Relationship Connection: How do I discuss masturbation with my kid?

Stock images, St. George News

Question

There is a 7-year-old neighbor boy who openly masturbates (humping the ground with his clothes on) in front of our kids.

We have restricted our kids’ playtime with this neighbor to supervised outside play, and very limited, at that – not sure if its even our place to bring it to their attention, as they probably already know about it.

We don’t want our children exposed to sexualized behavior and also don’t want to completely cut off their friendship. Also, our church appears to be silent on this issue and we are stuck trying to figure out how to handle this situation. Any advice, ideas or recommendations are very much appreciated.

Answer

This is a sensitive and often controversial topic, but I appreciate the opportunity to use my professional knowledge and experience as a father to address it.

It’s important to remember that 7-year-olds are still transitioning into an awareness of what is private and public behavior. The fact that he’s doing these behaviors publicly doesn’t mean he’s on the road to sexual deviance.

He’s most likely discovered that the behavior feels good and can’t help himself. Another possibility is that he may have elicited strong reactions from other kids or adults and is responding to that reinforcement.

With a child this age, it’s most effective to use redirection and a private discussion about public versus private behaviors. If his parents aren’t present when he’s acting up, there is nothing wrong with you redirecting him and explaining to him (out of earshot of the other children, of course) the difference between public and private behavior. Then, you can follow up with his parents and let them know how you handled it.

How to address the topic of masturbation.

Many parents wonder how they should address masturbation with their children. It goes without saying that every parent understands masturbation is something that shouldn’t be done publicly. Beyond that, however, most parents clam up and aren’t sure where to go in the discussion.

Even though most therapists and educators will tell you that masturbation isn’t a big deal and parents shouldn’t worry if their kids do it, you as parents still get to make the decision for how you teach your children about their bodies.

Most conservative religions warn against masturbation, but may not teach the “why” or help parents to know how to address this with their children beyond a straightforward, “Stop it!”

Historically, there have been plenty of unhelpful (and humorous, I might add) scare tactics to keep kids from masturbating. Blindness, hairy palms, insanity and other conditions were made-up reasons to scare kids from masturbating. These may seem dated and obviously flawed ways to handle the topic of masturbation, but the same anxiety and fear can still hijack well-meaning attempts to deter this behavior.

Despite what you may have read in sexual education resources, your child won’t be harmed if they abstain from masturbation. Even though it is a completely normal part of childhood development and self-discovery, it’s a behavior that can become problematic.

Please make sure that in your efforts to educate your children about your concerns with masturbation that you don’t shame them. Your child can be emotionally harmed by the way you teach them to abstain from masturbation. Using approaches that shame and guilt your child into abstinence are completely unhelpful and set your child up for a life of other emotional and relational problems.

Rising above what comes “natural.”

Sex educators seem to get caught in this false dilemma of believing that since virtually all kids are going to privately discover masturbation on their own, a parent will do more damage by trying to stop something natural and harmless.

Please recognize that there are healthy ways to help children know how to avoid the pitfalls of masturbation. Shaming a child into submission or ignoring the issue completely aren’t the only two options.

While I am completely opposed to shaming children, I just as strongly disagree with the notion that we should just throw our hands up and let our children go with whatever feels good and natural to them. As a parent, I want to help my children rise above their physical impulses. I believe there are nonshaming and supportive ways to help us accomplish this lofty ideal.

Begin with a trusting environment.

Hopefully you’ve already created an environment in your home where your children know that they are worthy of love and belonging. This is an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning and growth instead of evidence that they’re broken and defective.

If you have contributed to a shame-based home environment where children are afraid to make mistakes or be human, then it’s essential you work on improving conditions before you begin a delicate discussion on sexuality.

Your children need to know there is absolutely nothing wrong with them when they discover masturbation. Do not send them the message that they have done something disgusting or evil.

Your children are likely to experiment with masturbation. You may catch them, they may admit it if you ask or they may even tell you (less likely, by the way). Please don’t act shocked, disgusted, disappointed or upset.

