As one endeavours to increase their understanding of what shame is one needs to isolate what can be shaming practices by adults on children. There are certain critical times and events that occur in a child’s life where shaming by the parents can be particularly influential. I am reminded of an example with a client a few weeks ago.
A mother whom I had seen on and off for about a year raised a concern she had about her daughter who was five years old at the time. She reported that when checking on her daughter asleep at night she observed that her daughter often had her hand down her pants touching her genitals.
She wanted to know if I thought it was psychologically OK for her daughter to be touching her genitals in a masturbatory way. I suspected the real question she was building up to was, do I think this is a sign that she has been sexually abused?
The reason why I suspected this is because Australia is a pedophobic society. There is almost a hysteria around pedophillia in Australia. Male school teachers are a slowly dying breed as a result. I was also recently amused by the report of a health official who publicly announced that perhaps we could reduce childhood obesity in Australia by getting more children to walk to school. Initially there was much “oohhing and aahhing” about such a proposal. What a good idea it was and why hadn’t we thought of it before. A few days later there were those saying it was too dangerous as the pedophiles may get our children as they walked to school. People suggested counter proposals of having meeting points where children could walk in groups to school or having special wardens to walk with the children. The upshot of it was that it got too complicated and guess what - children still don’t walk to school.
Somebody forgot to mention that the likelihood of a complete stranger sexually attacking a child is about 2%. The vast, vast majority of sexual assaults on children are by someone in the family, known to the family or in some position of trust with the child. But that does not seem to matter as Australia has convinced itself that there is a pedophile hiding in every bush waiting to jump out and abscond with our children.
I informed my client of this Australian cultural pedophobia and also that almost all children touch their genitals and masturbate at times. And thus we arrive at the point at hand. This is a critical point in the development of shame problems in a child’s psychological development. As a result of their own beliefs and taboos about masturbation a parent could quite easily use shame as a means of attempting to stop the child from doing such a thing. Shaming around sexual matters is particularly powerful. Thus one would be suggesting to parents that they do not engage in such shaming practices as it can seriously impact on a child's sense of shame and effect their self esteem. This is also particularly relevant in young teenagers as well.
In situations like this I sometimes provide a little information about the misunderstandings of childhood masturbation to concerned parents. When Freud originally proposed the idea of childhood masturbation it was met with much horror and aghast. How could such a thing be true many asked!!
Well children grow up and have other feelings like sadness, anger, fear just like adults do so why can’t they have sexual feelings as well. Of course they do. However there is another common misunderstanding because adults will assume that a child’s comprehension and perception of masturbation is the same as an adults. It is however different in significant ways.
As a child grows it discovers its body. It learns that if it has a itch on its backside and scratches it that feels good. If it has a booga up its nose and pries it out with a finger that also feels good. It also learns that if it touches its genitals that feels good. In a child’s mind touching its genitals and scratching its backside are the same kind of thing. In an adults mind they are very different because the child does not yet understand all the connotations that go along with masturbation as compared to scratching its backside. So a child’s comprehension of masturbation is very different to the adult.
Secondly, the vast majority of people report their first orgasm occurred after puberty. The vast majority of children who masturbate do not do so with the goal of orgasm. Obviously very few children even understand what an orgasm is. They simply touch their genitals because it feels good. Another significant difference between adult masturbation and what has been unwisely called childhood masturbation.
Its every where you know!
When communicating with children about sexual matters parents must be vigilant to avoid any shaming. The other critical point with children and shaming is in their toilet training. Watch this space.