are sensitive about potential abuse. I suspect this is totally innocent but it has the potential to not be viewed as such and it could get him into a lot of trouble. If he behaved like this to a friend of one of your DD's for example or a colleague, it could get him into a lot of trouble.
Unfortunately boys with SN are viewed as predatory even if they're not by many people - odd behaviour in girls is just odd, whereas with boys, people are very quick to jump to sinister conclusions.
You have to talk to the parents - if they're people you like and respect, then I don't think you have a choice.
Tricky conversation that you are about to have with your cousin about her Lucas, then, I assume. About his personal space. And the dd's - their space.
That is of course if 21yo has mild autism traits and nothing else. If he has additional needs I'd speak to his Mum. Is she defensive in relation to his behaviour?
Has your cousin witnessed any of this? What does/would she say? I was in a similar position with dds play fighting with a family member and relied on his partner to say, hey that's enough now, which fortunately she did.
My dds are a similar age to yours and I would definitely have a now you're getting older talk with them.
I would directly say that it is not appropriate to play with so and so like that any more. Not in a way that blames them but let them know the boundaries and that you will be on hand to support them and sort it out if necessary.
I would also supervise things a lot more. Teenagers playing in a snug with a 21 year old man is not on. Don't let the situation arise.
It would be ideal to talk to your cousin but you would have to be brave I think.
I would probably avoid situations where he was going to have the opportunity to behave like this. If it means you don't see each other much for a few years so be it.
Join the discussion
Please login first.