WHEN ARE WE CROSSING
A CHILD'S SEXUAL BOUNDARIES?

by
Blythe Daniel, M.A.
David Daniel, M.A.


       

 

Before 1970, our society was in denial as to the prevalence of child sexual abuse. Even worse, our society was in denial about what constituted sexual abuse. Fondling and oral, anal and vaginal intercourse with a child were the only acts that were considered to be sexual abuse.

Today, there is a growing awareness as to just how widespread child sexual abuse really is. But there is also a new understanding of what constitutes child sexual abuse.

Child rights advocates have contributed to this understanding by pointing out that a childís body belongs to the child and that the child has the same boundaries as adults.

Professionals have contributed what they have learned from working with victims of sexual abuse. Many of the victims are recovering from sex addiction or are seeking help for sexual dysfunctions.

It has become evident that most people just do not know when they are crossing a childís sexual boundaries. And they are not aware of the present or future harm that many adult behaviors produce in the child.

It is not the purpose of this paper to blame or accuse. Obviously, if we do not understand a childís boundaries it is because our own parents did not model proper boundaries. The sole purpose of this pamphlet is to educate parents and everyone who is around children on the subject of the sexual boundaries of children.

WAYS ADULTS CROSS A CHILDíS SEXUAL BOUNDARIES

1) Touching the buttocks or future erogenous zones.

Some parents touch and kiss their childís buttocks. Most likely this happened to them as a child. They are confused about this boundary. The buttocks should never be touched. The area of the breast of young girls is a future erogenous zone and should not be touched.

2) Putting medicine on a childís genitals.

It is not appropriate to put medicine on a childís genitals. At about 2 years of age, the child is capable of applying medicine to his/her own genitals. The parent should put the medicine on the childís finger and then ask the child to apply the medicine him/herself.

3) Bathing a child and washing his or her genitals.

Some parents continue to bathe their child well up into adolescence. The parent feels as if the child cannot clean himself/herself correctly or they feel that it is an act of love to give their child a bath.

For opposite sex parent and child, between the age of 4 - 5, the parent should stop bathing their child. The child is perfectly capable of washing himself/herself. If the parent must wash the childís hair, the child should wear underwear in the tub. By age 8, the child is fully capable of washing his/her own hair without the parentís assistance.

For same sex parent and child, between the age of 4 - 5, the parent should stop bathing their child. The child is perfectly capable of washing himself/herself. If the parent must wash the childís hair, the child does not need to wear underwear in the tub. Again, by age 8, the child is fully capable of washing his/her own hair without the parentís assistance.

4) Disregarding the childís privacy.

Some parents feel that they have the right to walk in on their child whenever they please. Parents must get in the habit of knocking on doors before they enter a bedroom or bathroom. Children should be taught to close and lock bathroom doors and to always knock whenever they see a closed door. This will create future good habits and the child will learn to respect anotherís privacy.

5) Walking around the house half dressed or completely unclothed.

Some parents feel that there is nothing wrong with walking around the house unclothed. They may dress and undress in front of their child and step out of the shower while the child is in the bathroom.

For opposite sex parent and child, between the age of 3 - 4, the parent should stop dressing or undressing in front of the child, and they should not walk around the house unclothed.

For same sex parent and child, between the age of 7 - 8, the parent should stop dressing or undressing in front of the child, and they should not walk around the house unclothed.

6) Undressing the child in public.

Some parents undress their child at the park, at the swimming pool or at school in full view of other children and adults. Between the ages of 4 - 5 the child should be instructed to change in a bathroom.

7) Allowing the child to sleep in the parent's bed.

Sleeping in a parent's bed is not appropriate.  Between the age of 3-4 this practice should be discontinued.  The child may be invited to crawl into the parent's bed in the morning for hugs and kisses.

8) Being sexually intimate with a partner while the child is asleep in the same room.

Some parents share their bedroom with their child and engage in sexual intimacy while they believe the child is asleep.  Often times, the child is wide awake and listening.  This can create confusion, fear, and arousal in a child.  Therefore, always wait until the child is out of the room to engage in any form of sexual intimacy.

9) Talking about a child's genitals while the child is listening.

