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Nudity, privacy, and body boundaries
- When is it ok (and not ok) for parents to be naked in front of their kids?
- What about kids being naked together?
- What about seeing or playing with private parts?
When is it ok (and not ok) for parents to be naked in front of their kids?
This question has less to do with some universal law and more to do with your community. Being naked is NOT the same as being sexual – but our culture has enmeshed those ideas.
It’s true that being nude is very convenient for having sex, but it’s certainly not required, and there are lots of things we do nude (bathing for example) that have nothing to do with sex.
It’s really not a problem to be naked together, especially if that’s what you’ve been doing with your kids since birth. Lots of cultures have communal bath houses, and kids grow up in nudist colonies with no particular hang ups – and perhaps with better body image than the rest of us.
The real issue here is how your neighbors, your friends, your kid’s teacher, your community will respond to hearing that you’re naked with your kids. Every community is different. Very conservative communities might judge you harshly. Here in San Francisco, some nudity is standard. In Europe, public nudity is the cultural norm.
You’ll have to navigate your own boundaries here. When will you feel uncomfortable if this piece of your family life is innocently shared by your child with their peers or mentors?
The only time nudity is truly not OK is when it’s coerced.
Parents shouldn’t feel obligated to share their bodies with their children just to satisfy the child’s curiosity. A preteen who is shy about their changing body should be granted their privacy. If you or they are uncomfortable with full or partial nudity, don’t tolerate that discomfort! That’s a boundary to be respected. The much more important rule to convey is that each person is the boss of their own body.
What do you say to your little one who wants to be naked at school, or who wants to walk out the door without pants on?
Here’s what I said to my daughter: We wear clothes to keep warm, to protect our skin, and because other people aren’t used to seeing us naked and it might make them uncomfortable.
What about kids being naked together?
This is really no different, except for the lack of impulse control in our curious little ones. Which leads to…
It’s our natural state to be able to see private parts, so there’s nothing wrong with that, but you might get some questions you didn’t expect to answer yet. One of my client’s daughters asked her, “Why does a penis stick up sometimes?” Expect those kinds of observations and questions.
Playing with one’s own private parts is normal and healthy. In our little ones, it’s called self-stimulation (not masturbation), and it’s normal for babies and toddlers, preschool and elementary school kids. Simply enforce the boundary that touching private parts happens in private places, like the bathroom or bedroom, and when we have privacy (no one else in the room).
It gets trickier when siblings, close friends, or cousins are curious about each other’s genitals. This “doctor play” is totally normal, and if you can supervise it to make sure it’s safe, you might choose to allow it. Some cultures do.
However, there are so many kids who have been sexually abused, or who have been exposed to porn, that we can’t assume this play will be child-like and safe. It may take on aspects of adult sexuality. Even if it doesn’t…if your son and his best friend enjoy this game together, will your son say No to the same game with an older cousin or neighbor? It’s a slippery slope and not worth the risk.
One of the simplest ways to prevent sexual abuse is to teach your child to have strong body boundaries about their private parts…and that includes discouraging their natural impulse to share their genitals with one another.
For more on teaching body boundaries, preventing sexual abuse, managing your child’s natural curiosity, or teaching the public-private continuum, click here to grab a spot on my calendar. I’d love to help you find the words and clarify your values so that you’re parenting this piece with ease and tranquility.
In support of you,
P.S. These issues and many more are addressed in the The Childhood Sexuality video series, which you can purchase directly or access when you become a member. Members enjoy access to the entire library of webinars and interviews (over 80 videos!) plus the Parent Support Group and other perks. Join us!