How do you react when you notice your four year old son starting to look at sexualized images of women’s breasts? You know, those magazine covers that you can hardly avoid at the grocery store that show lots of cleavage? How do you even begin the conversation and prepare your child to look away?
Recently we received this question from a very concerned mom.
My 4 year old is now noticing body parts on immodestly dressed women, cleavage, bikinis, etc. I want to know how I should talk to him. I’m just barely embarking in this territory, and I’m scared to death! How can I talk to him? I’m so scared I will do it wrong, or it will be over his head and he won’t understand, but that he will still be just as curious.
We asked Jeffrey J. Ford, a licensed marriage and family therapist who treats people with sex and pornography addictions for the answer. Jeff is a father of young children and gives some great tips for beginning these sensitive conversations early. [After the video, be sure to check out a few “scripts” for what to say to a child staring at immodestly dressed women.]
A Smart Response to Kids Staring at Cleavage
Jeffrey Ford, LMFT, CSAT advises parents to do two things:
1. Create Safety. Don’t freak out or get angry at your child for being curious or staring at cleavage. Instead, remain calm and matter of fact. This will allow kids to be open with you and that will pay big dividends as they get older and need more guidance.
2. Use proper terminology to talk about their body parts. We don’t use different terms for our elbow so we need to be able to say words like “breasts,” “penis,” and/or “vagina” without any shame or embarrassment. When you do this, you create a safe place to talk about their private parts which builds a foundation for discussing sex when they get a bit older.
Note: Naming private parts of both genders also helps to protect kids from sexual abuse. It’s very helpful to create body safety rules for your kids. Read this popular post The 3 Big Red Flags of Sexual Abuse and make sure you get our FREE Body Safety Toolkit!
Scripts for Parents
So, what exactly could a parent say to a child staring at cleavage on a magazine cover at the grocery store? Here are a few ideas:
“That picture is showing too much of this woman’s breasts. Those are her private parts. Let’s look away and give her the same respect and privacy that we would give to mom [or your sister or aunt].”
Or you could say something like this:
“I can see you are staring at that woman on the magazine cover. It’s normal to be curious about these kinds of pictures. Do you remember that a woman’s breasts are a private area of her body? The people who make that magazine put that woman’s picture on the cover because they want us to look at their magazine.”
Here a parent could turn the magazine over so the picture no longer is showing.
“Let’s not fall for this trick. The truth is that it’s not good to look at pictures like that. This type of picture gets us to see a person as just a body, not as a whole person with thoughts and feelings. When I see pictures like this, I practice looking away. Will you try to do that, too?”
As we talk to our kids and teach them how to process and respond to overtly sexualized images in their environments, we prepare them to respect their own bodies and everyone else’s bodies, too. That will go a long way in preparing them to stay safe and reject pornography when they are exposed to it. Starting these conversations early reduces shame and keeps communication open for the years ahead.
Just remember, we are cheering you on!