How Old is Too Old for Siblings to See Each Other Naked?
There is no clear age cutoff for siblings seeing each other naked, but the conversations related to deciding this are a key part of navigating puberty, explains Parents.com's Ask Your Mom advice columnist, Emily Edlynn, Ph.D.
Dear Parenting Through Puberty,
I applaud you for starting from a point of addressing your children's changing bodies in a positive way. You recognize that your daughter is happy with her body, and we know the long road girls and women face with body image and all the risky social and cultural messages surrounding female bodies. It can be tricky for adults more versed in sexuality to view nudity very differently from how our children do. We know the sexual implications of how bodies are shown and used, and we want to be careful about how we project this onto children to avoid unintentionally sexualizing bodies when they don't need to be.
When it comes to their bodies, it's ideal to allow children to take the lead on what feels natural to them around covering up and having privacy. Some children may need some coaching around refraining from running around the streets pantsless, but most really do come to a natural body awareness and new desire for privacy in an appropriate time frame. In terms of seeing each other naked, it sounds like neither of your 9-year-old twins has reached a point of discomfort, yet. For your peace of mind, there is no expert consensus on an age limit that you have missed! Think through some of the following considerations for next steps.
Let's Discuss Puberty
The concept of sex differences has deservedly received a lot of scientific debate, and it's important to tease apart socially constructed ideas of gender versus actual gender differences. However, biologically, boys reach puberty later than girls. So, your daughter will have to be the one charting the course for her brother. She will likely come to the realization before he does that it feels strange to be around each other naked. Although he needs to be part of dealing with this dilemma, your daughter is the sensible starting point.
It matters where your daughter is with understanding and accepting her stage of puberty. Changing bodies can create all kinds of confusing and conflicting emotions, including wanting to stay young and childlike. It would be interesting to hear from your daughter what it feels like to her to start these changes, especially because her brother likely hasn't yet. Is still playing with her brother before showers a part of wanting to not feel different about her changing body?
My psychologist brain may be analyzing way more than is actually there, and of course I have never met your daughter, but it can be helpful to at least consider the emotional experience of puberty and how this may be influencing behaviors.
The Body Talk
In your mission to not impose a feeling of embarrassment about her body on your daughter, approach your conversations with her from an angle that helps her come to her own conclusions. Instead of a "don't be naked in front of each other" talk, The Body Talk is about more than puberty and physical changes. It's about how we care for our bodies, and how others may see or treat our bodies in healthy and unhealthy ways.
Each family has its own values guiding how they approach talking to children about their bodies, but sex is invariably part of this conversation, whether implied or directly discussed. Research shows key aspects of having this conversation, including the importance of using the right words for anatomy, not cutesy nicknames or euphemisms, and making sure to address the concept of autonomy over one's body.
Control and Autonomy
In the broader parenting pursuit of doing our part to help our children develop positive relationships with their bodies, a critical component is teaching them that they have control over their own bodies. With this in mind, you don't want to unintentionally convey that you have control over her body with a direct command to not be naked in front of her brother. (You already know this since you are bringing up the question and haven't done that already!)
Control cannot be discussed without consent, and this is where your son needs to participate in the conversation. Many people think about consent as something we need to teach our daughters, but it's equally important to discuss with our sons. With your 9-year-olds, ensure that if either one tells the other to "stop" any sort of physical contact (wrestling, tickling), this is respected. The same goes for their play before showers. As soon as one feels at all uncomfortable, they should be able to say it and have their wish respected. You can explicitly let both of them know this is the family rule, giving them permission to say, "I'm not comfortable."
Laying this groundwork for how consent works within your own family not only helps them find their boundaries as siblings, but will serve them in navigating relationships outside of the family.
The Bottom Line
Addressing these issues underlying the innocent behavior of naked goofing off will give your 9-year-old twins the tools to make their own decisions. Healthy dialogue will lay the foundation for your children to have a positive relationship with their bodies and to feel truly in charge of themselves.
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Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.
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