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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
L June 9, 2009, 12:44 AM

I have known a few people who were sexually abused as children and ALL by family members or family friends. I have one girlfriend who was abused by her big brothers best friend! It is not just strangers and public toilets that pose a risk.

By having these conversations and letting the children know what is appropriate, you create a barrier to abuse, regardless of the circumstances.

Kenny Felder June 9, 2009, 9:17 AM

Please look at the statistics. Your child is far, far more likely to suffer death or permanent injury in the car on the way to the grocery store than to be molested in a bathroom or at a sleepover. It’s very easy when you hear about one or two incidents on the news—or worse, if it happened to you—to overgeneralize and believe these incidents are common. But when you try to protect your children from all these very unlikely dangers, you raise fearful people. A four-year-old child should not think twice about being naked with a friend, and a ten-year-old should know that the bathroom is a safe place because people are, for the most part, good. I would never let a ten-year-old watch “Nightmare on Elm Street,” but how much worse to raise him believing that every strangers is a potential Freddy Krueger?

Amber June 9, 2009, 4:37 PM

Articles like this make me frightened for the outcome of our future generation. If we are over-protecting our children to a point where we’re not even letting them use a public bathroom on their own, what kind of adults do you think they are going to grow up to be? Spineless whimps who can’t think or breathe without their parents’ consent. Keeping them in a bubble will not teach them any kind of common sense or independence. They will not know how to experience anything or think or defend themselves. I think that by keeping them on such a short leash is only going to make them rush to the dramatic, the very second they are let loose, because they will have a newfound sense of freedom. I had a friend I knew in high school, who’s parents never let her out of their sight, not even for a moment. The second she went off to college and was on her own, she ended up binge drinking, partying and pregnant at 18 and had to drop out of a top university, and all because she was never allowed to experience ANYTHING on her own. You have to let your kids breathe and let them experience life or otherwise they will do it behind your back and probably get into serious trouble in the process. At the very least, let them pee on their own, especially when they’re 15! CRAZY!

Karla E June 9, 2009, 8:05 PM

One other note…what if your DAUGHTER is out in public with her FATHER? Does she have to go in the bathroom with him until she’s 15? How many of us want a 15 year old (or 14,13,12,11,10,9 year old) girl looking in on our husband’s peeing?

Robin June 10, 2009, 9:58 AM

Here’s my thought: If I saw a teenaged boy in the ladies room, I would assume that HE was the potential predator, and likely inform security.

sonya June 10, 2009, 10:31 AM

I’m afraid mothers who insist their 11 year old sons use the women’s public restrooms really bother me. What about my right to privacy? Boys that age have sexual feelings, I don’t like to be watched by pre-teen boys while I am adjusting my clothes or putting on makeup, and I have even seen boys looking under the doors of the stalls. If you really don’t think he can use the bathroom on his own, then make sure his father accompanies him on all trips away from home, or only use single-occupancy bathrooms like those designed for disabled. My YMCA swimming pool had a good rule which I think should apply to all public bathrooms: no kids over the age of 4 in the opposite gender changing rooms (“family changing rooms” were provided for those who needed them). Women’s bathrooms should be for women, not preteen boys!

prncssjzmyn01 June 10, 2009, 2:32 PM

My daughter is 7 and only stays at friends houses that we have known for years. Our children have played together since birth. And often i go with. When i have my friends son i am never shy to stand int he mens room door with it open whiles he’s in there. You never know. Like many bloggers already said, why take the chance at being that one parent who loses a child.

Jeana June 10, 2009, 2:39 PM

What a shame so many people think such precautions are silly. It’s a funny little quirk we humans have, the “stuff like that happens to someone else” mindset. I always tell my son that you can have adventures and still be cautious. Would you jump out of a plane without taking the proper classes and safety checking your equipment? Would you climb a mountain without first learning what to do and using the proper - and properly inspected- equipment? I allow my son (10) to go to the public bathroom alone but as with another poster I stand at the door and talk to him. I do not allow sleepovers because as yet I have not met the fathers or other male members of his friends families. Sorry, but that is just good parenting. You don’t send your kid out alone to stay with people you don’t know well enough to trust them with your child’s life which is what you are doing if you send them to a sleepover. I went to any number of sleepovers as a child and my parents had very strict policies about sleepovers (which was ironic, considering the biggest threat in my life was actually being in my own bed at night). The point is parents are lazy these days - get mad all you want but it is true. Parents have become LAZY and their kids are suffering in a multitude of ways for it. So shame on all of you not concerned enough to take a few simple precautions for your kids sake. Once you have kids it is no longer about you, it is about THEM.

hey Karen... June 10, 2009, 3:16 PM

Karen read the first paragraph from http://www.atg.wa.gov/page.aspx?id=2354

Key recommendations to protect children:

Be aware that children are not immune from abduction because they are close to home. More than half of the study’s abductions took place within three city blocks of the victim’s home.

Be certain that your children are supervised – even if they are in their own front yard or neighborhood street. Approximately one-third of the abductions studied took occurred within one-half block of the victim’s home.

Teach your children not to ever approach a car– whether the occupant is a stranger or not– no matter what the occupant the tells them or asks them.

Be aware of strangers and unusual behavior in your neighborhoods. Many child abductions are witnessed by people who do not realize that a crime is being committed.

If your child is ever missing, CALL POLICE IMMEDIATELY. An immediate response to a missing or abducted child may be the difference between life and death.
Be aware that children are not immune from abduction because they are close to home. More than half of the study’s abductions took place within three city blocks of the victim’s home.

Be certain that your children are supervised – even if they are in their own front yard or neighborhood street. Approximately one-third of the abductions studied took occurred within one-half block of the victim’s home.

Teach your children not to ever approach a car– whether the occupant is a stranger or not– no matter what the occupant the tells them or asks them.

Be aware of strangers and unusual behavior in your neighborhoods. Many child abductions are witnessed by people who do not realize that a crime is being committed.

If your child is ever missing, CALL POLICE IMMEDIATELY. An immediate response to a missing or abducted child may be the difference between life and death.

Tammy June 10, 2009, 4:22 PM

I’m surprised that not one person is concerned about their young sons being molested by a woman in the ladies bathroom. Haven’t we all learned the hard way that women are molesting boys at an increasing rate?

Robin Sax June 10, 2009, 7:28 PM


Discussing the topic of “private parts” usually makes parents skin crawl. Dr. Sophia Grant illustrates what we, as MOMS, must do more often: be honest with our fears. We are scared of scaring the sh**t out of our kids. Even thinking of having “private part conversations” gets us nervous. At the same time, we must be responsible enough to know that we can (and must) do it. Grant suggests an excellent method to make safety and body talk a natural part of our life. This includes finding “teachable moments.” Following a little naked prance by her 4 year old, Dr. Grant was able to talk about private parts naturally while putting clothes back on her little tot. There was no sit down at the table for “family safety talk” or “private part talk.” There was a natural conversation, in the throws of a real life situation, that became an opportunity to express, discuss, and review the concept of keeping clothes on in public. The key to keeping such talks from being scary is for parents to assume that body/personal safety discussions are not scary. Your kids will pick up your calm attitude and with feel secure in turn!

Mark June 14, 2009, 10:25 PM

Lady, get real. You’re being much worse making an 11 year old go into the ladies bathroom with you. THAT is borderline abusive in my opinion. There is no real danger there and you know it as well as I do. You yourself admit you’re making your “best effort” to make them “jaded.” Is that really what you want? Kids who are afraid of the world and don’t succeed as adults? Because it’s what you’re asking for!

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