I could tell how disturbed you were when my little son fell off the swing and loudly proclaimed that he hurt his penis. I’ve been telling children the truth about their bodies long enough to be used to the shock other parents go through when they hear a child use a term they deem “inappropriate” for a child of that age. I don’t even blame you for feeling uncomfortable about it. It is awkward. Some adults laugh, some ignore it, and some are openly disapproving.
I get that maybe when you were a kid, people didn’t use those kinds of words to talk to kids about their bodies. I know you think it’s a shame we have to talk to kids about their body parts, healthy boundaries and sex so young these days. When you’re trying to be gracious with me, you remind yourself that this is a different world and maybe kids need to know these things earlier than when you were little or when you were raising kids. I appreciate that line of reasoning, but I don’t think things are that different. And if they ARE that different, I think we have to examine WHY. Maybe those of us parenting today are dealing with the ramifications of what happens when you don’t empower kids with the truth about their bodies. Maybe we don’t want to let the cycle continue and we’re determined to do better and give our kids the knowledge they need to protect themselves from the dangers that have ALWAYS been present, even when nobody wanted to talk about them.
You can clutch your pearls all day and wonder what this world is coming to, but I’m doing the right thing to protect and arm my child against the world that exists. I can pretend that one in four children aren’t sexually abused by the time they turn 18, or I can do my best to be sure my child isn’t that one. We can pretend the world is different or we can arm our kids for the world they live in. Not talking to our kids about sexual abuse doesn’t mean they won’t be sexually abused. It just means they won’t have the language to tell us if it happens.
I could see your baffled look when my son yelled out the anatomically correct name for his private part and I know I have to deal with my own moment of embarrassment about his shamelessness. But ultimately, I don’t care how you feel about it or even that you heard. Because I know anybody within earshot now knows that this is a child who has been talked to honestly about his body. He is a child who is capable of reporting anything inappropriate that happened to him. He’s a child being raised by parents who talk about boundaries and appropriate and inappropriate touch from his earliest ages. That moment of embarrassment for me as a mother is worth it when I know what my son has just managed to innocently communicate to the rest of the playground. He has accidentally made known that he is not a good target, and for that I am thankful even though I’m blushing.
The truth is, I’m not even that worried about the loner guy lurking around the edge of the playground. I can keep a close eye on him, but statistically speaking, he isn’t the danger to my kid. It’s the friendly neighbor, the babysitter, the cousin, the friend from church. The people who have earned my trust and the trust of my child and then use that trust to wound. This is why it’s not enough for me to just keep a constant eye on my child when we’re around strangers. Stranger danger is the least of our worries. I can’t protect my kids at all times, so I teach them how to protect themselves.
I do that by talking to them about what to do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. I give them the right to decide how, when, and if they want to express physical affection to friends and family members. I teach them about privacy and model healthy boundaries. And yes, I teach them the anatomically correct names for their body parts. Our version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” may sound a little more graphic than you’re used to, but it’s how we normalize these kinds of conversations. Little kids don’t feel ashamed about knowing their body part names and that’s how I want it to stay. I want them to know they can always talk to me and I won’t be scandalized by their questions. When they need an authority on all things sexual, I want them to come to me instead of their friends or, God forbid, the internet. I know they won’t feel safe to talk to me if they think I’ll be standing there shocked, clutching my pearls.
So next time you hear a little child use an “adult” word in that context, maybe instead of being openly offended, take a breath. It’s OK to feel embarrassed or giggle. We’re all a little uncomfortable in that moment. But maybe fight through your own discomfort to give me a smile, a nod, a supportive look so I know we’re on the same team—the team that wants to protect our kids.