Kid + Adult = friends. Is that too creepy?

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The Second Moon

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In my Upper MG SF collection, there is this 12 year old kid, Barney, who lives with an inventor, Mr. Thomas. I know what you're thinking. A kid and an adult can't be friends. It has to be a strictly formal relationship. No friendships allowed. That's the most disgusting things I've ever heard! (just writing hypothetical thoughts makes me want to cry because I know people are thinking it :cry:) But here is some backstory before you judge.

Barney has this thing where he turns into an alligator creature when he gets too emotional. He can't control the alligator creature. He also doesn't remember anything before he was six or seven. All he knows about his mysterious past is what Mr. Thomas told him: that he was the alligator creature terrorizing a swamp outside of a town, until Mr. Thomas found a way to make him human again. After turning Barney human again, he took Barney in and made him his inventing assistant.

Basically, Mr. Thomas was the first person who ever tried to help Barney and Barney will always care about Mr. Thomas because of that.

Until Barney was 12, he had no friends. The only person he was close to was Mr. Thomas. Even when he's 12 and in sixth grade, he still would rather talk to Mr. Thomas than his few friends. Barney just feels like he can always trust Mr. Thomas, unlike his friends who could betray him (and slightly do).

Now on to Mr. Thomas.

Mr. Thomas had a hard childhood and tries not to get close to people. But then he took in Barney and he felt something change inside him. He was worth something to someone. He had a purpose. In response to this feeling, he built the wall around his heart bigger and pushed that feeling away. He doesn't want his heart broken again.

Even though Mr. Thomas has friends, he would prefer to hang out with Barney instead of them He just feels that Barney--who also had a hard childhood (even if he can't recall it) just like Mr. Thomas.


Now you see how the kid and the adult feel about each other. I now what to know if Barney asked to be Mr. Thomas' best friend, would it be creepy? What if Mr. Thomas (because he's afraid to get close to people) said no at first, but changed his mind later?

At the end of the series (eight books and growing rapidly) Barney and Mr. Thomas finally confess that they love each other in a father-son way. Is that creepy, too?


*sigh* I just don't know. I want them to love each other, but I think the first step would be to become friends first.

I HATE that we live in a world where a kid and adult being friends would be considered creepy. I honestly don't think it is creepy. I think it is cute, but what does society think?

I don't think a middle grade reader would think it as creepy, but they wouldn't think it as cute either. I gave my collection to a beta who didn't comment about them being friends as being creepy, so there's that...

Please help me figure this out.
 
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Sophia

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Just my thoughts. Others may disagree.

The way you've described it has some creepy elements, but it's because it raises questions.

Your basic situation doesn't sound creepy if you put it in a more realistic way. An adult couldn't just make a child an assistant (that's child labour), but they could make them their ward, and be, right from the start a parental or mentor figure. Think of the "Despicable Me" movies, or stories set in the past where adults would take orphans in and raise them to run their business when they were older, that kind of thing.

A friendly, caring situation would feel very natural over time in such a situation, and would remove the creepy factor. Parents taking joy in the company of their children isn't creepy. It's the way you've talked about it as them being an adult employer spending time with a child who is working (unpaid?) for them that maybe causes problems. The power imbalance is enormous in that situation, and their roles aren't defined in a way that society recognises as healthy.
 

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In my Upper MG SF collection, there is this 12 year old kid, Barney, who lives with an inventor, Mr. Thomas. I know what you're thinking. A kid and an adult can't be friends. It has to be a strictly formal relationship. No friendships allowed. That's the most disgusting things I've ever heard! (just writing hypothetical thoughts makes me want to cry because I know people are thinking it :cry:) But here is some backstory before you judge.

Barney has this thing where he turns into an alligator creature when he gets too emotional. He can't control the alligator creature. He also doesn't remember anything before he was six or seven. All he knows about his mysterious past is what Mr. Thomas told him: that he was the alligator creature terrorizing a swamp outside of a town, until Mr. Thomas found a way to make him human again. After turning Barney human again, he took Barney in and made him his inventing assistant.

Basically, Mr. Thomas was the first person who ever tried to help Barney and Barney will always care about Mr. Thomas because of that.

Until Barney was 12, he had no friends. The only person he was close to was Mr. Thomas. Even when he's 12 and in sixth grade, he still would rather talk to Mr. Thomas than his few friends. Barney just feels like he can always trust Mr. Thomas, unlike his friends who could betray him (and slightly do).

Now on to Mr. Thomas.

