count me in with the prudes


Did you see the article in the New York Times last week asking when and whether nude children are appropriate, and when and where? There are, obviously, many variables that factor in to this question: how old is the kid, is she in public or at home, and are other people around. To me, it’s OK for your kid to be naked if your family is home, without guests (cousins don’t count), and said child is… young. (I was going to say 3 and under, though if I examine my conscience, I have let Fergus run in the backyard this summer as God made him, and he will be 5 this week.) If you’re at a public park, if you are hosting a birthday party, or if your kid can read and write, then I would say no, it is not appropriate.

But this article, and the people interviewed for it, take a more permissive stance, shall we say. Rachel Dominguez, of Burlingame, CA, was shocked when she picked up her six-year-old son, Hayden, from a playdate. During his time at this friend’s house, he had stripped naked and urinated in the yard. His playdate, the host, was a little girl. Ms. Dominguez was “shocked” not that her son had taken leave of his wits and whizzed at a stranger’s house, but that the little girl’s mother said, um, Hayden is not welcome here anymore.

The article recounts several such anecdotes, including another little boy stripper who coaxed two female playmates to cover his butt with their pink nail polish, to the little girls’ mother’s dismay. But the author’s finger is pointed not at the kooky parents who have not taught their kids proper boundaries, but at the disapproving reactions of the parents who have.

Consider this quote from Dr. Lawrence Balter, the editor of “Parenthood in America”:

“If someone has what appears to be an overly strong reaction to seeing young children running around naked, it tells us about their own hang-ups, their own inner conflicts,” Dr. Balter said.

In other words, if you have a problem with it, you’re the one with the problem.

Such journalism is the reason comments sections were invented. I eagerly clicked to the comments page (now closed, after the first 539) to read the outraged reactions. Instead, I found that about 75% of those who bothered to post a comment were writing in to agree that America has really ridiculous hangups about nudity, and what is the big deal.

I am not used to being on the conservative side of any issue. My God, I live on the Upper West Side. But I have to say, I side with the prudes on this one. Don’t get me wrong: my boys have whizzed in our bushes many a time. But they are OUR bushes. And we weren’t hosting a neighborhood barbecue at the time.

So I am curious: where do you fall on this? Do you let your kids run around naked at the park? At home? Does it matter if you have guests? Does it matter if it’s a boy or a girl? And do you see an upper limit to its acceptability?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

jonesclan July 26, 2009 at 6:48 pm

I don't really see the issue with nudity and children. Kids don't have the same thought process that we have, they don't link being naked with sex, or with being sexual. They never thought of Bert and Ernie as being homosexual lovers, they think of them as being best friends. Tinky winky isn't the gay teletubbies to them, he's the purple one that enjoys carrying a purse. We put these ideas in their heads. They also don't share the same insecurities that we have with our naked figures. My 4 year old son yesterday told me he had a big belly. In my head, I was thinking…"NO YOU DON'T, YOU ARE PERFECT!" But then I realized he wasn't upset about having a big belly, he was proud of it. It made him look like his daddy. And he was walking around, sticking it out as far as he possibly could. And you couldn't help but smile.

And yes as a nation we have very conflicted ideas of sex and nudity. 13 year girls dressing like Paris Hilton seems to be okay, half naked women in commercials selling a product seems to be okay, yet people still have issues with women breastfeeding in public. Where is the rationale in all of it?

Let's stop taking life so seriously and laugh at the kids having fun, naked or not.

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Mollie July 26, 2009 at 9:42 pm

I read the article a week ago and am too lazy to reread, but I came away thinking it was pretty wishy-washy — here are two sides of a controversy we trumped up for this article. And here are some examples that don't illuminate much. (Typical Times style section story, in other words.)

I did think it seemed extreme for that parent to say "Your child is no longer welcome in our home," but not because she was being prudish. It just seems like "Could you tell him not to get naked when he comes over here?" would have been more proportional.

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Amy July 27, 2009 at 1:24 pm

OK I agree that the permanent ban of the child from her friend's home was OTT. But if Cooper whizzed in someone else's yard, I would be mortified, and would make sure that he understood why that was not appropriate, going forward. I wouldn't bad mouth the other mother in a newspaper article.

