Teaching my Daughter an Unfortunate Lesson at the Science Museum

A couple of weeks ago I took Marley and her friend to the California Science Center. We’ve been there countless times, but Marley loves it and wanted to go. And when your fourteen year old daughter requests a visit to the science museum over the weekend, you take her. (Especially when the request comes in on a Monday and not Friday night when your weekend is already planned.)

I had considered bringing my book and hanging out in the cafe while we were there (me, my book and a cup of coffee for three hours – heaven!) but instead I walked around with the girls. I can’t imagine she’ll let me hang out with her much longer.

We had a great time. I enjoyed watching the girls getting all science-y with the exhibits. They got their hands dirty as they sifted through sand and made dams and changed river courses in the river zone. They challenged each other to see who could keep their hand on the ice wall the longest. (I think it was a draw.) And they both liked the drunk driving simulator. (FYI, they didn’t do very well driving sober or drunk!)

Do not get in a car with these girls!

We were almost ready to go and the girls were doing something on a computer screen in the communication room when three guys in their twenties surrounded them and started talking to them. I was standing a couple of screens over and decided to watch to see what the guys were up to (no good) and what the girls would do. My first instinct was to tell the guys to get lost right away, but I wanted to see how the girls would handle themselves. The guys were definitely standing a bit too close and one of them lured Marley a few feet away from her computer and asked what she thought about his friend’s mustache. After about two minutes the girls walked away.

I followed close behind and Marley turned to me and said, “Mom, help.”

“I want you to know I had my eye on those guys the whole time,” I said. “I would have stepped in if they touched you or if they hung around too long, but I wanted to see how you’d handle yourselves. You were right to walk away.”

I asked them how they felt when the guys surrounded them and they said they didn’t like it. They felt boxed in but they didn’t want to be rude. I told them that it was okay to be rude if they felt unsafe. I said that if I hadn’t been there they could have told a guard that the guys were making them feel uncomfortable. The museum is not going to put up with that business.

As we were walking toward the exit we noticed the guys heading out too. I think it was a coincidence rather than them following us, but they looked at the girls in a way no men should look at fourteen year old girls and I’d had enough.

“You know these girls are children, right?” I said to them. “Children!”

One of them looked at me, “Well, I’m a child at heart.”

“But not legally,” I said.

“You have beautiful children,” he said.

“Yes, I do. But you need to move along. Now.”

And they did. Thankfully.

On our way home we talked about the situation some more. The girls said if they were leaving the museum and I wasn’t there they would have gone into the gift shop. If they men followed them in they would have told an employee. We talked about different scenarios in different locations.

I told them they needed to trust their instincts and if they ever felt uncomfortable in a situation they needed to find a way out of it.

I told Dave what happened later that night. I still wasn’t sure I handled the situation properly. Maybe I should have jumped in right away. I told the girls to trust their instinct, yet I hadn’t followed mine. When those guys first approached Marley and her friend, Mama Bear wanted to jump in and slash them with her claws. Dave told me he thought I handled it just right.

I wish that all Marley and her friend learned that day was about ecosystems and rivers and brain chemistry instead of how to trust your gut when you’re in an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation.

I wish that wasn’t a lesson that needed to be taught to my daughter. To anyone’s daughter. But we all know that’s not the world we live in. And sometimes the lessons we don’t want to teach our kids are the most important lessons of all.


11 thoughts on “Teaching my Daughter an Unfortunate Lesson at the Science Museum

  1. Charlene, believe me when I say this is something EVERYONE needs to remember.
    So many of us hide under a blanket of politeness and think we’ll be fine there.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m going to talk to Karly about it. She’s a tough cookie but she spends more and more time away from Mama Bear and I want to be sure she knows what to do…


  2. You were 100% in the right. If you would have jumped in immediately, the girls wouldn’t have felt uncomfortable. And without that, they wouldn’t have appreciated your lesson or have an exact feeling to tip them off next time something happens and you aren’t there.

    I wouldn’t have been as cordial in the talk with the guys though.

  3. These are indeed lessons that need to be learned and I think you handled this well in a number of ways. Obviously we live in a world that includes gender inequality, healthy AND unhealthy attractions, power imbalances, and rape. Young girls and boys need parents who raise them to be aware, confident, thoughtful, and strong.

    It’s worth noting that below the article (above these comments) are auto-running ad movies. The first was for some sort of fashion school that featured a bunch of long camera shots moving up and down women’s bodies and the second was for KY Lubricant. We are constantly bombarded with messages involving sex; some may be positive, many are unhealthy, and some are downright terrible. It’s the wise parent who talks with their kids about all of these.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I try my best to raise confident, strong children who are respectful of their bodies and other people’s bodies. The same lessons go to my son as to my daughter.

      And thank you also for pointing out those ads, which were unfortunate and ironic. They were also WordPress ads that I did not see or profit from. But your comment did prompt me to upgrade my WP membership to ad-free – something I should have done a long time ago.

  4. I’d say you did the right thing. You were ready to protect them if things got out of hand, but let them learn from an experience. As a parent, our job is to prep them to be an adult as well as protect them. We can’t be overbearing to the point that they don’t learn how to be an adult. You still went further by going over different scenarios as well after the incidents so good for you.

    I will say that girls need to be taught self defense. Yes, they need to trust their gut and be street smart, but they should learn how to get themselves out of a situation if it escalates. I don’t think it gets taught enough.

  5. I agree that you handled it really well because you gave the girls a chance to find their instincts and react too, while keeping them safe. Your story reminds me very much of Protecting the Gift. It’s a great book that talks about this very thing… allowing ourselves to appear rude and realizing when people are trying to lure us into something we don’t want.

  6. I think this is the definition of a “teachable moment”, and you nailed it. I credit Oprah (of all people!) for really hammering home the idea that we need to trust our gut and not worry about being perceived as nice. As a young girl I would watch her show and this was a common theme-sometimes as women we put the feelings of a stranger above our own and it’s a good lesson for your daughter that it’s OK to make herself #1! Kudos, and thanks for sharing this!

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