Mr. Thomas had a hard childhood and tries not to get close to people. But then he took in Barney and he felt something change inside him. He was worth something to someone. He had a purpose. In response to this feeling, he built the wall around his heart bigger and pushed that feeling away. He doesn't want his heart broken again.

Even though Mr. Thomas has friends, he would prefer to hang out with Barney instead of them He just feels that Barney--who also had a hard childhood (even if he can't recall it) just like Mr. Thomas.


Now you see how the kid and the adult feel about each other. I now what to know if Barney asked to be Mr. Thomas' best friend, would it be creepy? What if Mr. Thomas (because he's afraid to get close to people) said no at first, but changed his mind later?

At the end of the series (eight books and growing rapidly) Barney and Mr. Thomas finally confess that they love each other in a father-son way. Is that creepy, too?


*sigh* I just don't know. I want them to love each other, but I think the first step would be to become friends first.

I HATE that we live in a world where a kid and adult being friends would be considered creepy. I honestly don't think it is creepy. I think it is cute, but what does society think?

I don't think a middle grade reader would think it as creepy, but they wouldn't think it as cute either. I gave my collection to a beta who didn't comment about them being friends as being creepy, so there's that...

Please help me figure this out.

You clearly want to write this the way you want to write it so... write it. If you're writing it for you, it doesn't matter what other people think.

In a general sense, I don't think it's that society sees children and adults as having to be formal -- kids aren't formal with their parents, for the most part, and have lots of relationship with adults that are friendly and sweet, like with favourite teachers, aunts and uncles, etc.

Adults whose only friends are children, who hang out only with children even though they have adult friends, or who take a random child off the street and ... keep them? That will, I'm sorry, read as problematic to a lot of people. That doesn't mean you can't write it, but you're asking how people in general will view it. People aren't a monolith but, well, see above.
 

Tazlima

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I want them to love each other, but I think the first step would be to become friends first.

Hmmm. I'm wondering why you think this is the case? And I'm wondering if "friendship" is the right word. When I think of "friendship," I generally think of it as a relationship of mutual liking between equals. As an adult, I have friendships with adults much older or younger than me, but I don't recall, as a child, thinking of any adults as my "friends." That's not to say there weren't lots of adults I was fond of... I just wouldn't have described it as "friendship." "Friends" were, in my mind, kids I could run around with at a playground. The sweet old lady neighbor who gave me orange juice whenever I came around for a chat? She was just "nice orange juice lady."

Adults I grew closer to, I tended to immediately think of as relatives. You know those "Big Brother Big Sister" programs? Even the very first day they meet, the relationship is treated as a familial one. As a kid, I participated in an "adopt a grandparent" event, and I was instantly enthralled with my "adopted grandpa," (a lovely old man with no family of his own). I have a newspaper clipping somewhere that featured a photo of me as a little girl of six or seven, happily sitting in my adopted grandpa's lap ten minutes after we first met. I was like "cool! I finally get to have a grandpa!" and loved him immediately.

I don't really know a lot of children these days, but the ones I see regularly and am close to tend to overlap in my mind with my nieces and nephews when they were little. I care about them, of course, and I love playing and goofing around with them. But I also feel responsible for them. If we're playing, I'm careful to make sure nobody gets hurt. If they're visiting my house, I make sure there's food and drink available, the bathroom is clean, there's a freshly-made bed in case they get tired and need a nap, etc. If they ask me about a serious topic, I'm mindful about whether I'm the right person to discuss the topic with them or if I should refer them to their parents. There's too much sense of responsibility, even for children I don't know very well, for me to just relax and have a simple "friendship" like I do with my peers. It's more like getting to know a puppy. A puppy may be shy at first, but once it learns to trust you, that trust usually transitions straight into love, without pausing at "friendship."

What if you made it clear that they love each other... but neither is comfortable admitting it? Barney may think of Mr. Thomas as a father from day one, but may be afraid to admit those feelings. I can think of LOADS of reasons a child would hesitate to express that thought. Maybe he thinks Mr. Thomas wouldn't want a gator-boy as a son. Maybe Mr. Thomas made an offhand remark about how he never had kids because he never wanted them, and Barney could take that to mean he doesn't want HIM.

Mr. Thomas could be equally bad at admitting he thinks of Barney as a son. He could be afraid of getting too attached, for fear that Barney's real parents might turn up and take him away. He could be afraid that such an admission might interfere with Barney's development or cause the gator-side of him to emerge. He may think Barney doesn't want him as a father. He may feel he'd be a poor choice of parent and that Barney would be better off getting adopted by a "proper" family and taking up a "father" role could interfere with his chances.