In the same way you would never overcorrect a veering car on the Interstate, it’s just as dangerous to overreact and overcorrect a child who is discovering their body.

Avoiding masturbation: 3 reasons to consider:

1. Just because masturbation is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

Children begin with no ability to regulate anything that comes naturally to them (hunger, bathroom behavior, sleep, and so on). We celebrate each stage of mastery over their bodies as they learn to walk, feed themselves, talk, and potty train.

2. Masturbation can become a substitute for real connection with others.

We can teach children that masturbation creates a powerful calming feeling that might keep us from turning to other people when we need emotional support. It’s like having your own emotional “off switch” that can direct all of your struggles away from people who can actually help you. Using masturbation in this way can lead to loneliness and isolation.

3. Masturbation can become addictive.

Because the experience of sexual release is so powerful, it’s easy to use masturbation as a way to relieve stress and end up becoming addicted. Instead of turning to addictive behaviors, we want our children to face reality and learn to confront the challenges of life. We can teach children that they will discover substances and experiences that will tempt them to avoid pain or other uncomfortable feelings that are a normal part of life.

Read the full article: The foregoing is a republication in part of Geoff Steurer’s article first published June 8 on the Protect Young Minds blog. Read the full article here, which includes more on his three reasons to consider avoiding masturbation.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Instagram: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

15 Comments

  • radioviking June 14, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Overall, I find Geoff Steurer’s response to this question to be good, BUT I am tired of therapists using the word “addictive” with sexual behavior (including masterbation and even porn). Fact: the diagnostic manual for psycholochologists does not include sex or porn as addictive. There is no such term in the American Psychiactric Association does not diagnose people with “sex addiction” or “porn addiction”. But therapists (most of whom do not even have training in sex therapy) use these terms to make money and as an advertising propaganda. Mr. Steurer writes: “Masturbation can become addictive.” Addictive? No. Compulsive? Yes. But there is a big difference between addiction and compulsion. Therapists are exploiting this term for money. There is already a social taboo around certain sexual behaviors, so it is easy for therapists to use it for shaming sexual behavior BUT that is not healthy.
    .
    Can sexual behavior (including masturbation and porn) become a problem? Yes. If someone is not functioning (keeping a job, healthy relationships with friends and family, and overall health, etc), there is the need to look deeper. I would never tell a child that “Masturbation can become addictive.” because (a) most children would not understand the word “addictive” and (b) saying that is another scare tactic that attaches fear to their mental and physical wellbeing.
    .
    For adults who may be struggling with a sexual compulsion, Sexual compulsion is a symptom of a deeper problem: depression, stress disorder, etc. When a person resolves deeper issues: treat depression, for example. And typically, when an adult who is married is becoming sexually compulsive, there is a problem in their relationship with their spouse. If you are married, and you are compulsively masturbating and/or looking at pornography, most likely the deeper problem is that you and your spouse need to fix your relationship. Your sexual compulsion has become an escape from a bigger problem, and this can be repaired. Good luck.

  • theone June 14, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Please write a retraction to your delusional 3 reasons to consider not masturbating. The medical association disagrees with your assessment and I’m 100% sure their credentials are far and above your mindless attempt to inject a moral aptitude test for masturbation. I’m thankful you were never my parent, and I feel sorry for your children having to grow up in a unrealistic and delusional sphere of moral accountability derived from what seems to be a religious culture of pseudo-science. How you came to some conclusion that masturbating is in the realm of finding emotional support is beyond comprehension, let alone it being addictive. You should be ashamed of this article and your attempt to swing your arm across the boundary lines of moral standing. Stuff your irresponsible and reckless opinion back in the book of mythology. Remember the one thing that matters here, “truth has to align with reality.”

    • ladybugavenger June 14, 2017 at 1:57 pm

      HaHa! Delusional….theone’s favorite word.
      “Delusional” and “reality” I still wonder where you get your reality from. Is it from what you see? What you hear? The way you were raised? Cuz I know it’s not from God. So your delusional reality comes from yourself.

      You may be right 50% of the time tho….there are a lot of delusional people.