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Whitney Hemphill July 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm

I think most mothers (hopefully) can determine appropriate times and places. For instance, I usually don't spank my children at birthday parties or at the grocery store, I remove them from the situation and take care of any discipline at home. It's just not the other people's business. When it comes to nudity, same thing. I think naked babies (under 1) are an unavoidable thing in the world because all that fat is just too darned cute, but a naked 6 year old, a little weird. If nothing else, you probably shouldn't intrude on someone else's parenting principles. So, if I've taught my daughter that it's best if we keep our clothes on around everyone but our family, and then your kid runs in naked a pees on something… Well, it's kind of like spanking someone else's kid when you don't know if they would support that kind of thing or not. If all the moms at the playdate are into nude beaches, then I guess it's ok for your 10 year old to streak. I've rambled, but to me, it's all about appropriateness and respecting other parents' boundaries. Teaching our kids values is hard enough without someone else jumping in and completely contradicting what you've taught.

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Kelly July 27, 2009 at 6:48 pm

I would be mortified if my child took his or her clothes off in front of a playmate. My daughter's best friend (right now) is a little boy that lives in our neighborhood. I can't help but keep a very close eye on them when they are playing together. I don't like them to be in the closet together, etc. I have talked to my children about appropriate boundaries with friends, family, and stranger but you never know what is acceptable for other people. I think I would have serious issues with a six year old taking their clothes off in front of my daughter too. I think I would cancel playdates for a while also. Maybe that makes me a prude but at least my daughter is safe and I don't have to worry about her growing up too fast.

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Roxane B. Salonen July 28, 2009 at 3:14 pm

I'm a prude, and happily so. There's a time and place for everything, and it's okay and necessary to have boundaries. That said, our nephews live in a small town near a lake and apparently run around in skin only all the time. But they are at home, and I think that's okay if their parents are okay with it. I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with a child running free in the breeze, but not in public or at someone else's house.

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Lizzie July 29, 2009 at 4:00 am

Hmmm…I would easily call myself a prude, too, but it feels complex. My daughter's five and she and her friends (male and female) still change into swimming suits together…and visit each other in the bathroom, although I always suggest that they offer privacy. (And sometimes they opt for privacy.) If it feels like the naked thing is dragging on a bit, I'll say "let's get those bottoms covered up NOW!" And the kids will giggle and do it.

I guess my point is that–without overthinking it–their attitudes seem healthy. My daughter thinks that penises are kinda cool and kinda silly. And no big deal. And in terms of interactions with others, she has a good sense of what feels normal and what would be weird.

Oh, and I absolutely admire her ability to pee in the grass when the occasion calls for it.

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AJ July 29, 2009 at 4:30 pm

I lazily saw this when the tv news picked it up and they were also all about why people shouldn't care other than one of the experts o nthis who did think there's a time when they need to where clothes.

Running around and playing naked at 5 or older with people other than your family i think is a little uncomfortable. sorry, don't mean to judge, but i think it's a little old for that when you are in school. we are not a naked society and 5 year olds are generally old enough to get that.

Now, i can't say that my 3 year old doesn't go the bathroom in the bushes everywhere. the park, in particular. i like to think he's subtle, but nonetheless, he does it. We are still just happy it's not in his pants, so we don't discourage him, especially where there aren't other easy options. but that is rather different than if he ran around the park naked (and he's 3).

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Anonymous July 29, 2009 at 7:11 pm

And where was the playdate's mom? Or the supervising adult? Remember the old saying, "it takes a village"? Well, we've gotten away from that, I think. We don't dare discipline a child who is not ours, and children are not taught to respect their elders. Come on. If the person did not appreciate a child removing clothes, why didn't the person stop him? Way before it got to totally naked?

I agree that we have issues with nakedness as a society. I have issues seeing a teenage boy's underpants and his jeans around his ankles. But we need to take control. Adults should be teaching appropriate boundaries, not complaining about the lack thereof.

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