My son was 3 and bath time meant time with 40 floating toys, lots of bubbles and his snorkeling mask. It also meant I could make dinner 15 feet away in relative peace. It was an evening ritual that worked for both of us. One night he yelled from the tub, “Mommy! Mommy! Come quick, I need to show you something!” As I ran tub-side, he sat up and with eyes bright behind his orange diving mask, he pointed down at his penis. “Look how big my penis got when I was diving with my toys! It’s huge! Is it going to always be this big?!” I loved his enthusiasm for life and once again I wished I could capture that sense of discovery and adventure in each small moment. “No, sweetie. Sometimes when your penis gets rubbed it gets larger. Pretty soon it will go back to how it usually is.” Wanting him to someday be able to appreciate the miracle of his body I added, “Isn’t it wonderful that God gave you a penis that can change size sometimes?”
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I often have the pleasure of training parents and youth pastors about the sexual development of children and how to raise sexually, spiritually and relationally healthy kids. This is something all parents want ... however most didn't experience a good example of this growing up and now as parents or youth workers feel completely lost in knowing how to coach and love a child through their sexual development.
Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a fishbowl conversation of 6 adolescents discussing what they most wanted the adults in their life to understand about growing up in today's world. Over and over they said, "Please just talk to us. Listen to us. Tell us about your life - how you learned and struggled through growing up - how you learned from your mistakes. Tell us your stories. Help us know we are not alone and that you understand how hard this must be for us."
Subsequent to this fish bowl discussion was one with a group of 6 youth workers and parents of teens. Together they had a conversation about what it is like attempting to guide and parent adolescents. Their resounding message was, "It is terrifying, frightening, overwhelming. We don't know what to say, we don't have the answers and we feel totally lost."
The beautiful thing the adults could hear from the wisdom of the youth was they didn't have to have the answers ... they just needed to listen with compassion and offer the youth their own stories of growing up. They just wanted the adults to open up the conversation and be there with an open and loving heart. No answers needed ... just honesty, transparency and love.
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So it is in this spirit of loving and guiding kids as they grow - that I offer this guideline of normative childhood sexual development based on research and observational data.
In utero and at birth
- Prior to birth males can have erections
- The capacity for sexual response is present at birth for both genders
- At birth girl’s vaginas are capable of lubrication