Some parents talk to other parents about their child's genitals in front of the child.  "My son is well endowed.  He sure is going to make a lot of women happy someday" or "I just know Becky is going to have large breasts."  This can create embarrassment and confusion in the child since s/he does not comprehend the full nature of the conversation.  Therefore, there should be no mention of the child's private body parts while the child is listening.

10) Using inappropriate names when referring to private body parts.

Using profane words or calling private body parts inappropriate names such as "weenie", "winkie", "boobs", and "booty", communicates a profane view of the body that feels icky and which causes confusion in the child.  The parent should only use anatomically correct terms for private body parts.

11) Telling dirty jokes, leaving provocative magazines about, allowing the child to watch movies of a sexual nature.

Exposing a child to material of a sexual nature is sexual abuse.

12) Communication to the child that sex is dirty, evil or nasty.

Some parents tell the child that the genitals are dirty and that sex is evil and nasty.  They shame the child if the child touches himself/herself and may even punish the child for masturbating.  Parents should never insinuate that sex or the human body is bad, dirty or nasty.  If the child asks questions about the body or about how babies are made, parents should answer questions thoughtfully and appropriately.  The explanation given to a four year old will be different than the explanation given to a ten year old.  A number of books on the subject matter have been written.  Parents can consult the books and be ready with age appropriate answers.  As regards to masturbation, it is a perfectly normal practice as long as the child does it in private.  On ultra-sound, male fetuses have been observed masturbating in the womb.

13) Touching, kissing or hugging the child in a flirtations way.

Some parents are confused about how to express affection to the child.  A mother may nibble on her son's ear and kiss him on the neck.  She may push her breasts into his face and call him "her little lover boy."  A father may massage his daughter's leg or look at her in a desirous way.  Parents should show affection in appropriate ways and avoid treating their child like a sexual object.

14) Staring at men or women in a sexual way while the child is present.

Some fathers stare at women's' breasts or buttocks and some women eye men's crotches or chests while in the presence of their child.  This behavior is not appropriate around children.

15) Using poor judgment when taking a child into a public restroom.

Some parents use poor judgment when taking their child into a public restroom.  A mother may take her 3 year old son into a men's restroom while other men are standing at the urinal.  Not only is she violating the privacy of the men who are standing at the urinal, but if she is married, she is also violating her husband by looking at other men's genitals.

For a mother and her son, the mother should never go into a men's restroom with her son.  The boy should be instructed to go in by himself and use a stall rather than a urinal.  This will ensure that he has privacy.  While the boy is in the bathroom the mother should wait outside.  If she feels it is dangerous to send her son into the men's room alone, then she should take him into the women's restroom where he we use a stall.  This can be done up until about the age of 6.

For a father and his daughter, the father should never take his daughter into a men's restroom.  There may be other men using the urinal which would expose her to seeing their genitals.  The father should instruct his daughter to go into a women's restroom where she will use a stall.  While the girl is in the bathroom the father should wait outside.  If he is concerned about how she is doing, he can ask a woman who is going into the bathroom to check on his daughter.  He should never go into the restroom to check up on her himself.

CONCLUSION

The crossing of any of these sexual boundaries is sexual abuse and can have serious negative effects on children.  They often grow up believing that their bodies are not their own and that other's can do to them as they please.  Children should be made aware that no one has the right to touch them in any way.  Every 3-6 months they should be reminded, that in the event that someone touches their bodies, especially their genitals, they should immediately tell a parent or teacher.

In the future, if you feel as if there might be something wrong with what you are saying to your child or doing with your child, chances are your gut feelings are right.  You may be crossing your child's sexual boundaries and you need to think about this seriously.  It is sexual abuse.

If, even after nagging doubts or after being told by someone that what you are doing is wrong, then you must ask yourself why must you do what you are doing.  Who is it really benefiting, your child or yourself?  If you can honestly examine your response, you will most probably find that what you are doing feels good to you, not to your child.

So, whenever you are unsure about a particular situation remember this motto:

WHEN IN DOUBT LEAVE IT OUT.

It is always better to refrain from doing something than to do that something which can cause harm.


       
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