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The Not-So-Private Body

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Dr. Sophia Grant: Even before I became a child abuse pediatrician, I was keenly aware of the victimization of children. As a result, I tried to educate my own about potential predators and unsafe situations.

Girl Wrapped in White Towel

I started the conversation early, around age 3, when I felt they understood the meaning of "private." "Give me some privacy" was met with my eldest making sure to close the bathroom door as she watched me use the toilet. I still make my 11-year-old use the women's restroom, much to his chagrin. Two years ago, he asked me when I would allow him to use a public restroom, unaccompanied. I told him "Fifteen" -- and that's not even an exaggeration.

Sleepovers? That's another story. It took me forever to finally acquiesce. And that is only when I know the family and they know I'm a child abuse doctor who works with crazy cops and throw-the-book-at-'em district attorneys. When I drop off my children, instead of saying, "Have fun!" or "Remember to brush your teeth," I say, "Nobody touches your penis!" and "Nobody sees anybody naked!"

So my children know boundaries, or so I thought.

It was November. The weather had become crisp. My 4-year-old, Yaya, was dressed in thick tights, undershirt, long-sleeved blouse, and skirt. She went next door to play. Forty-five minutes went by. Then a frantic yell from upstairs: "Mommy, Yaya's on the trampoline naked with Cason!!" My heart raced as I shot upstairs. I tried to suppress images of them rolling around or touching each other -- NAKED. When I got upstairs and made it to the bedroom that gives me a perfect view of the neighbor's yard, I saw my baby jumping high, arms flailing, laughing, and buck naked. Her summer tan lines were still visible. Cason, also 4, and his baby sister were also in the buff.

Compared to what I had imagined, I was relieved. I sent my eldest next door to fetch her sister, all while eyeing them from upstairs. I marveled at their innocence and wondered what it felt like to be so free.

When Yaya returned, she was without an undershirt, her panties were inside-out, and no tights were in sight. We had the "My Body Is Private" talk. Again. Outwardly, I was firm, but inside I was tickled and glad that she had not become jaded, despite my best efforts.

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52 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jeana June 7, 2009, 7:28 AM

I understand your concerns. My brothers and I were all abused by our father for many years. I too had the talk with my son very young and it’s kind of an ongoing theme. I have not yet let him go to someone else’s house for a sleepover - though he has hosted several and I’ve been shocked that the parents don’t care to see my home or know anything about us. Some of the other moms think I am a little nuts about it and I think they are not cautious enough. It’s on the news EVERY SINGLE DAY and at some point “somebody else” may just be you.I applaud what you do both professionally and in your own home. Yes, it is hard to remember that kids are innocent and that they view the world in a completely different way than we do - especially those of us that have been victims or that work with victims.

Kristen June 7, 2009, 7:53 AM

Great article, I think parents need to hear this. My husband and I have a NO sleepover policy. Because we are a military family I will never know BOTH parents well enough for me to be comfortable. I also think that parents need to be explaining to there children about private parts and I think parents need to be dressing there children appropriatley. This is a very important issue, glad to see momlogic thinks it’s important too.

Brooke June 7, 2009, 12:17 PM

No sleepovers? fine. No nakedness? fine. Not letting your son use the Men’s room until he is 15? crazy. He is (or will soon be) entering puberty and not only does it embarrass him to use the ladies’ room, it makes the women in that restroom uncomfortable.

Alexcia June 7, 2009, 1:55 PM

Excellent article, agree with it whole heartedly.

cam June 7, 2009, 4:56 PM

Great article and I’m sorry if he and the women in the bathroom are uncomfortable…but there are huge safety issues. since I cannot go into a men’s restroom to make sure that there isn’t a predator waiting for a young boy, there isn’t a chance.

Annette June 7, 2009, 5:25 PM

I was also abused as a child by my birth father. It is tough trying to find a balance between protecting their innocence and letting them enjoy their innocence. I agree with the bathroom thing. Not that long ago here, there was a case of a 14 year old boy going to the men’s room at an amusement park and being raped. So, if it’s embarrassing and uncomfortable for others, oh well. I’m not risking my son’s safety for your comfort zone.

