Q: Our 5-year-old grandson sees his 5-year-old female first cousin from time to time. After they play for a while, he tells her he wants to “touch” her. This has happened twice in recent months. Her parents are very upset, but our grandson’s parents read lots of parenting books and seem to think it’s no big deal. Your thoughts on this matter?
A: This is one of those subjects that’s impossible for me to tackle without infuriating someone. Oh well, so be it. It’s an important issue, so tackle it I will, without regard for the soon-to-be incoming missles.
I can’t tell how serious this is on a scale of one to 10, and to some degree that’s a very subjective matter. It would appear from your description that the girl’s parents give it a 10, and understandably so. If I was in their shoes, I’d give it an 11. The fact that the boy’s parents assign it little importance is disrespectful (more on that in a moment) and may be defensive on their part. Today’s parents are notorious for minimizing behavior problems and even denying that their kids misbehave at all.
On the one hand, this may be simple curiosity on your grandson’s part. Boys usually initiate the age-old “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” game, and a boy will usually propose this particular exchange to a female playmate around age 5. In and of itself, the fact that some touching occurs during these exchanges is nothing to be greatly upset about. Touching, mind you, not fondling.
On the other hand, it’s possible that your grandson’s normal desire to know what female bodies look like has become intensified by something he saw in a magazine or a video. Unfortunately, (the question of whether such material is even appropriate for adults aside) adults are sometimes lazy about making sure that material of that sort is out of the reach of children. If your grandson has been “sexualized” through some medium or experience, then his behavior is more than mere curiosity and merits considerable concern and firm, resolute action on the part of his parents.
When all is said and done, if one set of parents — the girl’s, in this case — is upset about these episodes, then that becomes the default position. In that event, the boy’s parents need to make perfectly clear to him that this behavior is not to happen again and make equally clear that if it does there will be meaningful consequences.
They should also require that he apologize to his cousin in front of both sets of parents and promise her that it won’t happen again. Their low rating of the seriousness of these episodes isn’t relevant. They should take this approach out of respect for the girl’s parents.
Adults need to stick together in matters of this sort.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers questions at www.johnrosemond.com.