11-Year-Old's Lunch Trip to Hooters Causes A Stir Over Tweens and Sex

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When a Virginia father took his son, right, and his son's friend, left, to Hooters for lunch, it touched off a lively national debate on sexuality and tweens. Credit: Carol Anne Elston

Bob Elston, a stay-at-home dad, took his 11-year-old to Hooters, the restaurant chain best known for its busty, scantily clad waitresses, and then he wrote about the experience and his son's reaction on his parenting blog, The Rain Racer. The Herndon, Va. father of four says he saw the experience as a teaching moment.
"The trip to Hooters, I saw as an opportunity to see how he conducts himself around women. If he drooled and couldn't take his eyes of the waitress, then that would be an unmistakable cue to me to start preparing another birds and the bees talk. If he acted embarrassed and shy, then that would be a sign that such a pointed talk could wait a bit. So what happened?" Elston wrote.
The post has already garnered thousands of views and also landed Elston on National Public Radio and in USA Today, where he called the lunch "an opportunity to check on my own son's development, or lack thereof, in a real world setting."

Elston shared his thoughts on blogging, the development of sexuality and parenting tweens in an email interview with ParentDish.

ParentDish: What drove you to blog about taking your son to Hooters?

Bob Elston:
I started blogging about parenting four months ago because being a parent is probably both one of the most frustrating and fun things you can do with your life. Those of us who raise kids learn quickly that our window to guide and influence them is surprisingly short. We need to use our time wisely before our kids grow up, go to school and become independent adults with their own ideas.

PD: Were you surprised at the reaction that your story inspired?
Yes and no. Yes, because my parenting blog used to be an obscure speck on the Internet, read only by a few dozen friends of mine and a couple of extremely bored Internet surfers who happened to stumble upon it. I never imagined that 4,000 people in a day would read it. On the other hand, I am not surprised because "'sexuality" and "our children" is a universal issue that all parents think about and strategize what is best for their own children. The topic is also a red-meat issue that divides society in general.

As a blogger, I find it most interesting to write about issues in which both sides have valid arguments and that we, as parents, must make a choice with trade-offs. Sex is one of those issues. Parents, at some point, have to get off the fence and decide whether they are comfortable with being open and honest and giving their children the right information about sex, or whether they want to try to protect their children from sexual images and information and accept the risk that their kids will find out about it from their friends, movies, television and the Internet. We all know that most 11-year-olds out there are curious and will find out about sex with or without their parents' help.

PD: Had you frequented Hooters without your son before?
I had been to one probably a decade ago with friends for a drink after an NBA basketball game. I also went once with my dad while we were in Atlantic City for a boxing match. I myself don't find Hooters very titillating, and there are tons better places to have a beer and watch a game on TV.

ParentDish: Were you surprised at your son's reaction? It sounds like he was oblivious.
Bob Elston:
I wasn't too surprised because I know my son very well. But I also know that as a boy in sixth grade, changes are coming and puberty is just around the corner. I talked to my son's sixth grade teacher, who said that this is the grade when everything changes for a lot of kids. They start the school year thinking that their opposite has cooties and by the end of the school year, they have a different attitude. That is the way it was for me. For now, though, his reaction was probably typical of an 11-year-old before the changes, and that is awkwardness.

PD: The photo shows a fairly average-looking young woman, as far as body type goes, but still people were inflamed. Why do you think that is?
I think the sexual ingredient gets people inflamed. If I had blogged about taking a 10-year-old to a PG-13 movie, or allowing an 11-year-old to play mature video games, the reaction would have been far less.

As for the photo, I posted it so that readers wouldn't conjure up in their minds an image that was at odds with reality. Apparently a lot of people who made comments on my blog seemed to lump Hooters in with strip clubs and assume that Hooters waitresses are bad people. I think you can see from the picture that the Hooters uniform isn't all that revealing and their waitresses are just like anyone else. To me, a picture of an 11-year-old boy and a 20-something waitress is non-threatening because, after all, what can possibly happen between them? I was a bit uncomfortable putting my son's face out there, but my wife and I agreed that it was worthwhile to make a point.

I think probably that individual reader reactions are determined not so much by the attractiveness of the waitress, but rather their own attitudes. For those who see this lunch primarily as an issue of sexuality and morality, they might be uncomfortable with introducing an 11-year-old into the discussion.

ParentDish: You wrote that your son later approached you and said that he was being teased for going to Hooters. Did you feel like you had created an awareness of sexuality that maybe wasn't there before?
Bob Elston:
I think the teasing part is the thing that most concerns an 11-year-old prepubescent boy. But my son is a mature boy and is growing up in a family that likes to joke around a lot. He doesn't mind being teased about most things, but when it comes to girls he gets sensitive to the teasing.

ParentDish: Do you regret taking him to Hooters?
Bob Elston:
I don't regret it. It was a pretty harmless situation in my view. He was there not only with his own dad, but his grandparents, a friend from the neighborhood and that friend's father. I called my wife and got her approval. We were there at lunchtime with a lot of other families. If the situation was different -- say, if we went late at night when there is no kids and the beer is flowing freely -- then I wouldn't so much as regret it but not do it in the first place. As soon as he walked into the place and took one look around, his curiosity was satisfied and he now sees no reason to go back. As a parenting outcome, I'll take it.

ParentDish: Do you regret writing the blog post?
Bob Elston:
No, I don't regret it. I write a parenting blog and this is an important parenting issue. After all, in the Internet age, anyone can be a blogger and anyone can be a critic. I actually don't mind the criticism.

I think that despite the divisiveness around this particular issue, we parents all have the same goal in mind. That is we are all trying to raise our children to grow into thoughtful, responsible and happy adults capable of making good decisions without Mom and Dad there to guide them. The trick for parents is to figure out a unique route to that common end point.

The only part I do regret is that all this attention means I risk being known as the 'Hooters Dad' when, in fact, there are so many other parenting topics that I write about that seem to me more important to me.

ParentDish: After everything that happened after your post and knowing what you know now, would you do it again, and would you write about it? Why or why not?
Bob Elston:
I don't regret it. That said, I don't think any parent should do something with their kids because some obscure blogger that nobody has ever heard of said it was OK. Each of us have to think about what is best for our kids and make the call for ourselves.

Five-year-old gymnast, but at what price?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.