I was listening to some of my children talk yesterday (yes, I get a lot of posts from children) and this is a conversation two boys had.
Child 1: Look at my boobies.
Child 2: Uh huh
Child 1: Mommy has big boobies.
Child 2: That is because she is a grown person.
It was at this point that I realized that I had to step in and move the conversation in another direction. I also knew I had a post at this point. There was a hullabaloo a while back where Barak Obama came out in favor of sex education for Kindergartners and many people felt he was crazy and how dare you expose our poor, innocent children to this type of filth. He then clarified his statements and said that he was thinking along the whole good touch vs. bad touch scheme of things. What people who don't work with children all of the time don't think about is that these children are being educated sexually all the time already. They notice that "boys have a penis and girls have a vagina" to quote that great line for the very bad film Kindergarten Cop. They also notice that boys penises look different as one child told another teacher that I was around today, "My penis looks different than his." We are assuming he was talking about uncircumcised versus circumcised, but we are not totally sure. Children notice things and they are being given messages constantly. I had a child when I was at a previous school who basically molested a baby doll, after he talked to the school psychologist we figured out that no he was not being molested, but that he had cable TV in his room and was waking up at 1 and 2 AM and was seeing movies on Cinemax with explicit content that were showing sex. Now I know plenty of parents that would argue that situation occurred because that was a single, African-American, lower socioeconomic mother who had several kids before the age of 25. Although that may have been the case, there are still plenty of other children with cable in their rooms who could be seeing the same things. Oh yes but we do not allow them to see that kind of stuff and we use that whole parental blocking system to prevent them from seeing it when we are not around. That is wonderful, but if you are in a healthy, functioning, loving relationship your child is still getting sexual messages.
What the hell are you talking about Boxer? Well do you sleep in the same bed as your partner, do you kiss or show affection toward your partner, has your child ever seen you or the opposite gender parent naked intentionally or unintentionally? And as for the last one, you may not even realize that your child has seen you naked or partially naked. Children act out what they see at home, so they sometimes want to pretend to be married and kiss another child on the mouth. They know about the body parts of the opposite gender parent as was shown above. As I think I have mentioned here, one of the most awkward moments for me as a teacher was when I was sitting with two girls and one of them asked me if, "I had every seen a ladies boobies?" I had to lie in this situation and say no, as, well, they were five and this is not an appropriate topic of conversation with a five year old. When I said no, one responded, "Oh I am sorry. I wish you had." Children also pretend that they have girlfriends and boyfriends, I know several of the parents have mentioned that their child will say that so and so is their boyfriend or girlfriend. We have found children snuggling up together in what they said was a bed because that is how mommy and daddy sleep. We do not want to discourage any of that as that is part of a child's home life and if they are in a family where there are two parents whether they are two biological parents or two homes where both of the parents have remarried or one of them has remarried, these are strong, healthy relationships and good things for children to know, that adults do love each other and there are appropriate times and ways to show physical affection toward another person.
But without some kind of guidance, things can go awry as I mentioned about the boy and the doll. Another instance of this is a story that my supervisor told a group of us in a training on spotting abuse. She mentioned how at one point a teacher noticed that two girls were up in the house part of a climbing structure. They went over to see what they were doing and one girl was sitting down with her underwear around her ankles while the other one was giving her basically a full gynecological exam. Apparently the one whole was doing the examining had just been to the doctor and we are not sure why, but the doctor had basically the same thing to her. But what if it wasn't so out of the ordinary, I don't know about exams for little girls, but for little boys the doctor normally does the whole turn-your-head-and-cough thing (as most men know and hate as this does not stop as you get older). What if a little boy had just had a physical exam and did the same thing to another boy or maybe a girl while they were playing. Children act out what they see and experience.
Now as educators we do not even touch upon any of this stuff, but we do have to tell children not to kiss on the mouth as that is how we spread germs, which is true, but obviously there are larger issues. I have been in a classroom as a student teacher where they talked for a whole week about weddings as several of the kids were interested. They had the parents bring in wedding pictures and they talked about what a wedding means and what happens in a wedding. As I have mentioned some of the kids have little crushes on other children, which we just leave alone as they are harmless and a natural part of growing up.
So we do need to admit that there is the need for the acceptance that children will ask questions that we are not necessarily comfortable with them asking. We may want them to ask this of their parents, but since most children spend more time with other caregivers they may ask them first. Sure I can direct this to the parents, but it can still come up. Children will also talk among themselves and explore among themselves, which we also have to accept and find ways for children to know that when they are adults what they are doing is OK and it is OK to hug you friends and even telling your friends you love them and I will tell you what, when a little kid that you are not related to tells you they love you, it is one of the best feelings as a teacher. But we have to provide guidance for them and as a society we need to stop turning a blind eye to the fact that children are exposed to sexual messages daily. Hopefully most of those are in the context of a healthy adult relationship, but the media also puts a lot out there, which I consciously did not touch upon as I wanted to show another side of this issue. I am not advocating a full sex ed program like you get when you are entering puberty that discusses the body in depth and the changes that are happening and how to deal with new and exciting feelings. And I am not sure what form this sex ed for young children needs to take, but we need to figure out how to best aid children in their ability to grow up to have healthy and happy relationships. When the divorce rate is at 50%, that means that we have failed in a lot of thing and in my opinion one of these is giving young children the opportunity to begin to realize what a healthy relationship looks like beginning at a young age.
UPDATE: Check out these posts by Mathman and DCup to see the consequences of this when they get older.