There is a 7-year-old neighbor boy who openly masturbates (humping the ground with his clothes on) in front of our kids.
We have restricted our kids’ playtime with this neighbor to supervised outside play, and very limited, at that – not sure if its even our place to bring it to their attention, as they probably already know about it.
We don’t want our children exposed to sexualized behavior and also don’t want to completely cut off their friendship. Also, our church appears to be silent on this issue and we are stuck trying to figure out how to handle this situation. Any advice, ideas or recommendations are very much appreciated.
This is a sensitive and often controversial topic, but I appreciate the opportunity to use my professional knowledge and experience as a father to address it.
It’s important to remember that 7-year-olds are still transitioning into an awareness of what is private and public behavior. The fact that he’s doing these behaviors publicly doesn’t mean he’s on the road to sexual deviance.
He’s most likely discovered that the behavior feels good and can’t help himself. Another possibility is that he may have elicited strong reactions from other kids or adults and is responding to that reinforcement.
With a child this age, it’s most effective to use redirection and a private discussion about public versus private behaviors. If his parents aren’t present when he’s acting up, there is nothing wrong with you redirecting him and explaining to him (out of earshot of the other children, of course) the difference between public and private behavior. Then, you can follow up with his parents and let them know how you handled it.
How to address the topic of masturbation.
Many parents wonder how they should address masturbation with their children. It goes without saying that every parent understands masturbation is something that shouldn’t be done publicly. Beyond that, however, most parents clam up and aren’t sure where to go in the discussion.
Even though most therapists and educators will tell you that masturbation isn’t a big deal and parents shouldn’t worry if their kids do it, you as parents still get to make the decision for how you teach your children about their bodies.
Most conservative religions warn against masturbation, but may not teach the “why” or help parents to know how to address this with their children beyond a straightforward, “Stop it!”
Historically, there have been plenty of unhelpful (and humorous, I might add) scare tactics to keep kids from masturbating. Blindness, hairy palms, insanity and other conditions were made-up reasons to scare kids from masturbating. These may seem dated and obviously flawed ways to handle the topic of masturbation, but the same anxiety and fear can still hijack well-meaning attempts to deter this behavior.
Despite what you may have read in sexual education resources, your child won’t be harmed if they abstain from masturbation. Even though it is a completely normal part of childhood development and self-discovery, it’s a behavior that can become problematic.
Please make sure that in your efforts to educate your children about your concerns with masturbation that you don’t shame them. Your child can be emotionally harmed by the way you teach them to abstain from masturbation. Using approaches that shame and guilt your child into abstinence are completely unhelpful and set your child up for a life of other emotional and relational problems.
Rising above what comes “natural.”
Sex educators seem to get caught in this false dilemma of believing that since virtually all kids are going to privately discover masturbation on their own, a parent will do more damage by trying to stop something natural and harmless.
Please recognize that there are healthy ways to help children know how to avoid the pitfalls of masturbation. Shaming a child into submission or ignoring the issue completely aren’t the only two options.
While I am completely opposed to shaming children, I just as strongly disagree with the notion that we should just throw our hands up and let our children go with whatever feels good and natural to them. As a parent, I want to help my children rise above their physical impulses. I believe there are nonshaming and supportive ways to help us accomplish this lofty ideal.
Begin with a trusting environment.
Hopefully you’ve already created an environment in your home where your children know that they are worthy of love and belonging. This is an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning and growth instead of evidence that they’re broken and defective.
If you have contributed to a shame-based home environment where children are afraid to make mistakes or be human, then it’s essential you work on improving conditions before you begin a delicate discussion on sexuality.
Your children need to know there is absolutely nothing wrong with them when they discover masturbation. Do not send them the message that they have done something disgusting or evil.
Your children are likely to experiment with masturbation. You may catch them, they may admit it if you ask or they may even tell you (less likely, by the way). Please don’t act shocked, disgusted, disappointed or upset.
In the same way you would never overcorrect a veering car on the Interstate, it’s just as dangerous to overreact and overcorrect a child who is discovering their body.
Avoiding masturbation: 3 reasons to consider:
1. Just because masturbation is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Children begin with no ability to regulate anything that comes naturally to them (hunger, bathroom behavior, sleep, and so on). We celebrate each stage of mastery over their bodies as they learn to walk, feed themselves, talk, and potty train.
2. Masturbation can become a substitute for real connection with others.
We can teach children that masturbation creates a powerful calming feeling that might keep us from turning to other people when we need emotional support. It’s like having your own emotional “off switch” that can direct all of your struggles away from people who can actually help you. Using masturbation in this way can lead to loneliness and isolation.
3. Masturbation can become addictive.
Because the experience of sexual release is so powerful, it’s easy to use masturbation as a way to relieve stress and end up becoming addicted. Instead of turning to addictive behaviors, we want our children to face reality and learn to confront the challenges of life. We can teach children that they will discover substances and experiences that will tempt them to avoid pain or other uncomfortable feelings that are a normal part of life.
Read the full article: The foregoing is a republication in part of Geoff Steurer’s article first published June 8 on the Protect Young Minds blog. Read the full article here, which includes more on his three reasons to consider avoiding masturbation.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
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