There are a lot of reasons, on both sides, that they could love each other like a parent and child, yet be afraid to admit as much.

Just some things to ponder.
 
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mccardey

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I think that there is something inherently problematic in an adult who has no adult friends becoming "best friends" with a child - problematic, but not unsolvable if it's written with full awareness of the possible issues - but I think all the problems are wildly magnified if the adult in question is sole carer for the child, employer of the child, landlord of the child and is not encouraging the child towards more appropriate friendships.

You might have a lovely, best-of-all-possible-worlds, sweetly innocent vision of how this plays out, but you'd need to factor in the absence of an impulse towards the kind of socialisation that might be in the best interests of the child.

If it was my story, I think I'd tend to push the alligator aspect of the child first - which allows the adult to be in a purely protective, scientific relationship which might indeed contain a kind of odd little 'best friends' feel about it - but have the relationship change to include gently prodding towards more normal human-childhood relationships as the child-aspect overtakes the alligator-aspect.

I would have no trouble with an alligator-child wanting to be best friends with a human adult. But I think a child wanting to be best (and only) friends with a solitary adult would best be nudged towards other friendships, for the good of the child. It's a given that a good, healthy adult will always let the good of the child outweigh other things.
 
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Kat M

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Hi there! So, the concept is really sweet and I do think you can make it work. I don't know exactly how, but there's a lot of good advice up above and more after my post (well, there will be shortly).

First, as others are saying, you'll need a context for them to grow close. They go into better detail about what works and what doesn't in your scenario than I can. The only thing I can add is, does Barney have living, involved parents? If so, then it will decrease the creep factor if they're involved—if Mr. Thomas is a "family friend" whom Barney is particularly close to. If not, then is Mr. Thomas Barney's guardian? If so, then they don't need the friendship language so much. Barney views him as a fatherish figure even if he doesn't admit it.

Second, I'd advise showing, not telling. They don't have to explicitly tell each other that they're friends, or even that they love each other as father and son. They can show each other, and show the audience by the way they act toward each other. If Barney is spending most of his free time (truly free time, not employment time) with Mr. Thomas, and confiding it him, and sharing a laugh or two, then I'm going to pick up that they have a warm and deep relationship.

Third, speaking from experience as a teacher: there's an inherent power imbalance between an adult and a child. Even without the employer-employee relationship you suggest. Mr. Thomas simply has more life experience and (probably) wisdom than Barney has. He may be very close to Barney, but he's not going to relate to him as an equal. And Barney will look to Mr. Thomas to protect him as well as be his mentor. In my classroom this past year, I had one student who seemed immune to childish foibles. She was always perfectly behaved, perfectly in control, and articulated herself in an extremely mature way. I related to her just a little differently than I did to some of my less-mature students. She had more responsibilities, and sometimes when the rest of the class was acting up we'd share an eye roll. But I never tried to treat her like a peer. I was her teacher. And the day she got a tummyache she burst into tears and hurled herself at me like any other kid would.

If you can explicitly show (not tell) that Mr. Thomas is aware of the power imbalance and respects it by placing boundaries, then you also decrease the creep factor.
 

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In my Upper MG SF collection, there is this 12 year old kid, Barney, who lives with an inventor, Mr. Thomas. I know what you're thinking. A kid and an adult can't be friends. It has to be a strictly formal relationship. No friendships allowed. That's the most disgusting things I've ever heard! (just writing hypothetical thoughts makes me want to cry because I know people are thinking it :cry:) But here is some backstory before you judge.
Adult/child relationships often aren't formal, but I wouldn't call a father and young son relationship a "friendship," even if they are "buddies." There's a huge power differential, and they aren't peers.

Barney has this thing where he turns into an alligator creature when he gets too emotional. He can't control the alligator creature. He also doesn't remember anything before he was six or seven. All he knows about his mysterious past is what Mr. Thomas told him: that he was the alligator creature terrorizing a swamp outside of a town, until Mr. Thomas found a way to make him human again. After turning Barney human again, he took Barney in and made him his inventing assistant.
This is tricky. The bolded bit implies that Barney works for Mr. Thomas. That can certainly be problematic (considering this is a contemporary story).

Basically, Mr. Thomas was the first person who ever tried to help Barney and Barney will always care about Mr. Thomas because of that.
No problem with this, for me.

