Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton caused an online uproar back in October after he posted a partially obstructed picture of himself in the shower with his 2 year old son on Instagram, which you can see to the right. Comments and concerns raised by this situation ranged from positive and supportive of bathing with own’s own small children to outraged and accusations of child abuse. So, what is the “right” answer?

When parents ask me how to address nudity, I usually ask them to reflect on their own levels of comfort with nudity. The general rule with respect to parents’ and children’s nudity is that everyone needs to be comfortable with how much is bared. In particular, it is very important that parents agree on how much nudity they are comfortable with showing in front of their children. If parents have very different views about their comfort levels, I advise families to err on the side of modesty. That way no one feels uncomfortable.

When people are naturally nude, as in when they are bathing or changing, the intimacy of a family home usually allows for everyone to be comfortable with some degree of nudity. It is also important that when any family member prefers privacy that they are able to have it. Children will inevitably reach an age when they prefer to be go to the bathroom privately, or bathe privately and, unless it isn’t safe, they should be allowed to do so. For most children this is usually not before the age of 5 or 6 and even at that age it would be typical for a parent to be close by near a half-closed door, balancing safety with privacy. The same degree of nudity in change rooms at a public pool or gym are also natural, but these spaces typically allow for privacy if a family or person wishes to have it.

Whenever people are nude, the issue of sexuality inevitably does come up. In fact, it is likely because of sexuality and not nudity that the Perez Hilton story caused such a furor in the first place. However, while nudity just naturally leads many to think of sex, bathing, changing, and toileting are all different acts than sexual intimacy.

Every parent alone at home has likely had to bring a toddler into the bathroom with them just to keep an eye on them. And most people prefer to use the toilet alone unless they need help, such as a young child does who is potty training or who is still too small to use the ordinary toilet, or families who have an elderly parent in the home who requires assistance with toileting. Having a natural, helpful atmosphere when these situations occur is important. Also important, is as children begin to notice physical differences between adults and children or between male and female, it is recommended that proper names, i.e. vagina, penis, be used for each body part.

Poopformance art; a family affair

Family nudity is all about comfort level

The rules around privacy in the bathroom that are comfortable at home do change when one is out. Children should not use public washrooms alone. Even in a different home, children may need assistance in the bathroom. As a child becomes old enough to go to daycare or school, they should be taught to close the door to the bathroom when using it, and be reminded that they should not have to go to the bathroom with an adult if they are not comfortable with that adult. It’s also a good idea to encourage your children to let you know if they are ever in an uncomfortable situation at a friend’s house or when they are at daycare or school.

Another thing to remember is to seek permission to enter a room where the door is closed and a child (or a parent) wants privacy. My view is that a child should be taught, and an adult should always, knock and be given permission before entering a private space. Apart from assisting a child in the development of boundaries, this is polite behavior. If safety concerns arise, the person entering the room should state this as they enter.

The Perez Hilton story demonstrates that different people have different levels of comfort with nudity. A parent’s job is to encourage an acceptance of our beautiful, amazing bodies balanced by helping a child to understand that they should always feel comfortable with their body.

Dr. BeckDr. Gail Beck, O. Ont., MD, CM, FRCPC, is the Director of Youth Outpatient and Outreach Psychiatry at The Royal in Ottawa, Canada. She completed medical school and her residency in Psychiatry at McGill University, beginning a robust career that is focused on championing the health needs of women and children.

Dr. Beck is a Past President of the Academy of Medicine Ottawa and of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada, the Honorary Treasurer of the Ontario Medical Association and represents Eastern Ontario at the OMA, and is the Treasurer of Medical Women’s International Association. Her opinions and expertise have been sought by governments both provincially and nationally, and she had the honor of representing Medical Women’s International Association at both the World Health Assembly and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Dr. Beck received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for her work with children and youth, and in 2011, Dr. Beck was named to the Order of Ontario, her province’s highest honor.

Dr. Beck lives in Ottowa, Canada with her husband Mr. Andrew Fenus, and has three children and two stepchildren. You can follow her on Twitter @GailYentaBeck or on her blog, www.drgailbeck.com.

Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers, Tweens + Teens