Q: My 13-year-old daughter spent a night recently at a girlfriend's house. My daughter told her father and me a disturbing story when she got home. She awoke in the middle of the night to someone tickling her belly and quietly chuckling. She says this person was a male with whitish hair crouched down beside the bed. It was dark and she was scared to look at his face. She tucked the blanket under her back but felt someone poking her and tugging on the blanket. Then a hand rested briefly on her upper arm — and he left. My daughter eventually fell back asleep. In the morning, she told her friend, and the friend said she must have been dreaming. My daughter said no, that she'd heard the floor squeak and noted the time (3:30 a.m.) on her friend's bedside clock. After my husband picked up my daughter, the friend asked her father (who has silver-gray hair), mother and teenage brother about it. The friend texted my daughter that everyone denied such a thing could have happened and the whole family was upset. Then she said her father wanted to talk to my husband, who didn't really want to have anything to do with this mess. The father and mother called and spoke to the two of us. They said this could not have happened. They were terrified that word of the alleged incident would damage the father's reputation. I said that I believed my daughter but that my husband and I weren't planning to pursue the matter further. I felt good after the phone call, but now I'm wondering if I let them off too easy, and whether I adequately demonstrated to my daughter that I believed her. For her part, she's just worried that this has ended her friendship. Do you think I handled this properly?
A: What an eerie, creepy, middle-of-the-night episode that's going to haunt everyone's nights for a while. Your daughter is old enough to tell dream from reality, and while there is a chance she was dreaming, I, like you, believe she was awakened by her friend's father. Whatever he was up to, thank goodness it wasn't any worse. I'll also throw out the possibility that the father has some kind of sleepwalking disorder, or maybe he had an Ambien and a glass of wine. Overall, you handled this fine. Most important was listening to your daughter, telling her you believed her and staying calm. If you had overreacted, that would have turned an unnerving event into a trauma. (I do object to your husband's desire to stay out of this "mess.") I do think, however, that you and your husband should have been the ones to initiate the conversation with the other parents. Of course, this was destined to be awkward and inconclusive, but you needed to register that something happened. You did, and you were right to say to the other parents that you both believed your daughter and decided not to take this any further. You should tell your daughter about this conversation and reiterate to her that you trust her account and that she did the right thing. Tell your daughter you hope that she and the girl remain friends. But prepare her that things may be uncomfortable. Then keep tabs on how this plays out, so you can help her navigate the aftermath. Slate.com