Until Barney was 12, he had no friends. The only person he was close to was Mr. Thomas. Even when he's 12 and in sixth grade, he still would rather talk to Mr. Thomas than his few friends. Barney just feels like he can always trust Mr. Thomas, unlike his friends who could betray him (and slightly do).
Barney may rather talk to Mr. Thomas, but the key is what Mr. Thomas does. Does he enroll Thomas in some extracurricular activities? Work on his social skills with him so he doesn't feel as awkward? Anything? It sounds Mr. Thomas is fine with Barney preferring to be with him, maybe to the point of encouraging it--or at least not discouraging it. That's a red flag.

Now on to Mr. Thomas.

Mr. Thomas had a hard childhood and tries not to get close to people. But then he took in Barney and he felt something change inside him. He was worth something to someone. He had a purpose. In response to this feeling, he built the wall around his heart bigger and pushed that feeling away. He doesn't want his heart broken again.
For MG, Barney's needs should eclipse Mr. Thomas's needs, IMO (unless you are writing a more gritty story, which isn't my impression). They aren't peers, and Mr. Thomas is the caretaker with a huge responsibility.

Even though Mr. Thomas has friends, he would prefer to hang out with Barney instead of them He just feels that Barney--who also had a hard childhood (even if he can't recall it) just like Mr. Thomas.
The bolded part is a red flag, for me. There's a problem if Mr. Thomas puts his needs (I like to hang out with this kid) above those of Barney (socialization with other kids).

Both of them exhibit the same behavior. Each has a few other friends, but eschew them.


Now you see how the kid and the adult feel about each other. I now what to know if Barney asked to be Mr. Thomas' best friend, would it be creepy?
Not creepy as much as it is sad. It's showing me that Mr. Thomas hasn't lived up to his job as a caretaker for the past six or however long years. Has he been encouraging Barney to build friendships? Or are his own wounds keeping him from doing what's in Barney's best interest?

Also, if Barney is encouraged to be isolated from kids his own age, it adds an unwanted "grooming" vibe.

What if Mr. Thomas (because he's afraid to get close to people) said no at first, but changed his mind later?
That's just . . . not how most adults operate. Kids might say that sort of thing to other kids. "Will you be my best friend?" (Though that seems more like an what an eight year old would say than a twelve year old.) An adult isn't going to think in those terms.

Sure, an adult may well have a best friend, but it's not typically going to be a relationship established by one person asking the other. It just develops that way, and friendships are dynamic. And, if a kid asks an adult that, it should be a red flag to the adult that the kid is in need of some help with socialization.

In something other than a light MG story, an adult (inappropriately) allowing their ward to shun friends their own age could be a source of conflict.


At the end of the series (eight books and growing rapidly) Barney and Mr. Thomas finally confess that they love each other in a father-son way. Is that creepy, too?
There's nothing inherently creepy about family relationship type of love (unless it is written as being creepy).

*sigh* I just don't know. I want them to love each other, but I think the first step would be to become friends first.
Not really, IMO. As I child, I loved a lot of adults, and I never, ever, thought of them as "friends." Friends came from my peers. That's how the kids I know now operate, too.

I HATE that we live in a world where a kid and adult being friends would be considered creepy. I honestly don't think it is creepy. I think it is cute, but what does society think?
I think there is plenty of room for an adult and a child to have a family or mentor-type relationship, but it is sad to me that this little boy isn't being encouraged (apparently) to forge friendship among peers. So even if it's written to eliminate any hint of creepiness, it's far from being cute, to me, as presented.

If I were in this situation, I would develop a couple of interesting good friends (a boy and a girl?) for Barney--with all the cool trappings around how they find out he has an alligator problem. Peers. With that, the need for a "best-friends" bond with Mr. Thomas is eliminated and a convenient little team of adventurers is at the ready, all while keeping Mr. Thomas engaged as a beloved mentor/guardian. YMMV.

All the best,
Riv
 

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If you can explicitly show (not tell) that Mr. Thomas is aware of the power imbalance and respects it by placing boundaries, then you also decrease the creep factor.
^^This. Boundaries! That's the word I was fumbling around and couldn't find. Mr. Thomas needs to establish appropriate boundaries.

(Thank you, Kat M, for filling that void in my brain. :greenie )
 

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:) That Marty McFly and Doc made a great pair.
Yep! :greenie Awesome pair.

The difference (for me) is that Marty was seventeen, not twelve.
 

