Written by Doctor G

Beyond Good Touch Bad Touch – Talking to Kids About Body Privacy

Hey Dr. G, I am sending my 10-year-old son to sleep away camp for the first time this summer. I trust that the camp is a safe place with responsible people. At the same time, it is the first time that he will be out of my care, and I feel that I should talk with my son about his body and what kinds of touching is and is not acceptable. We’ve always talked about the “private areas” starting when he was little, but I feel that the conversation has not progressed past the 4-year-old concepts and terminology, (probably because my son has never asked many questions about this topic.) I want to make sure my son knows how to protect himself, speak up, and tell an adult if he ever found himself in a compromising situation (at camp or anywhere else), but at the same time, I don’t want to scare my son by talking about molestation. What do I say? Where do I start?

Anonymous, in PA

Kudos to you for addressing this scary but important topic!  Most parents put their metaphoric fingers in ears and hope this will never happen to their family. This approach does not empower kids or build resilience.  While it is likely (thank goodness) that your son will never be molested, he will hear all kinds of “facts” about bodies and sex while he is away from you. Knowing that his parents are the go-to place for accurate information is really protective.

First, here are a few general thoughts about how to approach this issue.

  1. Don’t look at this as one conversation. This is a series of (probably very short) talks where you establish your open, nonjudgmental ear and your “expert” cred, and then move it forward in an age-appropriate way over years.
  2. Don’t connect these talks to “camp” in his mind. These are body privacy issues, applicable everywhere.
  3. Sitting down and “talking” (cue the heavy music) is only one of the ways to get him thinking critically about these issues. You can use books, movies, songs or TV shows to introduce ideas. Watch together and then ask him questions like “Is that relationship equal? Did you think that person like being touched that way? What could they do? Who could they talk to?”

Now, how in the world do you approach body privacy for an elementary schooler? Take heart! You’ve already done some of the work! Don’t forget to talk about this with your parenting partner before you talk to your child.

  • Figure out what you want your child to know before he goes to camp.
    • Sounds like you’re already there about molestation – you want him to know that he has complete control over who touches him and where, and that being touched in a way he doesn’t like is a “reportable” offense.
    • Pick one phrase or a few words you want him to take away from these conversations.
      • “My body is only mine” or
      •  “Nobody touches me but me.”
      • “Privacy, control, comfort.” Or whatever makes most sense to you.
  • Decide how much information is enough. Complete disclosure may not be crucial.
    • Without scaring him, you may still need to say “an adult or another person might try to touch you in a way you don’t like, here is what you can do:”?
    • If he scoffs at such an idea, will you tell him some truths about real events?
    • If you had a bad experience or his Dad did, will you share it with him?
    • Figure out what you’ll say if he asks a question you’re not ready to answer. Perhaps “That is a good question, but it’s more than I wanted to talk about tonight. Can we leave it to another time?” This sets up the expectation that this is an ongoing dialogue.
  • Start the conversation with questions.
    • “Has anyone ever touched you in a way you didn’t like?” “What did you do about it?”
    • “Who’s allowed to touch your private areas?”
    • “Are you allowed to touch someone else’s private areas? What if they ask you to?”
    • “What would you do if a friend or a grown up did that?”
  • Listen to his answers, keep your suggestions shorter than his ideas.
  • Get your key words or phrase into the conversation over and over. Get him to tell you the words.

Last point – I have been a camper and a counselor at overnight camp. It is unlikely that he is in any danger, but you are right to want to talk to him about these issues. Don’t forget to talk to him about the basics of sex before hand, as he is likely to hear all kinds of ideas about this from other ten- and eleven-year-old boys while away. You want him to feel empowered by your information, so that he doesn’t believe every crazy idea he hears!

Two of my boys are headed to camp for the first time this summer, I feel ya! (But not in that inappropriate way we’re talking about here).  😉



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7 thoughts on “Beyond Good Touch Bad Touch – Talking to Kids About Body Privacy”

  1. I also feel it is so impt to include a chat with tween/teen boys about NOT touching anyone – female or male – against their will either. It is surprising how early hormones begin to set in …. and tween/teen boys away from home talk about ALL!!

    1. You are absolutely right Rachel. It is not enough to assume that your child understands that, if no one should touch him against his will, that means he can’t touch anyone else if they don’t agree! We’ve taught our boys to ask before hugs, kisses, wrestling, etc. Thanks for this great point!

  2. Very well said Doc G. I have three (20, 17, and 10) and made every effort since they were little to have this continual body (and sex) discussion w/them at the various stages of their lives (each is a different convo style appropriate to the happenings at the various ages throughout their life. I have been able to share different stories with my oldest, that I would’ve never shared when they were 10 for instance, since she too is an adult now.). These stages of conversation are simply a continued opportunity for open, honest, discussion about something very basic that will help them as adults in the end. As a result, they have grown to be able to come to me about everything, from telling me about their first kiss, to issues /questions about their body. Communication is the best medicine.

  3. Thank you so much, Dr. G, for answering my question! After I sent it, I was worried that I was being a paranoid parent, but clearly I’m on the right track. This is a difficult topic for me, because as a child my parents never, ever, ever talked about sex. I remember having one conversation with my mom about getting my period – that was it. I learned everything from stories on the school bus, sex ed class in school, and movies.

    I just have one question – and I would appreciate it if you could be as specific as possible in your answer. You wrote: “Don’t forget to talk to him about the basics of sex before hand, as he is likely to hear all kinds of ideas about this from other ten- and eleven-year-old boys while away.” What exactly should I say? Should I explain EVERYTHING? Should I give him a PG-version? Any specific terms I should use? Any books for kids that you can recommend? He likes to read, and I think he will appreciate the time to read and think about it after our conversation…

    I feel comfortable talking about this with my son, but at the same time, I feel like once I start this conversation… he won’t be a little kid anymore. (I know, I know. He’ll have this conversation with other kids anyway… can’t stop them from growing up…)

    1. OK, great question. So has he ever asked you how babies get IN to the mom’s belly? That is a great, age appropriate way to start. I’m going (since you asked) to give you a script, but PLEASE feel free to change it and adapt it for your values and your child.

      “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about a grown up thing. Have you heard of ‘sex?'” Then ask him what he has heard. Always better to get a clear sense of his current knowledge base, and correct any misconceptions. Then:

      “So sex is what a man and woman do that makes a baby. Kids like to talk about this, and I figure you’ll hear more about it at camp, so I wanted you to have some basic info. What questions do you have?” Best if you can answer the questions he has.

      YES I think you need to tell him clearly what “having sex” means. Be sure to give him the values you want him to have along with the factual info. If you want to say that only married people should do this, fine! Be clear with your husband about the parameters that you feel are age appropriate.

      DO tell him “A lot of kids will pretend they know more about this than they do. And they will make stuff up to show off. Don’t believe everything you hear, but you can check anything you hear.”

      Does this help?

  4. Thanks, Doc G! Your initial post sounded like you recommended this straightforward-put it all out there-approach, so I am glad you clarified it. I just wanted to make sure that it is age appropriate to talk about all of this with a 10-year-old. I asked my older friends with 12 or 13-year-olds, but they haven’t had this conversation with their kids yet.

    I think a lot of parents will appreciate that you explained this topic in very specific detail. Thank you.

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