How normal is it for a six year old boy...
February 13, 2017 1:43 AM   Subscribe

This is a bit of a tricky question to ask friends, hence asking Metafilter. How normal is it for a six year old boy to be wanting to do "penis play" with his friends?

We've noticed that on occasion our six year old boy (just turned six) will hide under a table or in a play den and show his penis to his friends and/or invite his friends to show him their penis.

As far as we know that's as far as it goes. The showing. We don't think there's touching, but he seems to be the instigator of the showing.

It's not that he does this a lot, or with everyone, and as far as we know he's not done it more than a handful of times, but we're wondering is this normal - and if it isn't how do we tackle it?

We don't want to give him a complex through coming down on him hard but we also don't want him to get up to anything inappropriate (either now or further down the line). Of course we just want him to develop normally.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Completely normal. Next time he does it, tell him not to ask people to show him their penis. Say something like "I know you're curious, but we don't ask our friends to show us their penises because they are private." Not a big deal.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:52 AM on February 13, 2017 [23 favorites]

I don't have a child but I have friends who do have children of a similar age -- and from what I can tell from them, and reading around the subject online (and on here), this is pretty normal. 6 years old is the prime age for curiosity about bodies and how they look and how they are gross/weird/fun/interesting/poopy etc etc.

This might be a good place to start a conversation about consent and body autonomy. There's a good article about how to do that with kids here on the HuffPo.
posted by fight or flight at 1:54 AM on February 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also, some level of touching would be normal as well. Curiosity often includes curiosity about how something feels or curiosity about how it will react to touch. But again, you would still want to say something like "hey, [child], we don't touch our friend's penises because they are private."

Some things that would be troubling would be: distress (from either child); vocalized anxiety about another child engaging them in sexual play; coercion or forcefulness from either child; sexualized activity that interferes with other activities or causes physical harm; mimicry or discussion of adult sexual acts or adult language that a six year old would not normally have exposure to. That's not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will give you a general sense of what kinds of things you're not seeing.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:06 AM on February 13, 2017 [12 favorites]

I have a good enough memory to remember it being a thing when I was that age, with some kids more curious and out and about with their bits than others. I don't recall it ever amounting to anything, either in disciplinary consequences at school, where I remember some friends doing this, or in precipitating more sexual behaviour at that age.

Take with the grain of salt that I was 6 to 7 at the time and nearer 40 now, memories aren't always spot on.
posted by deadwax at 2:19 AM on February 13, 2017

It is normal, but you should still handle it by telling him not to do it. No shame, just "that's not appropriate. Some things are private." I basically treated it like picking his nose or eating with his fingers--yeah, it's fun, but we don't do it because those are the rules.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:06 AM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Former K-1-2 teacher here; it's totally normal, but also, everyone above is right that you need to take this moment to teach appropriate boundaries, calmly and without shaming him.
posted by Miko at 6:14 AM on February 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

Normal. I would explain that it is "rude." I would tell him it is his body and his peepee and he can do what he wants with it privately, but we close bathroom doors because it is private, so it is rude to go around showing people in that way.

I would also offer to get him educational anatomy books if he really wants to know more about bodies. It is totally fine to be curious about bodies, but this is not the way to do it, basically.
posted by Michele in California at 10:12 AM on February 13, 2017

Yeah, this was a thing with me (43yo male), too, and my son is now on the verge of this behavior. He's 5 and is beginning to show his penis and butt to anyone in our inner circle that'll be "grossed out". Which is all of them.

We've given him the requisite talks about it not being appropriate in public or mixed company, that his privates are for him only at this point and that people don't want to see his business (we've also half-jokingly told him to let us know if someone ever DOES), and that other people's bodies are their own. He's not yet asked to see others AFAIK, but he does have a lot of no-punches-pulled anatomy books, as my family is full of doctors and sociologists and developmental specialists, so maybe his curiosity will be assuaged to some degree.

From all of my experience and advice from previously mentioned professionals, the behavior you describe is normal. If he starts mentioning or acting out very specific things, like sex acts or violence, then it's something to be very concerned about, obviously. Until then, guidance and loving reassurance (that he is not bad, or should be ashamed) is recommended.
posted by dozo at 10:27 AM on February 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is written for a slightly different audience-caregivers for children in foster care-but I really like the way it categorizes child sexual behavior into red light, yellow light, green light-focusing on what is pretty normal and what needs intervention:
posted by purenitrous at 9:18 PM on February 13, 2017

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