"I caught my child masturbating, Doctor. What should I do?"
It is not unusual for physicians to hear this question from worried parents. However, masturbation is a part of normal human sexual experience, and children find it pleasurable. Assuming it is not excessive (not interfering with normal routines, responsibilities, or play), elimination of masturbation may not be desirable.
Nevertheless, make sure your child understands that masturbation, like many other things, is a private activity, not a public one. If you observe him touching his genitals in a public place, you might say to him: "It is not appropriate for you to be touching your penis [or vagina] here. It should be only done in the privacy of your room when no one is with you." As you discuss masturbation with your child, do not label it as bad, dirty, evil, or sinful. This will create a sense of guilt and secrecy that may be unhealthy for his sexual development.
There are certain situations in which children should receive an evaluation by a behavioral pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or psychologist. These include:
· Frequent excessive daily masturbation, both at home and in public.
· Public masturbation that continues even after you have talked about it with your child.
· Masturbation that takes place in conjunction with other symptoms of behavioral or emotional difficulty, including social isolation, aggression, destructiveness, sadness, withdrawal, bed-wetting, or soiling (encopresis).
· Inappropriate sexual talk or other sexual activity.