Best Friends and Mistakes – A Teaching Story From Kidpower
Written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director
Personal safety for children includes knowing what to do when your best friend acts unsafely. This story is from The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, a tremendous resource for protecting children from abuse, bullying, kidnapping, and other violence.
The purpose of this teaching story is to help children integrate information about boundaries on touch and to prepare them in case they forget like Penny did. It also reminds them that it is never too late to get help.
Important! This is an interactive story, where you encourage children to nod or shake their heads to answer questions and make room for their ideas. Make sure no one you are reading to has the names of the children in the story. You can act out the conversations with the mom or dad at the end with another person
We’re learning a lot of ways to be safe, but it can be hard to remember these rules in real life. Once a girl who learned Kidpower went to her best friend’s house for an overnight. We do not use the real names of our students, so we will call her Penny, and her friend, Kerry.
Have any of you stayed overnight at a friend’s house? [Raise your hand and wait for children to raise their hands]. Penny and Kerry decided to stay awake after Kerry’s parents told them to go to sleep. Have any of you ever stayed up after adults told you to go to sleep? [Raise your hand and wait for children to raise their hands.]
After everybody was asleep, Kerry said to Penny, “I’m hungry! Let’s go sneak some chips from the kitchen!” Have any of you ever snuck treats when you weren’t supposed to? [Raise your hand and wait for children to raise their hands] Then Kerry said, “Let’s go watch something on the computer. I just found a movie for grownups that I know we’re not supposed to see. OK?”
Penny thought this sounded exciting and said, “OK!” even though she knew it was against the rules. She felt like grownups make too many rules! Do any of you ever feel like there are too many rules? [Raise your hand and wait for children to raise their hands.] Have any of you ever broken rules on purpose? [Raise your hand and wait for children to raise their hands.]
Anyway, while they were snuggled together eating chips and watching the movie, Penny started to feel uncomfortable about what she was seeing. She thought, “This is gross. But I don’t want Kerry to think I’m a baby! And what do adults know anyway!” So she said nothing. Have any of you ever not wanted your friends to think you were a baby? [Raise your hand and wait for children to raise their hands.]
Suddenly, Kerry started touching Penny between her legs in her private area. Penny was shocked. She thought, “This is my best friend. I don’t want her to get mad at me. But I’m starting to feel real bad! And I already broke a lot of rules. Being up late, sneaking the chips, watching the movie. I can’t stop now. And who could I talk to? I don’t know Kerry’s parents that well. They might get mad at me.”
Penny was so confused that she just waited and did nothing. What other choices did Penny have?[Let the children answer. If they get stuck, prompt them.] Could she tell Kerry to stop? Would Kerry be a good friend to get mad at Penny if she says to stop? If you make one mistake, should you keep on making mistakes? Could Penny call home? Even in the middle of the night? Check with your parents so that you know someone you can always call if you have a problem, even in the middle of the night.
Penny felt so upset about what happened that she pushed it out of her mind. It took a lot of work, but every time the memory came up, she made herself forget. Have you ever made yourself forget things you felt bad about? [Raise your hand and wait for children to raise their hands.]
About a week later, Penny had a bad dream. She woke up and said to herself, “Oh, no, that wasn’t just a dream. It really happened! I broke all my safety rules. I feel like such a bad person. And I feel so mixed up about Kerry. She did something that makes me feel bad, but she’s my best friend. It’s been a whole week! I can’t tell anybody about it now!” What other choices does Penny have? [Wait for suggestions] Is it ever too late to ask for help? No, it is never too late to tell.
Penny kept feeling bad and making herself forget for a whole year. Then she tried to tell her mother[Or father] She said, “Mom, Kerry is acting funny.”
Her mom said, “What do you mean by funny?”
Penny said, “Well, she makes me uncomfortable.”
Penny’s mom said, “That’s okay, honey. Things do change with friends as you get older. Why don’t you try talking with Kerry or play with someone else.”
Penny went away feeling really upset, though she did not show her mother. She thought, “Mom does not care about what happened to me! I’ve felt so awful for so long and she doesn’t even care!” What do you think? Does Penny’s Mom care about her? [Wait for response] What else could Penny have done? [Wait for suggestions] Did she tell her mom the whole story? Can her mom read her mind?
Finally, Penny tried to tell her mom again. She said, “Mom, something really has bothered me for a long time, and I’m scared you’ll get mad that I didn’t tell you sooner. But one time I was at Kerry’s house and we stayed up and watched a movie that we weren’t supposed to, and she touched me in a way that I know broke our safety rules about touching private areas. And I feel like a really bad person.”
Penny’s mom said, “You’re not bad, Penny, you just made a mistake. And I’m glad you told me now. We’ll talk some more until you feel better. And we’ll talk to Kerry’s family. I’m sure she needs help too.”
You all did a good job of figuring out choices for Penny.
Sometimes the people kids love have problems. Sometimes their problems are so big that they do things to hurt kids or make them uncomfortable. If this happens to you or to someone you know, it does not mean that anybody is bad. But it does mean that everyone needs help. The way to get help is to tell an adult you trust. If the first adult you tell does not understand, try again. If this adult does not help, find another adult to tell. If an adult tells you not to talk about it, tell a different adult. Keep telling until somebody does something about the problem. Remember that what happened is not your fault and that it is never too late to tell.