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To me, more that Doc was such a crazy, fun, OTT character, more interested in converting banana peels to gigawatts than anything remotely sexual! They 'showed' that he was not threatening in a creep way by his personality.

BUT--you are absolutely right that the presence of other more important relationships is crucial--and this was done in Marty's life.

OP, I think it's cute. Depends how it is done. And who writes it. Beverly Cleary? Cute. Stephen King? ... ... ... less so.
 

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:) That Marty McFly and Doc made a great pair.

Sure, but Marty was nearly an adult, he lived with his own family, went to school, had friends and a gf; he liked to help out Doc Brown and did so voluntarily (yeah, the Doc called and said he needed Marty, but Marty agreed on his own); Marty got stuff out of the working relationship, like the amp; and the Doc wasn't portrayed as damaged and clinging to Marty as a support, but more just eccentric and obsessed with work.
 

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Lots of people have given you great advice which I agree with. I'd also like to point out that you should keep in mind your audience when writing this. The audience being, well, kids. What is the message the book gives? Because if it's "your best friend can be an isolated adult, so you don't need friends your own age!", then I think you're going to have a problem selling it. Your story could be the sweetest, most innocent thing ever, and people are still going to be wary, because the world doesn't run like that, and your book doesn't exist in a vacuum.

As it is presented, I see some problems, namely that the two characters don't seem to have peers their own age. It's easily fixed. Give the MC a friend or two his own age, who help him figure things out. Give the adult a friend his own age as well. And you can still have Barney and Mr. Thomas have a special friendship, even with additional friends, but having them be each other's ONLY friend is problematic. I mean, even without the age gap it's not healthy for someone to only have one single person they can count on, you know?
 

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In my Upper MG SF collection, there is this 12 year old kid, Barney, who lives with an inventor, Mr. Thomas. I know what you're thinking. A kid and an adult can't be friends. It has to be a strictly formal relationship. No friendships allowed. That's the most disgusting things I've ever heard! (just writing hypothetical thoughts makes me want to cry because I know people are thinking it :cry:)
The other thing I meant to say is that no-one is saying the bolded - that's your hypothetical translation. They're saying that this friendship, as presented, with all the power one way, and all the potential harm falling on the child, and also with the slightly weird they're going to love each other but first they need to be friends so they need to formalise some kind of best-friend-engagement thing - that is a bit weird. And as written, I'm afraid it feels creepy to me.

When children are four, five, six years old, they'll make the Best Friend statement and four, five, six year old kids can definitely love an adult and consider them a Best Friend. Lots of little kids do that. But your MC is 12. Also, MC might feel that the adult is their best friend, but the adult should view things differently. When an adult hooks into believing a child is their best friend and their only friend and encourages the child to feel the same way, I would feel that was creepy. Not necessarily sexual, but certainly fixing the adult's needs, instead of the child's.
 
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He also doesn't remember anything before he was six or seven. All he knows about his mysterious past is what Mr. Thomas told him: that he was the alligator creature terrorizing a swamp outside of a town, until Mr. Thomas found a way to make him human again. After turning Barney human again, he took Barney in and made him his inventing assistant.

So, really, Barney has to believe whatever Mr.Thomas has told him about his past.
He named Barney, and just took him home, like a stray puppy. Did he even post notices on telephone poles: 'Found: one boy, has special abilities, must be able to describe these'? Any effort to locate his family? Somewhere were-gators may be missing their child!
Did he even ask around, find out if anyone was missing a gator-boy, or look for stories about weird experiments?
I will not even mention making him an inventing assistant, 'cause that may go with the territory, if the person raising you is an inventor. Like a farmer's kid going into farming.

Barney just feels like he can always trust Mr. Thomas, unlike his friends who could betray him (and slightly do).
I thought he had no friends? He only thinks he can trust Mr. Thomas because Mr. Thomas has made darned sure that Barney has no-one to compare him to.

Even though Mr. Thomas has friends, he would prefer to hang out with Barney instead of them He just feels that Barney--who also had a hard childhood (even if he can't recall it) just like Mr. Thomas.
Because Barney has no other choices. Mr. Thomas has no idea what Barney's life, pre-cure, was like. He assumes they have similar backgrounds because that suits his narrative. And, he has been careful to limit Barney's chances to attach to anyone else.

BTW, does no-one else in the story, say, a teacher, have any questions about Barney's home-life? Call CPS or the police to do a welfare-check?
 

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So many replies! I'll try to answer most of your questions.

