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My 9yo son has a class mate whose father doesn't allow her to socialize with boys. The girl herself, on the other hand, is pretty adamant about being friends with my son, bordering on obsessive. I'd add that my son is a kind of person who considers all of his class mates friends, but I don't really see him as having any special inclinations towards this girl.

I had no clue what sort of situation at home she had until she started coaching my son how to avoid giving clues to her father that she's communicating with my son. For instance, she told him to change his picture on WhatsApp to some animal and she'll change his name to a girls name. Also, if they happen to be in the park at the same time, he should pretend he doesn't know her if her father is there as well, etc.

Later on, I've learnt that her father wouldn't let the girl go on a class day trip to the Opera because "that's no place for girls".

I understand there are cultural differences at play and I'm not in a position to judge another person's parenting. I just see her father's (imo) unhealthy attitude and her trying to get around him by lying as something that could blow up, and I wouldn't want my son anywhere near it when that happens.

I don't think telling my son to avoid the girl will really help, and I don't want him to cause him distress by changing his environment (class, school...). I also don't think there's anything school authorities can do in this case.

Is there any other way out of this situation?

Edit: I should have explained that I (and the school staff) don't consider the girl to be abused. If anything, I think she usually gets whatever she wants, as long as it fits "what's for girls" (cultural/religious/what ever) stereotype, which I think has mainly to do with her social life. And this is exactly why I'm worried. If she was to get found out deceiving her father, there's a good chance she would spin it in a way that makes her the victim, and my son the instigator.

About the title change: I never meant to trigger people politically. English isn't my first language and where I'm from being "conservative" is more about general mindset than politics. Title corrected.

Regarding 9yo having a phone and WhatsApp: the phone we've given him is a dumb phone good only for calls and messages. There's no data plan, and it wouldn't be of much use even if there was. The phone was given to him so that he can go to and get back from school or park on his own and let us know if he wants to go to his frined's place, so basically so we can keep track of his whereabouts and so that he can reach us if he needs to. WhatsApp is installed on a tablet that is strictly for home use and he uses it for talking to his cousins and friends living abroad. We extended this to a few local friends during the time of strict social distancing regulations. The girl saw that he has a phone and asked him for his number. He asked us if it was ok to give the number to her, but at that time, we knew only that they seem to get along well.

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    Opera not being acceptable for girls is a new one – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 7 at 17:29
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    Even if things "blow up", what danger is your son in from the man? – RonJohn Sep 7 at 18:37
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    "... could blow up, and I wouldn't want my son anywhere near it when that happens." - Do you fear physical harm (to your son, or to the girl) if this blows up? Somewhat related: have you ever met the girl's father? – marcelm Sep 7 at 20:04
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    It may actually be it is the girl who needs help. Depending on where you live, the help may be available on government level. It may as well be the normal or at least acceptable behavior for a girl's father. It may also be the girl playing her own game. – fraxinus Sep 7 at 20:14
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    Could you add the country tag? In Germany it's possible to call special service which investigates child abuse. – Askar Kalykov Sep 8 at 10:58
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I think 9 is old enough to have a conversation about honesty and difference in cultures - the two things in play here.

Difference in culture angle : Explain to your son what his friend's father views as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, while making clear your position (that we don't subscribe to those ideologies, but we wont interfere nevertheless). Please take care not to paint their entire race/nationality/what-have-you this way. For all you know, its probably just the father's personal belief system.

Honesty angle : If his friend feels stifled in these conditions, there are other ways to go about it than being dishonest and more importantly, make your son a party in the deception. I suspect this is where your concern lies mostly. Tell him so. Suggest to him (tell, may be? Definitely don't order) that he tell her he'll spend time with her, but wont change names or photos for it. Won't suddenly pretend he doesn't know her. May be he's already uncomfortable with all this? Ask him, if he is, your work just got a lot easier.

If he distances himself from the deception the girl has got going,

  1. She will not want to take the risk of being caught and will stop hanging out with him
  2. When it does blow up, he wont be anywhere near the wreckage
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    Have you thought about this from the girl's point of view? – TonyK Sep 7 at 18:23
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    While this is probably the safest option for OP son, i don't think it is morally as clear-cut. Honesty that enables cruelty is not morally justifiable, imho. On the other hand your son may have little chance to actually help her, and learning that is a harsh lesson for a 9yr old. (I have no answers myself) – Ivana Sep 7 at 19:35
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    @TonyK Yes, i have. While it breaks our hearts, I don't think OP is particularly looking for solutions on that front. She even accedes it to cultural differences. Edit : After looking at Graham's answer, I should admit that I didn't think the girl's problems could be at the level of actual abuse like being locked up without food. – learner101 Sep 8 at 3:16
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    @Ivana The cruelty is happening regardless of anything OP's son does. Stopping the cruelty is an entirely separate problem, and deserves a separate solution (like reporting the girl's father to the relevant authorities, if it's really that bad.). There's no need for that solution to involve either of the children, indeed, it shouldn't involve them. Deal with any larger legal / moral issues regarding the girl's father's behaviour as appropriate after OP's own son is clear of the fallout. – Steve-O Sep 8 at 15:03
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    I agree with this answe mostly except the "honesty angle" part. It's important that a child not be made to feel guilty for being "dishonest" over lies or omissions to protect another person from an oppressive situation. Making children feel guilty over that is how you make snitches without empathy. – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Sep 9 at 18:06
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Can you talk to your son's friend?

Honestly, I think the belief that you can't judge another person's parenting is not true. Certainly there are things where it doesn't much matter - table manners, for instance. But at the other extreme, there is a point where physical or emotional abuse occurs and we must judge that. And really it doesn't matter why. Personal, religious or cultural reasons are immaterial. As the analogy about consent goes, "Of course we can discuss why you're standing on my foot - but first you need to get off my foot."