      • theone June 14, 2017 at 3:57 pm

        I find it interesting you have this idea of reality being an individual concept of yours vs mine. Reality is reality, can’t change that. People do tend to have their own perception of reality, but that doesn’t change reality. Everything I see, hear, experience contributes to my perception of reality and your god is not in my reality meter. Studies and data show masturbation is a biological function, not a moral or emotional one. So it stands to reason that making it a act of crossing some moral or emotional line is a bad perception of reality, or as I like to view it, delusional.

        • ladybugavenger June 14, 2017 at 7:54 pm

          i don’t have my own God theone. So saying “your God” is delusional.

        • ladybugavenger June 14, 2017 at 8:00 pm

          Whether you like it or not, You will stand before God on judgment day to account for everything you have done and said, just as I will. May you find Jesus before that day. And on that day, you will be without excuse. God Bless you theone.

        • ladybugavenger June 14, 2017 at 8:11 pm

          I care more about you theone than I do this article. I didn’t read it. I only read your comment and your use of the words delusional and reality. And you answered me….it’s your perception of what you see, hear, and experience. What about what you don’t see? Don’t hear? And don’t experience? All I can say is you’re missing out theone. There is so much more to life than you. This life doesn’t revolve around you. I almost feel sorry for you. Prayers Theone🙏

          • theone June 15, 2017 at 10:18 am

            Well being there is much more life than just me, I’ll agree there’s more than just me, but my life does revolve around me, and why shouldn’t it? How in the world am I missing anything if I can’t see it, hear it, experience it? That makes no sense. Am I missing out, sure I am, there’s plenty I’ll never experience, but I am not missing out on life. In the end we all masturbate, just staying in step with the actual premise here.

          • comments June 15, 2017 at 12:33 pm

            You know I keep a certain amount of respect for religious folks even tho a lot of them are nutters. I do respect it.

            How come you didn’t read the article, LBA? I was curious of what Geoff was gonna lecture us on about masturbation that I read the whole thing. That was yesterday, and now I can’t remember any of it. lol 😉

          • ladybugavenger June 15, 2017 at 6:02 pm

            Lol Bob….
            Let’s have a 🍺 Theone and play some 🎱. I haven’t met a person that hasn’t thought I was crazy 😜
            In a fun way tho, not in a psycho killer way lol

  • comments June 14, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    What happened to the days where if a 7 year old did that you’d just slap him? I actually found the best way kids learn they did something wrong is thru light physical punishment. This 7 year old is probably just being obnoxious as hell and needs a good slap to the side of the head. I’ll tell u what bothers me is kids being exposed to porn at extremely young ages. If you give you 7-10 yr old a laptop or tablet and turn them loose on the internet, more than likely they’ll be seeing some kind of pornographic content in almost no time at all. If they’re displaying or imitating sexualized behaviors it could be a result of this. Hell, it doesn’t even take porn in this day and age; just turn the TV on and there’s miley cyrus or some other piece of human excrement, near naked, twerking all over the places and imitating fellatio right on stage. Expose the the kids to even just network TV and they’ll be imitating these behaviors in no time. what a world.

  • Mike P. June 15, 2017 at 10:22 am

    There’s some really good jokes here but i digress ……..

  • ladybugavenger June 15, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Oh and Bob I didn’t the article because anytime someone asks the question, how do I talk to my kid about blah blah blah (whatever the subject is) it pisses me off. Like how stupid are you that you don’t know how to talk to your own kid. How stupid are you that you have to ask someone else how to talk to your own kid….it’s so stupid! Parents are stupid. Like hello? You’re the parent, you are the only one that knows how to talk to your child….stupid, stupid, stupid that’s why I didn’t read it.

    Oh and Theone, I’m on a margarita kick and they don’t serve margaritas in the bar in Utah. If you are ever in Oklahoma I’ll kick your butt on the pool table 😉

  • ladybugavenger June 15, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    *read

  • ladybugavenger June 15, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    No Bob, I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a light weight and I don’t like being drunk.

    Oh yes, im gonna go make a margarita now, nice and slushy and I’m staying home….

    Do not drink and drive my friends.

Leave a Reply