“Billy, what are you doing?” She says this to her son as he gets dressed in the morning. His four-year-old body is naked, but instead of putting on the clothes right next to him on the couch, he is instead enthralled with that extra-special body part that it seems all little boys are enthralled with – his penis.
Again she asks, “Billy, what are you doing?” She’s trying to be patient, but this is a daily occurrence, and she’s getting tired of it. She’s trying to bring it to his attention instead of saying something directly to him. “Billy!” He finally lifts his head, looking at her with a questioning, and frankly annoyed, expression. “Yes, mama?”
“What are you doing? Didn’t we talk about only touching your penis when you are alone, in your room? Don’t you remember that your penis is private?” Silence. “Well, do you remember?”
Billy gives a long sigh. “Yes, I remember.” He turns and begins to put on his clothes in his particular way, inspecting each item to make sure the sizes are correct (only 4 or 4T) and the tags are in the back. As he works, he speaks: “But when I’m in my room, I can touch my penis, right mama? I can do it then, right mama?”
“Yes, Billy. Now please finish getting dressed.” She tells his three-year-old sister, Bonnie, who has been dressed for hours, to sit on the potty. As Bonnie does so, she joins in the chorus. “Billy can touch his penis in his room, right mama? And mama? I have a vagina like you, right mama? And I can touch my vagina in my room, right? Mama? MAMA!”
She starts to feel a little dizzy in all this talk of penises and vaginas. She knows it was a good idea to teach them the real names of their parts, to not make the words or their actions negative or taboo, to supplement that talk with the notion of privacy, to let them know that no one was to touch their private parts but themselves, mommy and daddy, and the doctor, and even then, only with permission. But she can’t shake…
“Come on in here and let me see. I’m your auntie, just like your mother. You can show me.” She didn’t want to show Aunt Mo. She didn’t want to show Aunt Mo the breasts that were just beginning to appear, she didn’t understand why she had to. Her auntie made her take off the blouse she was wearing, the training bra too, and her auntie touched her chest, feeling the new growths. Her hand traveled downward. For the second time in her young life, she felt like not just her body was naked, but her soul too.
“Yes, children, you can touch your private parts, your penis and your vagina, when you are in your rooms, by yourselves. But remember, no one else is to touch your penis or your vagina, you understand? Not mommy or daddy or anyone, unless you say it’s okay. And no one should even be asking to touch you unless mommy or daddy is there, like when we go to the doctor, you understand? And if someone does, you yell and say NO as loud as you can, you hear me? And you come and tell mommy or daddy, okay?”
What kind of talks do you have with your children about their penises and vaginas?
20 thoughts on “Private Parts”
I tell them that if someone, anyone, particularly an adult, touches them in any way they shouldn’t, that it’s OK to scream, kick or bite this person and get away as quickly as they can. And talk to mommy or daddy, or a trusted adult (such as a teacher or school principal) right away. I think this is an important subject to discuss with one’s child(ren). I also tell them that they shouldn’t be touching each other’s bodies at all, or other children’s, for that matter (kids are curious and sometimes end up doing that). What is private belongs to them and nobody else and the same is true of other people.
I have certainly told my boys not to let anyone touch them, but your post has reinforced for me how important it is to constantly tell them. My husband and I also, almost by accident, am almost exclusively with my kids. My son, regrettably, does not have any close friends, but is very close with his cousins. I let him and my other two sleep over at my brothers and sister’s house only really and sometimes my husbands mom’s. My middle child is my socialite and I need to immediately reinforce this conversation with him before he starts school in a few weeks.
Thanks Latoya, for being brave enough to write this.
I have now written and deleted a comment 3 times. This issue really messes with me. Because on the one hand, you want to arm your kids so they can protect themselves. On the other hand, you don’t want to be constantly erecting a Bogeyman they must be on the lookout for. Where to draw the line?
I’m also doing pretty much what all 3 of you are doing. – Nazie
It really is a hard one, but I think the hard thing is that there really are boogeymen that they need to look out for.
I COMPLETELY agree.
A clsoe friend of mine recently had to deal with her son being molested by another boy. The boy is the son of his father’s new wife. This is my greatest fear, esp now that my son’s father is living with a new woman who has an older son. I’m not saying the boy is a molestor, but I’m saying anything can happen that can traumatize my son.
I learned all about protecting my private parts, yet I was still molested as an adolescent.
So much for that huh?
Unfortunately, there is very little our smaller children can do to protect themselves from sexual predators. They will be physically overpowered. What we can do is create safe spaces for them, with us, so they will come to us and tell us everything they experience. We have to create an environment of truth and distinguish between truth and “Stories”. We must also believe our children first and fully investigate. Nothing scars a child more than feeling their parents dont believe them when they say something.
Trust me. I know.
So brave Benee.
It is so important, as you all have said, to create a space for our children to talk to us. In so many of our families, even talking about our “private parts” is taboo, so when something happens, we, as children, lack the words and the space to go to a trusted adult. We didn’t know what to say, or how to say it. We don’t know how adults are going to react, because every time we said “vagina” or “penis” we were told to “hush” or “be quiet” or “don’t say that” or “that’s enough.” I was told about my private parts, but we didn’t talk about them. So when things happened, so many things it still hurts, I didn’t feel I could say anything, because the space wasn’t there.
So now, with my kids, it may sound strange, but we talk about their private parts. I never balk when they bring it up – I want them to always feel like they can talk about their bodies with me. I want them to always feel that they can say someone touched them, and not feel weird about it, or not know how I’m going to react because it’s a normal part of our communication. And Benee, what you say about trusting them, and investigating as the first response is SO true – no matter who the alleged molester is.