First, many of you referred to Barney being Mr. Thomas' assistant as "child labor". Well, I'll blame this on me. I made it seem like Mr. Thomas only took Barney in to be his assistant. That's not true. When he first turned Barney human, he looked around for Barney's parents or anyone who would take in a boy who uncontrollably turned into a raging monster. No one wanted him, so he took Barney in. He only later made Barney his assistant when he realized the kid was really smart. Also, Barney doesn't see inventing with Mr. Thomas as "labor". It's the best part of his day.

Now about Mr. Thomas not talking to his adult friends. He does, but he can be...well...brutally honest with them. Let me explain. He has three friends he mainly hangs out with.

One of them is a newer friend (a man) who he only met though Barney's friendship with another kid. He's okay with this friend, not as brutally honest, because this friend is a single parent kind of like Mr. Thomas himself. So they bonded over this.

The next friend (a woman) he had known since childhood. This woman has a massive crush on Mr. Thomas, but he doesn't notice this. This annoys the woman, but she keeps trying to get his attention.

The last friend (a man) is the one Mr. Thomas is the most annoying to. The man has been Mr. Thomas' best friend since childhood. He's only annoying to this friend because he thinks they will be friends forever (the friend eventually gets mad at Mr. Thomas and they have a falling out for a while).

So, yes, he has friends he hangs out with. It's not like Mr. Thomas is overly clingy with Barney. He still lets Barney go to school and soccer practice. He's a little bored without Barney, but he doesn't mind Barney having a fun childhood. It was also very hard to find a willing babysitter for a kid who turns into a monster when Barney was little, so he just brought him along almost everywhere. Both Mr. Thomas and Barney just got used to each other being around.

Now third question: What will my MG audience think I'm trying to teach them? Honestly, I thought Barney and Mr. Thomas' friendship would teach them that love comes in all different forms, but I guess that's not what you guys see. But, I'm not a kid. I don't think like a kid. I wouldn't know.

Question four: who are Barney's friend? He had two friends: a girl (who he has a crush on) and a boy who used to be a rat.

The girl is really nice to Barney, but once she starts hanging out more with the rat boy, Barney gets jealous. The rat boy also starts hanging out with the girl more, and brings the girl to a dance that she already said yes to Barney for. Barney and his friends have a falling out (that eventually gets resolved), but during the time where Barney is mad at his friends, he and Mr. Thomas grow closer.


Okay, I will try to answer any more questions I see later. Thanks for the replies!
 

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Now third question: What will my MG audience think I'm trying to teach them? Honestly, I thought Barney and Mr. Thomas' friendship would teach them that love comes in all different forms, but I guess that's not what you guys see. But, I'm not a kid. I don't think like a kid. I wouldn't know.

You used to be a kid, though. It's worth it, I think, to try to analyze some of your own experiences.

I think the crux of what people are trying to tell you is this: as a parental figure. Mr. Thomas would have a responsibility to subordinate his own companionship needs for Barney's, and would be obligated to help Barney establish a social circle of kids his own age. Parental love is often about setting yourself aside for the more immediate needs of someone who depends on you.

Which is the other thing: a child is a dependent. An adult can get tremendous satisfaction and personal fulfillment as a parent, but it's not a peer relationship, full stop.
 

Putputt

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It's obvious that you are passionate about this story, so I think you should just write it. However, do look out for instances such as these:

So, yes, he has friends he hangs out with. It's not like Mr. Thomas is overly clingy with Barney. He still lets Barney go to school and soccer practice. He's a little bored without Barney, but he doesn't mind Barney having a fun childhood. It was also very hard to find a willing babysitter for a kid who turns into a monster when Barney was little, so he just brought him along almost everywhere. Both Mr. Thomas and Barney just got used to each other being around.

Watch the language being used. For example, Mr. Thomas "LETS" Barney go to school...that's really problematic. It makes it sound like Mr. Thomas is doing Barney a favor by allowing him to do normal kid stuff like going to school and soccer practice, which is all sorts of weird and yanno, abusive? And he "doesn't mind" Barney having a fun childhood...again, the word choice is not great. It sounds like he's tolerating Barney having a fun childhood. As opposed to...? Not having a fun childhood?

Sooo. I dunno. I think it's possible to have a story with a healthy, adorable relationship between a kid and an adult, but it's very difficult to do right, and I would tread very, very carefully.
 

