On my eighth birthday, I’d received a light pink bikini as a present from an aunt. While the adults ooh’d and ahhh’d at how cute it was, I feigned gratitude as I my stomach twisted into knots. Me? Wear that little thing? I was finally persuaded to try it on, but then refused to leave the bathroom to let anyone see me. “Yep, it fits,” was all I could muster before twisting the new bikini into a ball and hiding it in the corner of a bathroom cupboard, never to be seen again.
I was, you see, exceedingly modest. Even at the unripened age of eight. And, I felt too exposed – too naked – in anything smaller than a tank bathing suit. Growing up in an ultra-conservative and Catholic household, my mother had taught me and my two sisters to take great care in protecting our youthful bodies from overt display. This, she hoped, would help protect us from being leered at by potential predators and from ever wanting to play “doctor” with the boy down the street. (Which we would never have dreamed of doing.)
Fast forward to today, and this rigid thinking might easily be dismissed as old fashioned and out of touch with the laissez-faire attitude of sexuality. After all, thanks to television, movies, and the internet, a child can access anything from girls in skimpy bikinis to full out pornography with a few typos in a google search (or not). The less supervision in a household, the greater the likelihood a child will be exposed to inappropriate content. Hence, the disturbing stories that pop up every once in a while about young students performing sexual acts in school that, frankly, they should neither know about, nor want to engage in.
Some school systems across North America have resolved to push kids into more robust sex education as the solution for preventing today’s over-exposed kids from taking part in illicit behaviours. Their reasoning is based on the assumption that every kid knows about the birds and the bees (and then some…), so better to learn from a trusted source than a hip hop artist. And, if they don’t, well, just trust us (the school) to introduce every 12-year-old to the concept of fellatio. Uh, really? While I agree with the underlying logic of this thinking, I also believe that kids would benefit from one simple message that seems to have disappeared completely from this discussion. A message that can help prevent them from even wanting to role model what they see online.
Teach them to “Protect your privates.” I know – has a real ring to it, doesn’t it?
Parents and teachers could use sexual education as a platform to not only teach young kids about sexuality, but to instruct them that, despite the proliferation of naked body parts on screens, their own private parts are, well, private. That is, not for sharing, unless Mom and Dad say it’s okay (like the doctor’s office, bath time). Kids would, in fact, be learning modesty. (Remember that word?)
I’m not calling for a country-wide ban on thongs, nor pleading for a distribution of turtlenecks to be worn by every female. I’m just pointing out the power of the simple message to kids – keep your private parts private – to help offset the endless stream of sexual messages flooding our kids’ vision.
We can’t stop them from seeing the Victoria’ Secret TV ads that pop up unexpectedly, or LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It music video proliferating YouTube, nor naked pictures of almost every celebrity of the last decade. (I’m hoping we can prevent them from seeing online pornography, but even that is not a guarantee.) But despite all their exposure, kids are capable of understanding that, although these adults participate in such behaviour, you need to be respectful of your own body’s need for privacy.
As they grow to adulthood, and have developed a context for sexuality, they can make set their own limits for what is acceptable. After all, it happened to me… I now wear a bikini.
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