The Naked Truth
by Karen Platt
Should we allow our five- and two-year-old children to be without clothes inside the house, in the backyard, etc? When do we insist that they wear clothes—when their modesty kicks in or before? I wonder if it is possible that being too restrictive will make them feel there must be something bad about their bodies and what effect this will have on their sexual health.
Ahhh, nudity. As with most things in parenting, life and fashion, there is no one-size-fits-all answer we can clothe ourselves in. As my favourite sexperts Justin Richardson and Mark A. Schuster write in Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex, “the specific rules you make about nudity at home are probably less important than the way you choose to convey them.”
Before we get into a discussion of what-not-to-wear-and-when, let’s talk some development. Many children seem to be rabid naturists until they hit a particular age, often between five and seven years old. Until then, these kids remain blissfully unconcerned about why clothing even exists. Then, all of a sudden, that child you’ve wrestled into pants and shirt every morning for the past few years decides no one will ever see her in the skinny again. Your baby has developed a desire for privacy with a capital “P,” leaving you scratching your head in the first of many impending “where did my child go?” moments.These days, if you’re quick, you might see the bathroom door open a crack, an eyeball checking that the coast is clear, and a streak running from bathroom to bedroom wrapped tighter than a mummy in a bath towel. Many kids will nix public nudity without a parent saying a word—who knows, perhaps peer influence or a vague sense of a parent’s unease promotes this new modesty. And other kids just seem to lack a strong need for privacy.
Many parents are okay with children being nude anywhere in the house as long as it’s within the family. In fact, for some, nudity at any age within a family is acceptable. Others restrict even young children to being naked in the bedroom or bathroom.
Decisions around nudity depend upon many things—your child’s comfort and your comfort are two that spring to mind. And, as with many choices, our decisions are influenced by lots of things—personal history, parental messages, peers, culture and religion, to name a few.
A child’s safety is another—especially when we’re talking about the great outdoors. I’m all for kids having a grand romp in their birthday suits under the sprinkler on a hot day (heck, I’m envious), but the surroundings may be a factor in deciding if kids wear bathing suits or not. Think about where and when a child can safely run around in the buff. Is your backyard private or exposed to a busy street? Do you know your neighbours? Remember, there’s a difference between obsessive fear and good sense.
Good for you for thinking about the rules you want to establish before you lay down the law. It never hurts for parents to check their motivations. An overdeveloped sense of body shame inherited from our parents is likely not something we want to pass along to our own kids. A healthy respect and appreciation for their body certainly is.
Whatever you decide, Richardson and Schuster suggest three guidelines for dealing with the nudity question in a healthy, positive way:
• Be as consistent as possible with the norms you decide upon but adapt them as your child grows
• When encouraging modesty, explain your reasons without shaming. Any limit to a child’s happy display of his form should be conveyed in a way that remains admiring and respectful of his body such as: “Just like with grown-ups, your body is special. Only people who are especially close to you should get to see it now.”
• However much modesty you endorse, there should be at least one setting where your child’s naked body is accepted and enjoyed.
Karen Platt, MA, is a sexual health educator who works with parents and youth. She is currently completing post-graduate studies in Sexual Health. Send questions to email@example.com.