I have heard of some moms who will stick their head in the door and have a look around first - letting the men in there know she’s right outside - and then let the kid go in, with instructions to scream for her if anyone tries to approach him.

Absolutely no sleepovers either. I can’t trust that everyone will have a household free of things I object to (guns anyone?), so just no, on the sleepovers.

Melissalynn June 7, 2009, 6:08 PM

My oldest son is 9 and I do allow him to use the men’s restroom in public, but I stand at the door and talk to him while he is in there so that way any potential predators know that I am only a few steps away. If a store has a family bathroom we use those.

becki June 7, 2009, 7:56 PM

brooke - I know your comment has good intentions behind it. but unfortunately, I am a prosecutor in a fairly large county. restrooms are a place that predators target children. Fifteen is about the age that predators will lay off and not “target” a child. I commend dr. grant for her article. you can never educate children too soon.

Tiffany June 7, 2009, 8:14 PM

I agree that it’s better to be safe than sorry, but with reason! If my son wants to go to the public mens room, I will let him go…BUT while I stand by the door! I’ll give him 3-4 min to do his biz, but won’t be afraid to come knocking if it takes longer.
Young men don’t want their Mommies escorting them to the ladies room!!! The best restrooms are the “Family Restrooms”!! My husband and our kids are able to ALL get our business done in one shot…and some of us even wait our turn with TOTAL privacy. I have seen these Family Restrooms more & more…so I’m VERY pleased!!
And reguarding sleepovers. My daughter is ONLY allowed to sleepover with either her family (thankfully she’s close to her cousins) OR a friend of the family that I have known for over 20 years. Everyone else is allowed to sleepover with us…but amazingly many parents don’t seem to worry about us. They know nothing about me or my husband…AND THAT WORRIES ME!!

Anonymous June 7, 2009, 8:27 PM

I have been separated from my daughter’s father for about 7 years. We share custody and she goes between the two households. When she was around 3, I wanted to teach her exactly the same things as mentioned in this article because I was molested by my ex-step father at the age of 5 until I was almost 7. I want her to know what is appropriate ( that maybe a doctor will need to see her privates only if necessary if that is the reason for the visit ) and what is not appropriate. I was also teaching her how to bathe herself as well. One time at her father’s house, while she was in the bathtub, she touched herself and was trying to clean herself and he totally took it the wrong way. He had a CPS investigation done, and I wasn’t allowed to see her for 3 months. I understand his concern because he does know of my past and also experienced abuse himself has a child, but I was hurt and totally blindsided that he didn’t come to me and ask me about her behavior. The case was eventually dropped and nothing came out of it and he has apologized for doing that to me.. but I have to make sure that not only I but also him and his wife teach her what is appropriate or what is not. I hate to say it but I believe that any child could potentially be in danger but teaching them young about their privates and bad people, will certainly help so they may have the tools from preventing any danger.

Melissa June 8, 2009, 12:05 AM

I let my sons, 14 and 10, use the men’s room by themselves. I stand at the door and am not shy about just walking in there if I feel they are taking too long. This is a great article, am glad that the little girl has not yet learned how to be cynical. :D

K&C's mom June 8, 2009, 12:54 AM

We’re just beginning the talk with our 8 year old, who by the way is homeschooled, but we are getting ready to take in a niece who has been molestested by both her parents, and our daughter needs to know it’s not ok to touch or be touched in that way!!!!

Ali June 8, 2009, 1:54 AM

I think the situation regarding restrooms is more awkward for fathers alone with their young daughters when they need to use the restroom. I don’t see any problem with boys using the girls bathroom as everything is done behind closed stall doors. However, many would consider it highly inappropriate for a young girl to be taken into a men’s room. I remember numberous occasions when men have asked my mother to escort their daughter into the women’s room if we were heading that direction. My mom said that if my dad ever did that with me she would probably get angry but said she probably looked more trust worthy than others because she had a child with her. Now that I’m older I’ve been asked a couple times by dads to watch their daughters while they go into the men’s room if they see my dad and little brother go into the men’s room. I don’t know what the correct solution to is problem is. I think family restrooms are the way to go. As for sleepovers, I didn’t have any friends who my mom wasn’t friends with their parents so it was okay. Although even once I was in highschool I had a friend who lived with her single dad and had sleepovers and I still got “the talk” even though I was plenty old enough to know better. In today’s world, parents can never be too careful.

