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Child's discovery: leads to parents' discomfort


QUESTION: My 4-year-old has recently “discovered” his penis and seems rather preoccupied with it. Do you think it’s unusual or sinful for him to fondle himself so much?

DR. DOBSON: The answer to both of your questions is an emphatic “no!” Unintentional (or even intentional) self-arousal in young children, specifically boys, is neither unusual nor sinful. Your little guy is simply showing that he is “properly wired.” There are no long-term consequences to this kind of innocent childish behavior, and it will soon resolve itself.

The only significance to early fondling activity is in how you as a parent deal with it. I’ve received letters from mothers who say they have spanked their preschoolers for touching themselves. Some have described great concerns about this behavior, seeing it as evidence of an immoral nature that had to be crushed. That is a very dangerous posture to take. I suggest that you not make a big deal over it.

QUESTION: That’s easy for you to say. My 4-year-old daughter doesn’t just fondle herself at home, where we can ignore it. She rubs herself whenever we are in public, such as at church or at a restaurant. How should I deal with that?

DR. DOBSON: You should respond as a teacher, not a disciplinarian. Take your daughter aside and talk about your concern. Explain that there are some things that we don’t do in public – not because they are wrong, but because they are impolite. Just as you wouldn’t urinate in front of other people, you should not be touching yourself when others can see you. If she continues to fondle herself, other people will think she is strange and some may laugh at her – something you’re sure she wouldn’t like.

Your purpose in speaking this way is to sensitize her to the social implications involved in what she’s doing. Show yourself to be firm and confident, not shocked or embarrassed. The key to your approach is the avoidance of any suggestion that her body is dirty or “wrong” or evil. Such an implication might raise a whole host of other problems for your child that could carry over into adolescence and even adulthood.

QUESTION: What immediate changes would you make in junior and senior high schools to improve the learning environment there?

DR. DOBSON: We must make schools safer for students and teachers. Guns, drugs, and adolescence make a deadly cocktail. It is unbelievable what we have permitted to happen on our campuses. No wonder some kids can’t think about their studies. Their lives are in danger! Yes, we can reduce the violence if we’re committed to the task. Armed guards? Maybe. Metal detectors? If necessary. More expulsions? Probably. No-nonsense administrators? Definitely.

When schools are blessed by strong leadership, like the legendary Joe Clark at Eastside High School in Paterson, N.J., they make dramatic progress academically. Above all, we must do what is required to pacify the combat zones in junior and senior high schools.

We will not solve our pervasive problems, however, with the present generation of secondary school students. Our best hope for the future is to start over with the youngsters just coming into elementary school. We can rewrite the rules with these wide-eyed kids. Let’s redesign the primary grades to include a greater measure of discipline. I’m not talking merely about more difficult assignments and additional homework. I’m recommending more structure and control in the classroom.

As the first official voice of the school, the primary teacher is in a position to construct positive attitudinal foundations on which future educators can build. Conversely, she can fill her young pupils with contempt and disrespect. A child’s teachers during the first six years will largely determine the nature of his attitude toward authority and the educational climate in junior and senior high school (and beyond).

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or Questions and answers are excerpted from The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide and Bringing Up Boys, both published by Tyndale House. Copyright 2006 James Dobson Inc.