KBooks

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My concerns mainly center on Thomas. I can sort of maybe accept him "keeping" a kid after finding him off the street because of the supernatural piece that he's an alligator and couldn't go anywhere else if it was explained how Thomas was sure his family couldn't be found. In some stories (Superman, for instance), there's a supernatural piece that makes it work where Clark Kent's parents don't turn him over to the authorities. However, barring a really good reason, keeping a kid you find rather than calling the authorities starts to feel creepy for me...

Barney (like any child in his situation would) has social issues and trouble adapting. Rather than allow a child to become bonded solely to you at the exclusion of others, a good parental figure helps a child gradually become less dependent on the parent over time. Thomas' behavior seems to result in the opposite.

Thomas has all these emotional issues going on that he's not dealing with. While I feel for him, 1) maybe he shouldn't be taking on a kid at all 2) he definitely should be doing everything he can to keep his adult issues from impacting Barney. Therapy. Serious, lasting attempts to change the behavior. What I'm getting the feel of instead is him and Barney slowly growing more co-dependent. If they were two adults, it would be unhealthy behavior. But since Barney is a child and unable to advocate for himself? Huge red flag. And all on Thomas.

An adult and a child cannot be "best friends." It is not normal for a 40-year-old man to want a child as a best friend. Thomas will have adult concerns (aging, social security, romance, healthcare system, politics) that will be of no interest to Barney (video games, fart jokes, cute boy/girl at school, math test, social media.) The appropriate reaction for a foster-parent figure upon hearing his 12-year-old foster son had no friends and wanted to be best friends with him would be to take steps to help him make age-appropriate friends.
 
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Introversion

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Barney has this thing where he turns into an alligator creature when he gets too emotional. He can't control the alligator creature. He also doesn't remember anything before he was six or seven. All he knows about his mysterious past is what Mr. Thomas told him: that he was the alligator creature terrorizing a swamp outside of a town, until Mr. Thomas found a way to make him human again. After turning Barney human again, he took Barney in and made him his inventing assistant.

I HATE that we live in a world where a kid and adult being friends would be considered creepy. I honestly don't think it is creepy. I think it is cute, but what does society think?

I get a sense that what you want to write is a bit of a fairy tale? Where Mr. Thomas is akin to Geppetto, the kindly toy-maker who brings Pinocchio (Barney) to life?

If that's the basic "feeling" you're going for, then I think you should listen to the feedback here about the relationship between the two characters. Geppetto was Pinochio's father figure (or actual father if you prefer), and not his friend. Healthy adults without cognitive issues or bad intentions probably don't become "best friends" with a twelve-year old. I've never encountered such a relationship in my 58 years, so unless you world-build a very good reason for it in your story, it's automatically tweaking my suspension of disbelief. Adults can certainly love children without being their friends -- as a parent of three, I'd say it's really better not to even try to be their friend, as parents often must enforce rules the kids dislike.

It may make you sad that some people see what you're proposing as creepy, but you should pay attention to that feedback. Sexual predators are a thing. If readers here wonder about that, so will agents or publishers when they read it.

If you paint the relationship as more traditionally father-figure/son, most readers won't think anything's odd.
 

ap123

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I wasn't going to post because I neither read nor write MG, but I keep coming back to it because I have thoughts.

About a million years ago I attended a large public high school. There were teachers who had open-secret affairs and flings with students, teachers who had secret-secret affairs and flings, and teachers who were friends with students. Those on the student end of these relationships were all considered "mature." Maybe wise beyond their years. Maybe slutty. Maybe cool. Maybe awkward with people of their own age. Many of them were more mature than the avg 14, 15, 16, 17yr old. Maybe some of them were smarter than the avg bear. Maybe some of them weren't, had just been exposed to more, or developed more quickly.

Here's the thing, it's because of that maturity that they, above all others, shouldn't have been exposed to predatory teachers and staff. Because they didn't know they were over their heads, didn't recognize the power imbalance in front of them, and likely didn't have adults in their lives who could/would recognize these things and help to protect them, or try to help them to recognize it for themselves. Didn't know that having to grab the social security check and pay bills bc drunk mom doesn't, or that they'd already long been sexually active (willingly or unwillingly), didn't actually make them adults and didn't level the playing field. Maybe some of them lived in/had lived in foster care, and so didn't have the background of stable adults in their lives, and lived in fear they would be tossed out/rejected again if they didn't smile and nod and be appropriately grateful at all moments to the adult(s) who were getting off on savior-syndrome.

