A recent query from Practo Consult made me aware of the readiness, of a sector of society, to explore the science behind the taboo on untimely exposure of children to sex. This seemed like a topic relevant not just for parents but also for progressive individuals. Let's take few minutes to explore the short & long term effects on a child's thoughts, emotions, actions and the shaping of his/her life.
Child’s Identification with People Around & Imitation in Every Possible Way
You might have observed that your child is a little person who does everything that you do. From being an infant in his own world, he eventually starts noticing his body as well as objects in his environment. He is observing keenly, what people say or do and also their body language. You are walking & talking around him. So can he. You are watching a TV or working in a tab, even he would. You talk about certain topics and eventually find him also having something to say. Your emotions do not take much time to be reflected on his face. It’s all an indication that your child absorbs everything about his environment & imitates you as a first step in making sense of his environment. He is closely reading your emotions. You are his role model in creating his life. All these doesn't mean that he understands what he is doing. An exposure to a sexual activity in his initial years would make him also want to express his instincts in similar way as an avid imitator. he also realises that he is not accepted whenever he shows this sort of behaviour. It gets him into something which he is anxious about & cannot control on one hand and feels guilty about on the other.
Effect of the initial untimely exposure to Sex on Emotions
This world is fascinating as well as scary to a child based on the way she experiences it. Every day routine which is acted out by adults, becomes her routine hence a zone of safety for child. However, encounter with a new experience or persons could bring out any sort of emotion from child depending on the extent she is able to integrate it to her world. A direct exposure to sex like watching anyone involved in the activity could alter her perception about people involved & an indirect one through media could trouble her in different ways. Sex is a basic drive operating also within her in one form or another; hence exposure to sex before the body and mind are ready could generate confusion, shock, fear, panic, disgust, curiosity, fascination, guilt, misunderstanding or any other strong emotion.
Affects the way Child’s Mind & Habits are shaped
A person's mind is like a sponge which absorbs everything that she comes across in her environment or imagination linked with her reactions. Brain is continuously developing as she is growing. Everything that arouses strong emotions or curiosity in her is replayed multiple times in her head as well as actions & is strengthened in the brain. A child basically has two environments to cater to. First one is her inner drive or psychic energy & second one is the outer drive or the expectation from her world. She would eventually learn to manage both the drives appropriately if she gets a chance to express her inner drive in an age appropriate way, aided by relevant exposure & parenting. If there is an exposure which startles her and imbalances her expression of drives, it is not only stored as a strong memory but also recalled repeatedly and explored further out of curiosity, fear or confusion. It could make way for habits/addiction associated with acting out on strong emotion related to sexual tension. A young mind hasn't yet developed the extent of reasoning or intellect to understand or interfere the trigger of these emotions.
Creates a misguided Idea about Self & the World derived from Extensive objectification
In the beginning of an infant’s life, people who care for him are viewed mainly as objects who feed him, play with him or keep him safe/satisfied. His view of himself also is mainly of an object or a body which comes handy in satisfying his inner drives. As he grows, child is continuously learning to express his inner drives in one way or the other by observing his surroundings. He is developing his own thought process & emotions. Care and attention from his loved ones, teach him to express his instincts in a nurturing way. Watching the expression of affection in multiple ways through senses, touch, caressing, speech etc. by people in his life, helps him build the same in his persona. He starts to cherish belonging by engaging with his siblings & friends in a constructive way. He also learns the value of constructive engagement through age relevant activities as a means to gain pleasure hence gets the idea of meaningful career. Eventually he is in a position to look at sex as another important way of drive fulfilment & expression of love rather than the only way. He begins to view himself as well as others as people with body, thought process, perspectives & emotions rather than array of bodies which come handy for his physical instinct fulfilment. An early exposure to sex might interfere in this process of shaping a healthy individual with will, reasoning & consciousness by occupying a major portion of his mind and activities. This would arrest his progress from animalistic to intentional.
Long Term Effects of Untimely Exposure or Experience on your child
An untimely, age inappropriate exposure or experience with sex has consequences in multiple ways. To begin with, it affects child’s emotions and alters his thought process. It could invade his imagination. It might make him look at people more as objects for gratification than ones with intelligence, emotions or something more to them. It creates chance of sex occupying his mind as a major means of drive fulfilment or lose its charm in his mind altogether and become a disgusting or valueless activity. It could arrest his growth as an individual and enhance his insecurities. It could also create an obsession in his mind to think about sex or to avoid any thoughts about sex. It could create a huge burden of guilt & shame over something he finds hard to understand or control. It could reduce his focus or engagement with activities which help him grow or make him immerse only in things which help him block undesired emotions. Overall it reduces the extent of control he could have had on his own thoughts, emotions & actions and interferes in his well-being.
Requirement for Gradual Exposure to Sex in-line with developmental stage
You might have noticed that child undergoes certain developmental stages during her physical, emotional & psychological growth in the early years. Where exactly exposure to sex fit in, in these stages? There is an inherent exposure for expression of her instincts in every stage, which could be coupled with age appropriate education. In the beginning she was fed by mother, which is her primary means of survival. Touch, holding, affection & attention by parents and others in environment make her identify with care givers and put an effort to sustain their attention. She develops belonging with her siblings & friends who are girls as well as boys. She eventually notices that she is a girl who happens to be different from father, brother or friends who are boys. She tends to identify with female role models & hold curiosity about opposite sex with her own set of questions. Children tend to express their curiosity in their play & subtle behaviour. Her questions need to be answered appropriately while she is young in line with her well-being. Children manage their curiosity exactly as guided by elders, playmates and other exposure. She is ready for exposure to further intricacies of sex, when she has entered her puberty & started developing abstract reasoning. This stage calls for a well-informed and holistic sex education. Ignorance also doesn't shape a healthy & progressive individual in this stage.
Handling the untimely Exposure, when there is one
The world we live in is not always rational. Even after having the best intentions for their children, parents or teachers might face situations where they have to handle the sort of exposure their child might have come across accidentally. It could be anything that has affected their children in an adverse way. Elders need to keep an eye on their younger one’s emotional experiencing & behaviour. If a child happens to have any age irrelevant experiencing, it’s important to understand the way it’s acting on her mind & help her relieve the tension so that she can make sense of her experience & start engaging appropriately with her world again.