My concern is that the father may actually have tipped over into the "abuse" scale. Children with an abusive home life will naturally want to spend as much time away from home as they can.

If you can talk to the girl, then you may be able to find out a little of the background behind this. You shouldn't sound judgemental, and you should be clear that you're not going to talk to her dad. This is just so that your son can have a better time with her.

It's entirely possible that she's told a white lie about where she's going, and now she's stuck with the lie. The whole thing could be entirely innocent. Kids do that, and then they can start backfilling with not-very-credible continuing lies. Naturally a parent becomes suspicious, and the whole thing snowballs, and often over something which isn't such a big deal in the first place.

But there's a chance she could be beaten and locked in her room without food routinely if her dad doesn't approve of who she's spent time with. It happens. And abusers are generally pretty careful to avoid letting their kids go round to other people's houses or away on field trips, because they might see how other people live and realise that what's happening to them is wrong. On the off-chance that this might be the case, I don't think you want to push her away.

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    OP could be wrong, but from their question, it doesn't seem like its this extreme. – learner101 Sep 8 at 4:33
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    There is no good outcome to "hey, I think your parenting is a little overbearing, maybe we can set some good bounds to include my kid in your kid's friend group?" This isn't anything close to asking someone to step off your foot -- it's kind of the other way around. – Dúthomhas Sep 8 at 18:56
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    @learner101 : nah, other people raising their own kids according to their own beliefs, instead of indoctrinating them with my exact beliefs? That's child abuse!! People will upvote me for saying this! (by the way, that opera thing is indeed excessive... but calling that child abuse means living in a bubble and thinking everything else is broken except your exact way of life) – vsz Sep 9 at 4:50
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    @anongoodnurse For how kids can behave when they're caught in a lie, I'm going to cite my experience as a parent. :) The only other thing I can think of which could be sourced is what happens to abused kids, and I am not going to post links to that. I intended this to be more of a concern for the parent to check. Since the OP has said in an edit that it isn't something they think is happening, I'm happy for this to start getting downvotes - I think it's voted way higher than it should be - but I think it stands as it is. – Graham Sep 9 at 8:55
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    @vsz I wasn't calling that child abuse. But a child who's not allowed on field trips, who wants to be away from her house as much as possible, who wants to cover up who she's been with because she's frightened of consequences - these are things which abused children do. The OP says now that they don't think that's the case, and that's good, but it's valid to raise the concern. – Graham Sep 9 at 9:02
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I would be concerned for your son. She can ask him not to say hello in the park as a favour but asking someone to stop being himself, and changing his picture on social media just for her benefit does sound obsessive and slightly worrying.

Your son has a right to be himself around everyone in his world and should not be encouraged to join in with someone else's subterfuge. That in itself will incriminate him in the father's eyes. Your son will be open to blame for aiding and abetting. I have no idea of the culture involved but things can become dramatic for some cultures. Brothers can be very protective of sisters.

To have a healthy life the girl needs to have many friends at that age including other girls. She may have a crush on your son and be trying to isolate him from others by "telling" him how to behave.

If you or any other adult has concerns about the girl's welfare then that is a concern for adults only. Other children should not be involved at any level - they don't have the maturity to deal with it.

Concerned? Speak to the teachers, headteacher, school counselor, or anyone who is responsible for pupils' welfare. State the bald facts without attributing blame to the girl or to her father. Don't mention culture at all.

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    My answer was on similar lines, but what you said "If you or any other adult has concerns about the girl's welfare then that is a concern for adults only." -- This drives home the point! +1. – learner101 Sep 8 at 4:22
  • Completely disagree with this answer. She's not asking OP's son to do anything wrong. This situation is an opportunity for an important lesson that lying is not unconditionally wrong and that sometimes it's a necessary way people protect themselves from oppressive sitations. – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Sep 9 at 18:02
  • @R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE - Sometimes lies lead to unpleasant situations depending on who you are dealing with. To go against another parent's wishes, especially a very strict parent, could cause big trouble for just about everyone if that parent ever finds out. – chasly - supports Monica Sep 9 at 18:11
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That may sound really weird but if i were you i'd concern more about the girl.

If she is talking to your son and ask him effort to keep seeing him that's because he may be his only friend and possibly a light for her. Bad treatment occurs probably and he may be the most important emotional support for her. Yeah your kiddo may be her hero.

And if the two kids are linked then he would be really mad if anything you say or you does take her away from him cause in those ages feelings aren't as rational as adult's one.

In my opinion you should discuss him about her and try to know more trough him. If you are enough interested he may reveal you what she tells him and maybe find that she is victim of bad treatment.

Your main role is to care about your son but once he cares about someone you should give a little attention to this person and if it necessary try to help the person.

Just a point of view of course but that's the kind of education that may helps many boys and girls in the world.

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I think the other answers cover it, but here is another angle.

Children (although teens more than anything else) pretty much always do something their parents strongly disapprove of them doing, be it drugs or sex or piercings or violent video games or skateboarding.

Then they introduce their friends to it and teach them how to deceive their parents, although in some cases (such as this one) those parents are OK with the activity.

And what happens when the strictest parents find out? They usually ban their child from associating with the others, and if it goes on, they institute more and more preventative or punitive measures against their child. I strongly suspect that is what will happen here, although you never know. Fathers can get particularly furious at boys who are having something resembling intimate relations with their daughter.

Your son may feel he is being "kind" to the girl by doing what she asks—and truth be told his company may be her only outlet for some sort of duress—but on the other hand he's an accessory to a big risk she's taking in both defying and deceiving her father. But it can be very hard to say "no" and hard to know how to say "no." Perhaps something along the lines of "I'm sorry but I don't feel it's right to do it if your father doesn't want you to."

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