We talk about parts ALL the time. We are also “freer” in how we roam around the house lol. But, I do this because I encourage my son to ask questions, become familiar, etc. No special names for things. He knows penis, vagina, breasts, etc. I tell him that no one is supposed to touch his penis except when he is being washed up. The danger in that is that a lot of molestors use bathtime as a way to get over.
I remember when my step-daughter reached a certain age. I’ll say around 5. I told her father I was uncomfortable with him continuing to bathe her, esp with the door closed. I do NOT think of him as a molestor, let that be clear. But I told him that she is old enough to bathe herself and be more conscious of the differences between boys and girls, children and adults. He babies her, yes. So for him, he still saw a 6 month old. But she was/is not a baby anymore. I told him I would bathe her, with the door open, and teach her how to bathe herself. I told him that she needs to begin to understand that it is NOT ok for older men to touch her private areas, and if he continued to do it, she might believe it IS ok. I told him its a small sacrifice for him to make to teach a greater lesson. Now the lesson is that no older people should be touching her, men or women, because she is old enough to do it herself and if someone tries to outside of mommy, she should call for help.
We are also free in how we walk around the house. I feel like we are constantly naked! We have also began teaching them to bathe themselves, I think that is a really good point.
My husband and I had the “talk” last night with our boys and all we got were a host of giggles. I’m grateful that they are innocent enough to think body parts are funny. I hope that they were able to interpret the greater lesson.
I took the tact that there were no “bad” body parts, so both kids were always taught the proper names. I also taught them that no one should touch them at all in a way that makes them feel wrong, or uncomfortable, be it their penis or their elbow. I periodically talk to them about whether or not they have been touched, but how being in the company of certain people makes them feel.
My children have a family member that makes me quite uncomfortable, so when they have spent an extended period of time in that person’s company, I question them a little more.
It’s one of those things where you have to be constantly vigilant, because it is not only when they are small that this can happen. Control over one’s body is something that should constantly be reaffirmed. I am an adult woman, and there are still times where I have to put folks in check about how they are allowed to touch me.
Beauty – that is so true. From people touching my locs, to wanting to touch my belly when I’m pregnant, having to check folks on my right not to be touched is still an issue. And even my husband some times – I’ll have to check him, like I’m your wife, but that doesn’t mean that you can just touch me whenever you feel like it!
This is a very powerful post. I appreciate the fact that “Mama” acknowledges that, sometimes, constant talk about penises and vaginas can make a mother weary.
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the fact that sometimes inappropriate touching can feel good, which is part of what causes the shame. Children know that they are being touched in a way that they’ve been taught is wrong, but at the same time, the inappropriate caress or touch might be physically pleasing. By failing to acknowledge that, we inadvertently convey to our children that inappropriate touch will always feel bad; and if it doesn’t, the shame and confusion can stop them from putting a halt to the abuse, and/or coming to tell us. I know that’s a hard image or thought to stomach, but I think it’s important to tell children that it’s wrong, even if it feels good; even if it doesn’t hurt. And that if they come to us, we won’t be angry with them, or make them feel bad because it might have felt good. They’re human; touch can feel good, even when the context is wrong. That’s okay; that’s normal. And we, as their parents, will put a stop to it all the same.
That is so true, ORJ. I try to get that across to Ahmir, although I admit probably not very well, when I tell him it’s okay to touch himself, just only in private. But you are right, we should be even more explicit than that. Oy vey, this is just so hard.
ORJ you are right. My son regularly sits around stroking his own penis.. in the middle of the couch… with people around him. I dont shame him for that. I dont try to make him think its wrong; its his penis he can do what he wants. I redirect him to maybe not do it during the middle of Dora, but hey… lol
I dont want him thinking the way you described could happen. That would be messed up.
This is such a delicate issue
wow ORJ, that’s a whole other area I missed in our talk, but you are so right!
Thank you for this post, and for all of your comments.
I read a parenting book for African American parents recently, and the author (a psychologist) said that, because the abuser is so often a family member or family friend, he is very careful about who he lets stay at his house. And, even when it’s a family member or very close friend staying over for this night, he has his kids sleep in his room or in his adult sister’s room. That really struck me, as I had never thought about mistrusting the people I usually trust.
My 3-year-old son has recently become candy-obsessed, and that has been giving me nightmares because I think of how easily someone could lure him to do something with candy. Although I usually limit sweets, I’ve been wondering lately if I shouldn’t expand his access to candy, just so he wouldn’t be so easily swayed if it was offered to him by someone with malicious intentions.
As usual- a thoughtful and relevant post! My son is 16, and we got through the early years where fear of sexual abuse were a constant concern. I started him out earrrly, learning body parts, demystifying them (so he wouldnt grow up and be an ogler or pornography addict), and making it CLEAR that it was HIS body and NOONE had the RIGHT to touch him. And HE had no right to touch anyones. I also taught him: “If someone tries to touch you or touches you and tells you “don’t tell anyone or I will kill you” ( I know , ya’ll know i’m over the type with mine…) you tell them “ok, I won’t” and then you RUN to me an tell ME. do You understand?” I told him that more times than I can count. I covered ALL potential bases: people trying to show you parts, people trying to show you pictures, movies… And I talked with him early about objectification of women, sexualization of young girls, and yes- addictions to pleasure. I’m pleased. He’s a good boy, and from what i can tell, he’s not perverted and just sexually twisted as so many young folk I have worked with are…