Many parents find it superawkward when their kids start masturbating, but it's not only normal, it's healthy. Readers often ask each other how they should respond, especially when kids masturbate in public. There's one fairly common denominator among the responses: teach your child appropriate boundaries without making them feel ashamed. The question is . . . how?
According to the University of Michigan's Development and Behavior Resources program, the vast majority of kids discover their genitals and the pleasure they can bring by age 6. While discussions seem to revolve mostly around boys and girls who are in the 10 to 13 range, whatever age your child is at when she or he makes this discovery is the time to start discussing when and where this behavior is appropriate.
Carrie A.'s two kids (ages 10 and 13) have been taught that masturbation is fine in the privacy of their bedroom or bathroom, and not in other places. She has promised them she won't come in without knocking, and she always waits for them to say, "Come in." This seems like a respectful approach, and one that will likely build trust in her family.
Door-locking is not allowed in Tisha P.'s home, but her kids, too, know that they have privacy behind the closed doors of their bedrooms. For safety reasons, she has asked her kids to never use objects (only hands), and to wash their hands when they're finished. Beyond that, they are allowed to explore their bodies freely in private.
Should You Respond Differently to Girls vs. Boys?
There does, perhaps not surprisingly, seem to be a discrepancy between parental perceptions of boys versus girls when it comes to masturbation. Many moms see it as normal for boys, but somewhat disturbing when girls do it. This is likely the result of deep cultural biases that many of us hold unconsciously.
Lesley comments that "we seem to find boys exploring their bodies a much more acceptable practice." But she has an 11-year-old daughter and adds that she would rather know that her child is exploring her own body rather than "letting someone else do the 'exploring'" as her daughter enters her teen years.
Eva W. suggests to moms who have discomfort around this to "do some soul searching" to try to understand why you have such difficulty accepting what doctors and psychologists say is perfectly normal behavior. In other words, trying to untangle your own hang-ups can go a long way toward helping your child grow up without shame regarding her body. Eva is walking the talk: she has begun talking about puberty and basic reproduction to her 10-year-old twins, as she believes these are related topics that parents should proactively pursue.
The common-sense takeaway here is that kids age 10-13 clearly understand that certain things are to be done at certain places and times. For example, we eat dinner in the early evening, at the table in the kitchen. We take a bath in the bathroom before we go to bed. It's not a great leap for them to understand that masturbation, like going to the toilet, is private.
How did you handle your child's discovery of masturbation?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.