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Rachel June 8, 2009, 7:59 AM

Family restrooms are really quite nice. I’m not sure if others have the same issue that I seem to encounter each time I try to use one, and that is employees of the store I’m patronizing using it as their own executive washroom. Nothing about shopping irritates me more than seeing salespeople use the family restroom just because it’s (literally) a few steps closer than the public restroom!

Karla E June 8, 2009, 2:51 PM

Really?? This article must be a joke..really?

So far the comments mention being molested by a father, step-father, family member. Maybe it’s not public restrooms that are a problem, but the restrooms in your house.

Do you all realize that children are hundreds of times more likely to die in a car accident than be molested by a stranger…and yet we put them in a car

We are a strange species.

Anonymous June 8, 2009, 5:43 PM

Why are 2 four year olds and a younger child playing unsupervised outside alone and on a trampoline? I assume they were unsupervised or else the parent watching was way negligent in letting them strip naked and play on a trampoline! Ever heard of predators that are looking for unattended children outside in their own yards and grabbing them and kidnapping them? It happens!

Lucy June 8, 2009, 8:40 PM

Well, many things here struck a cord. While I also have a no sleep over policy, it’s not because I’m paranoid of child abuse. I’m sure that as a doctor that specializes in abuse cases the danger seems overwhemeling. I find this issue to also be true of police officers. When you deal mainly with the dregs of society, your view becomes skewed. It’s natural. I agree with the last comment, that the unsupervised trampoline poses more risk, than the fact that all these 4 year olds with naked. My heart goes out to this doctor who cannot even remember a time of innocence. My goes out to her daughter for having to listen to yet one more talk about boundaries…blah, blah, blah.

It’s a shame it’s articles like this that people remember.

Karen June 8, 2009, 8:44 PM

It happens, really? Name me two examples, in the same city, in the past 10 years. The real statistics show that kids are hardly EVER abducted by strangers, especially in theri own backyards. I’ve never seen so many insanely overprotective Nervous Nellies. Brooke and Karla E. are the only ones I agree with. And by the way, I assume the writer of this article does not plan to let her son out of her sight until he is 15. I doubt he will get to go to the mall with his friends or even the library by himself, because heaven forbid he might have to pee!

DJ Criste June 8, 2009, 9:43 PM

Dr. Jonas Salk, of polio vaccine fame, is credited with saying, “Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught to them.”

I think that many of these arguments and fears focus on an either/or approach — forgetting that a balance is needed.

I can’t even imagine the things this dr/mom has seen — I know that I have my own “weird” behavior based on my experiences (we could start with how I feel about camping and go from there).

I am saddened when it becomes an “all or nothing” approach — NEVER use the men’s room, NEVER be naked, ALWAYS walk to school, ALWAYS let your kid go.

I try hard to do a risk/benefit analysis. Regarding the bathroom, for example — where are we at? what time of day is it? how many people are around? For sleepovers, I look to the other child’s behavior in my home to see what he/she has been taught — is there respect? is there fear? is there confidence? is there nonchalance about danger?

I also see the author’s internal conflict, which many commenters seem to have missed — the fear based on what’s she’s seen as a dr, the pride and joy in childhood innocence.

Dr. Grant, the best thing I could say to you is to remember to teach your children to THINK for themselves in order to protect themselves from abuse. Then you might not have to worry so much (although you probably still will) about what a predator could do to your son — because your son will recognize the predator behavior and firmly say “no” and get the heck out of there. Teaching to be fearful in all situations does not give our children the tools (i.e. the roots) they need to make quality decisions when they are on their own (i.e. their wings).

Much like children who never get sugar or who never are allowed to watch TV, those who are never allowed freedom do not know what to do with it when they are suddenly declared “adults” and have to govern their own behavior.

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