Freaked Out Mom:  It is normal for a 12-year old boy to masturbate?

Freaked Out Mom: It is normal for a 12-year old boy to masturbate?

Dear Alison and Tony:  It is normal for a 12-year boy old to masturbate? As a concerned mom,  I really am not sure how to handle this. I guess I should have expected that as a young, healthy boy, he might have “urges” now and then, but I really think he’s too young. I know he is masturbating because I found his ejaculate and I didn’t really know what to say or do. I just put a towel over it. He must have realized I saw it and he cleaned it up, but neither of us have said a word. I am very overwhelmed and I know I should talk to him, but I just don’t know how? Do you have any suggestions?

Freaked Out Mom:

 

Alison’s Take:  One of the responsibilities of being a parent is being able to direct your children so that they feel good about themselves in all areas, including their sexuality. It might be uncomfortable for you to have to talk to your son about this, but that’s part of what you signed up for when you became a mom. So embrace it!  On the bright side, your son isn’t doing anything terrible, he is just behaving like a normal young man.

Is your son’s father involved in his life, or perhaps, another trusted, adult male?  If so, your son might be more comfortable talking to a man. But if there isn’t anyone around, it is going to be up to you.

The first thing you need to know is that masturbation is a normal part of life, and growing up and exploring your body. At 12, your son is already aware of his sexuality, and he is learning about it and dealing with the urges he has (and they are probably strong). You don’t want him to feel ashamed or to hide things from you, so suck up your courage and talk to him. Under no circumstances should you make him feel ashamed, or let him know his behavior upsets you.  I wouldn’t mention the incident with the towel, he already knows you know.  Stay calm and in control (you’re the adult and the parent). If if were my son, I’d just assure him that it is ok to explore his body, but that there is a time and place for it, and out of respect for you and other family members, it has to be done in private (and you might mention that he needs to clean up and not leave it for you or someone else).  You might assure him that you won’t enter his room or the bathroom without knocking, so he feels safe about what he is doing.

I know you are worried that 12 is very young, but actually, it isn’t too young to learn what self-pleasure is.  And, just because he is masturbating doesn’t mean he is having sex, or even is thinking about it. That should put your mind at ease a bit. However, since he can  ejaculate, he can also get a girl pregnant. This is a perfect time to let him know that he needs to use his body responsibly. You can add as much as you feel comfortable with and that you believe is appropriate for his age, but you should address the issue of the birds and the bees, and the use of condoms. If you don’t, he will get information elsewhere. You don’t want him exploring this on the internet or with his buddies. You can also provide an age-appropriate book on the topic, and leave it on his bed. He may appear to be disinterested but curiousity will get the better of him. He will read it.

Mission, accomplished (for the near future)

 

Tony’s take:  Due to a number of environmental factors children are maturing earlier and we must cope with this.

All children will explore their bodies and masturbate,  because it feels good and relieves the sexual tension they are feeling. It’s your job to make it as natural as possible for the child.  When their hormones start kicking in literally everything is arousing to a young man,  from a lingerie advertisement in a magazine, to a Barbie doll, or even a romantic story.  You need to keep from feeling dirty or shameful, because from such feelings, perversions and sexual dysfunctions,  spring.  You have to help him cope with these new feelings,  and not traumatize him or make him shameful,  or feel dirty and bad.  He will continue to masturbate anyway, no matter what you do or say.  Unless you give him a healthy outlook,  he is going to sneak around and lie about it (and about anything else personal in his life) and have shameful pleasure from looking at porn on the internet (as opposed to healthy matter-of-fact, curiosity.

As a parent you should realize  that your child goes through several phases in their process of becoming physically mature. And you’e got be be ready to cope with them with understanding and gentle guidance. Expressing  shock, horror and shouting  with respect to their natural curiosity will just traumatize your children,  and create problems for them later in life..

A child becomes aware that there is a difference between males and females someplace between 5 and 7 years old.  Since we have shrouded the body in mystery as far as they are concerned,  they are attracted by curiosity and the need to know “grown up things”.  This early “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” play is not sexual, and should not be punished if discovered, but it should be discussed.   This is why schools have pushed sex education down to these tender years. If you already know what you are going to discover,  a lot of the drive to explore it, is reduced.

The second phase is between ages 8 and 10 when children start to “playing doctor”,  due to the desire to touch and know more intimately those parts of the body you do not possess.  Again if discovered you need to have a much more intense talk, especially if an older child is coercing a younger child. But again, keep in mind that the play is not sexual,  it is still curiosity. This natural curiosity,  coupled with nearly infinite unoccupied time, means that nothing you have private or hidden will stay private and hidden.  Your daughter  may find your “toy” drawer and play with the devices  (boys may generally just be bewildered), A  a son will go through his sister’s lingerie drawer,  being fascinated by all of the things he does not wear. Both sexes may  find the porn stash,  or discover the hidden directories on a computer (they are much better educated on computers than you are).  Again you must be honest and have a sense of humor and talk through why doing certain things is “for adults” and why it might be a bad idea.  A boy’s older sister needs to be told to refrain from calling her brother a perv”, “creep”, or “wierdo” if he is caught spying on her,  or “accidentally” walking in on her. The same is true for your daughter’s brothers.  Encourage your children to tell you if they feel something is wrong, and then have a discussion about personal privacy.

The problem with masturbation is it is coupled with fantasizing,  and that leads to the objectification of the object of fantasy.  If a boy or a girl fantasizes about an unobtainable icon such as a rock star or movie star it does not impact on their day to day human relations.  The danger lies in the fantasies and objectification of people in their environment, which can lead to social awkwardness around that person, inappropriate actions based on fantasized responses,  and isolation and separation of the individual.  The best way to counteract this is direct one on one contact with members of the opposite sex.  You can not see a person as both an object and as a person.  When isolation and loneliness are the root causes of problem, you need to make sure your son is involved in group activities where he feels comfortable,  and is in situations where he interacts socially, with girls.

It is implied in you letter that there is no man in your life,  and your son is an only child,  which makes things more challenging.  If you were in a romantic. loving and physically demonstrative relationship,  he would have an example of how these feelings are expressed.  With a younger or older sister about two years apart, he would have real world experience with girls,  seeing them as people,  not objects.  Obviously role models are important, so if you have brothers or sisters it is important that your son is around them (and hopefully their kids), on a regular basis. If not, do you have married friends with appropriately-aged children?

Consider that your son is maturing rapidly, and you only have a couple of years left to have a positive influence on his life.  All of this is brand new to him, too. Trust me, he was as surprised as you were, the first time you experienced it, and at the intensity and amount that is produced,  and that it goes everywhere. Smile,  and have some compassion. He is going through a difficult time of life.

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