Preteen masturbation: A parent's go-to guide on how to deal with it maturely
Remember that preteen masturbation is a result of your child's desire to use his/her body part for pleasure and is not a crime. Read on.
Don’t be alarmed if you catch your child putting his hands down his pants one day. Preteen masturbation is very much a reality.
Instead, stop and think about why this subject makes you squirm.
The very word ‘masturbation’ often makes people either uncomfortable or guilty. It also points to the fact that we often consider it to be sinful, off-limits, and a psychological disturbance. But, none of that is true.
Most children often play with their genitals. This starts from age two and goes on till the age of six. But this changes when children enter their preteen years. That’s because we judge masturbation with our adult perspective.
Yes, it is common.
In fact, according to a study by The University of Michigan, “Most children — both boys and girls — play with their genitals (external sex organs or “private parts”) fairly regularly by the age of 5-6 years. By age 15, almost 100 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls have masturbated to the point of orgasm.”
To a preteen, masturbation is an opportunity to understand his or her body. At this point in their lives, they are figuring out how these parts of their bodies give them pleasure.
Once they discover that these parts give them pleasurable feelings, they will reach for them often. To a child, fondling his or her genitals is pleasurable. It is not ‘dirty’ or ‘sinful.’ Kids will only worry when they pick up anxious vibes from adults around them.
Some of you may question masturbation and might be looking for ways to deal with it at home with your own kids. Be assured that it is pretty common.
Since the children are not doing anything wrong, there is no need for you to scold, humiliate or even punish them. Do not tell them that their genitals are ‘bad’ body parts. If you do this, it may create sexual hangups later.
But how do children know about masturbation? Do they read it somewhere or try to copy something they might have seen?
No one really teaches kids about masturbation, nor do they pick it up from anywhere. They stumble upon it while discovering their own bodies.
Boys often discover their penises when they are as young as six or seven months old. It happens most often during diaper changes. Girls, on the other hand do not discover their vulva or female external genitalia until about 10 or 11 months.
When genital play takes place, it is mostly by rubbing with their hand or against objects. Such kids often have a blank look on their faces. Or, they might breathe irregularly. It’s crucial to remember that kids do not necessarily associate masturbation with sexual play as adults do. This happens much later, in their teenage years.
So what should should you do when you catch your child in the act?
Your first step should be to gather the confidence to have ‘The Talk’ with your child.
First things first. Masturbation is normal. Do not create a scene if you catch your child in the act. Here’s what you must bear in mind when you have ‘The Talk’ with your kid.
- Masturbation is normal. Understand that your child’s desire to use their body parts for pleasure is not a crime. It is a part of normal sexual development.
Keep in mind that masturbating is not the only way to develop positive body image. It is, however, one way to love your body. So occasional massage of the genitals is not dirty, harmful, or a signal of an underlying psychological problem.
Neither is it a reflection of ‘bad’ parenting. It is simply a natural process of self-discovery.
- Do not body shame. When you have the talk, make sure you do not engage in body shaming. Your child should not feel ashamed of thier genitals.
You should make them feel that it there no shame in masturbation. And, as long as it is doesn’t harm their day-to-day lives, it’s not a big deal.
- Draw the line. While it is all right to allow kids to explore their bodies, you also have to set limits. This means that you have to be respectful of their choices.
But you’ll also have to be careful about how you deliver your message. A difference in your tone and your body language might confuse the child.
- When masturbation is not normal. Genital play can become a problem if your child is occupied just with that. You can no longer call it ‘exploration’ if that’s all your child does, and he is constantly running away from normal human interaction.
If your child treats this as ‘normal’ and is dependent on it, then rest assured, it is ‘abnormal.’
Such behaviour could lead to medical complications.
With girls, too much friction can lead to damage of the urinary tract and cause infections. While in boys, aggressive stimulation can inflict pain. Either way, parental intervention may be required.
- Public rules of acceptance apply. As long as your child doesn’t indulge in masturbation in public, you may not even come to know. But if he or she does it in public, use that as an opportunity to teach them about privacy.
Avoid harsh words, and tell them that anything to do with their genitals is private. Ideally, your child may stop doing it in public, once caught. They may even try to suppress their feeling out of respect for you. So just to be safe, engage your child in a socially acceptable activity.
- Work on their self-esteem. When you have that talk with your kid, make sure to build their self-esteem. Children who are confident are less likely to engage in habitual genital stimulation.
Also, bored kids often turn to masturbation to pass time, but end up making it a habit. When you notice your preteen’s hands going into their pants, distract them into another activity.
- Avoid scare tactics. There is no use in scaring your child after you find them masturbating. Many people resort to saying things like: “You’ll go blind!” or, “It will give you warts!”
This might scare your child at first. But it will also shatter his self-esteem and make him question his own body. Plus, if they find out about the ‘lies’ it’s unlikely they will come to you for any sexual advice.
- Be wise and mature. If you catch your ward in the act, be wise and thoughtful. Do not mock your kid, or make her feel guilty. ‘The Talk’ can be uncomfortable, but it is good for your bond.
In addition, it will also help your kid become more aware of her body and develop self-esteem.
- Ask for help. If you are uncomfortable addressing the issue yourself, employ a teacher. Go to a doctor for help if your child is a habitual masturbator. Let them explore the subject for you.
This will help you resolve the issue of habitual preteen masturbation and won’t affect your relationship with your child.
- Look for alternation stress relievers. Many of you may notice that masturbation is a way to relieve tension for your preteen. So look for alternative ways to do the same.
Try to first find out why they are anxious. Then look for ways to reduce the stress by engaging them in other physical activities such as games or plays.
Once you have had this talk with your child, it will not only make you feel stress-free, but it will also help your child understand what he is doing.
So you shouldn’t worry about preteen masturbation, right? Well, not so much. You might have to worry in a few cases.
Since preteen masturbation is a normal process of childhood development, it’s not a cause for worry. Except in the following cases:
- In case your child develops an early understanding of sex
- When masturbation becomes compulsive and also interferes with other activities
- If your child simulates sex with another child
- When masturbation is painful
- The child masturbates to relieve stress and keeps coming back to feel comfortable
- Mouth to genital contact takes place between two kids
- You notice your child to be sad or unhappy most of the time
- If masturbation is accompanied by physical trauma to the genital area
Just remember that all of these are signs that masturbation has taken a big role in your preteen’s life. These are the times your child needs immediate parental intervention.
However, you should note that preteen masturbation is not a medical condition. There are many myths surrounding this natural act.
Remember that it will not stunt your preteen’s growth. It will not blind him or cause deafness. Masturbation cannot make your child promiscuous in the future. And it will not drive your child crazy.
All of these are myths. Therefore, it is crucial that you approach this issue with utmost maturity and reassure your child, while making them understand what they are doing.