I'm now the parent of three grown/mostly grown children. We laughed a lot, with our children, as they were growing up. We listened to music with them. Watched the news and discussed politics with them. Commiserated over broken friendships, broken hearts, and frustrations of growing up. But we were still the parents. Our apartment was always the safe house for kiddos' friends. I was friendly with the kids' friends, cared deeply about many of them, and yes, there are a few who I now consider friends. Because they're in their mid twenties, not twelve. And honestly, I still see their twelve yr old selves behind their stubble and spiked heels, even as I recognize them as fully independent, wonderful adults.

I'm not writing this because I believe you intend a predatory relationship btw Barney and Mr Thomas, I'm writing in hopes you will see how fine the line is, and how important it is to treat that line with utmost care and respect.
 

Kjbartolotta

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I keep thinking about the difference between Rick & Morty, which, bizarre and toxic as it is, feels like an appropriate relationship, and Indiana Jones and Shortround, which could not be more innocent and positive but feels kinda wrong and off-putting in retrospect.
 

neandermagnon

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You said that Mr Thomas took Barney in. Is there any kind of formal arrangement, e.g. adoption or fostering (including private fostering of some sort https://www.gov.uk/looking-after-someone-elses-child - UK law, but other countries have similar laws and if it's fantasy you can base the laws on any country's existing laws) - this could be in the backstory and only very, very briefly mentioned - maybe not even in detail... maybe Mr Thomas mentions in passing how he had to go to a legal office to register him as his foster child or similar. In the Peabody and Sherman film it explains how Mr Peabody (a dog with the mannerisms of an educated adult human) adopts Sherman (a boy). I think your situation is rather similar to this, and that having a legally recognised status equivalent to parent/child would help. It would be creepy if an adult took in a child, gave them a title that's akin to being employed, and then kept it all hidden from the authorities.

As mentioned upthread, Mr Thomas would also need to act like a parent, e.g. making sure he gets an education, eats a balanced diet, treats people with respect - this can be done in a very light touch kind of a way if they have a good relationship and Barney does what he's supposed to and doesn't need much guiding - but it should be there. He doesn't have to be the bossy parent type.

There's an additional issue here that's not been mentioned (unless it was mentioned briefly and I missed it), which is the fact that due to sexist attitudes, sometimes people are suspicious of men being friendly or wanting to work with children but not for women. Harmful gender stereotypes say that women love children and are naturally good with children and naturally gravitate towards working with young children while men have no natural interest in it and are completely inept at it and only partake of parenting (and get it wrong) when their female partner makes them do it*. One result of these stereotypes is that some people find it hard to believe that men would be naturally interested in working with young children and any man who wants to be a nursery nurse or primary school teacher or a single man who wants to adopt a child must have an ulterior motive. Which is of course not true and grossly unfair.

*Incidentally, in the UK, adverts that portray these kinds of harmful stereotypes were banned recently: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46558944

Because of this, if you were to gender swap your characters, would those people still be saying that there's something dodgy about it? Because if they wouldn't then it's more a sexism issue than a child protection issue. And publishers of children's books want to see more fiction involving diverse types of families rather than just the male parent + female parent + 2.4 kids most commonly portrayed, and lots of publishers also want books that go against harmful gender stereotypes. But if it still feels a bit off even when gender swapped, maybe you need to tweak a few things so that you're clearly portraying a healthy relationship.

It also might be helpful to read up more about things that are actual red flags for abuse. People tend to paint situations with too broad a brush. There's nothing wrong with adults being friendly with children, wanting to work with children, wanting to foster/adopt children, wanting to protect a vulnerable child, wanting to help, advise, support, etc, someone else's child especially if the child seems lonely or vulnerable. I've even read from child psychologists that when a child's not being cared for properly at home, having another adult they can go to outside the home who is kind and supportive can have a protective effect on their future mental health. It's only wrong when the adult is using the relationship to exploit the child or groom them for future exploitation and he majority of adults wouldn't dream of doing this, so the friendship is not a red flag in and of itself. Depending on the nature of the friendliness and relationship though, there could be red flags there. The NSPCC (UK's national society for the prevention of cruelty to children) website has a lot of really useful info for parents and people who work with children. Here's the page on grooming: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/grooming/ note: obviously the phone numbers for reporting concerns are UK specific. Having that kind of info can help you to ensure that the relationship you're portraying in your book is 100% healthy.
 

The Second Moon

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Thanks everyone for your replies! Many of you said that I sounded very passionate about the story (which I am :)) I've decided not to let this problem of creepy or not get to me. I should just write it. I mean, I am already on Book 2. Why stop because of a little hiccup?

Thanks again everyone!
 

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