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Middle Childhood

friendships, masturbation & online safety

Middle childhood is characterized by developing foundational social skills. During this age, children increase their independence from their families, as a majority of their time is spent in school. Being accepted by their peers and engaging in teamwork are major social and emotional focuses at this age. This time in your child’s life may be filled with peer-associated activities, such as joining sports team or clubs. On a cognitive level, children at this stage have a greater sense of self-awareness and are able developing the ability to think about the future.
Characteristics of Sexual Development at the Stage
Sexual Development characteristics during middle childhood include using slang words or jokes related to body parts, understanding gender identity, sex play or activities exploring sexuality which may occur with same and opposite gender peers, and masturbation, which can be for the purpose of pleasure. At this stage, Caregivers can teach their child the basics of human reproduction, assist your child in understanding their gender identity, and educate your child around healthy masturbation practices.
Talking to Your Child About Masturbation

Many Caregivers may initially feel awkward when starting the conversation around masturbation. However, if Caregivers are willing to be vulnerable and engage their youth in these conversations, the benefits are extremely positive for the child and make a profound positive impact on their long-term sexual identity and health. Research shows that talking to children about masturbation and sexual development can lead to delaying the youth from engaging in sexual behavior and decrease risky sexual behavior. The following are a few strategies to help Caregivers start the conversation with their child around healthy masturbation.

Normalize Masturbation. During these formative years, the message you send to your child about their sexuality and relationships are crucial pieces in their developing self-image. It is important to let your child know that masturbation is a normal part of their sexual development and it is common to engage in self-exploration. Your non-verbal language and emotionality during the conversation is just as important as the information you are conveying to your child. Being anxious or angry as you are sharing this information has the potential for your child to develop shame around masturbation and/or their sexuality in general. However, if you are confident and open during these conversations, your child is going to feel secure and engaged during your conversation, thus developing a secure sense of their sexual identity.

Emphasize Privacy. Talking with your child about masturbation allows for the opportunity for Caregivers to educate their children about acceptable, healthy boundaries around masturbation. Let them know that exploring their body is natural and feels good, but this behavior should be done alone in private in their bedroom or the bathroom. You can also add any rules for hygiene as part of this discussion.

Regular Check-Ins. Every day your child is exposed to subtle and direct messages about sex and sexuality from their peers, religious groups, cultural groups, media, and social media. Thus, talking with your child about masturbation empowers your child as they go through their daily life to be able to discern if the information they are receiving from outside sources is accurate. Providing regular opportunities to check-in with your child will help you gain insight into the information they are receiving and allow you to fact-check information together, have more in-depth conversations and answer any questions that arise.

Expand the Conversation. Talking to your child about masturbation is also an opportunity for you to share additional information about healthy boundaries with your child. While discussing with your child the normalcy of masturbation, you can also use this as an opportunity to tell them that no one is allowed to touch their body in this way, child or adult. Note that the exception to this is if your child needs assistance in the bathroom, is hurt, or in the event they go to the doctor and in these instances you will be there to support them.

A Note About Online Safety

As mentioned earlier, media and social media are a major source of dispersing information about sex and sexuality to our youth. As such, it is crucial for Caregivers to be aware of what information children are being exposed to through print media, television, video games, cellphones, and online websites.

• Identifying a list of acceptable sites, applications, and devices that your child can access.
• Create a structured time when your child has access to these devices and/or online sites, making sure that you or another adult is present to monitor their activity.
• Caregivers should be the one to set up their your child on any devices, online games, or applications, so the email associated with any accounts is the Caregivers, which allows you to review and monitor any accounts at any time.
• Caregivers are able to receive additional monitoring of their child’s online activities through phone-based restrictions, internet provider restrictions, application restrictions and restricting wifi access. Before allowing your child to go on any devices, applications or sites, make sure to see what parental restrictions are available.
• A note of caution, even if you have the strictest settings on your child’s devices or the sites they visit, there is still the potential for them to receive messages from strangers. For example, if a child is playing an online video game, there might be a chat function available with the game allowing your child to talk to other players on the game and potentially develop online friendships with same-age peers. However, there is also the potential for an older person to contact your child with ill-intentions. Your knowledge of the sites and games your child is accessing and who they are conversing with will help you better protect your child when they are online. Furthermore, creating a plan with your child before they go on any sites or devices is crucial. Talk about what is appropriate communication with other people online and what they should do if someone is being inappropriate online.
• Stay informed of the latest trends! Technology moves at a fast pace, so it is to your advantage to know what devices, applications, games and online sites are popular among your child’s age group.

CDC (2021) Child Development: Middle childhood. . Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/middle.html
Planned Parenthood of New York City (2017). Stages of Child Sexual Development. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/uploads/filer_public/80/f7/80f7ae70-4e3b-4e21-9c0a-482d44fd076f/handout_1_eng_child_sexual_development_-_copy.pdf
Planned Parenthood of New York City (2017). Stages of Child Sexual Development. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/uploads/filer_public/80/f7/80f7ae70-4e3b-4e21-9c0a-482d44fd076f/handout_1_eng_child_sexual_development_-_copy.pdf
BMC Public Health (2019, November). Sexual debut and risky sex. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6839049/
Resnick, M. (1997). Protecting Adolescents from harm: Findings from National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. JAMA, 278:823-32