This Is What I Told My 5-Year-Old When He Took His ‘Little Guy’ Out In Public
A classic "teachable" moment.
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When you consider every possible topic of conversation, where would you rank “Penises” in terms of desirability?
I don’t mean: How much do you desire penises? Goodness. We’ve only just met.
I mean: As subject matter, how interested are you in discussing male privates?
Very low interest, right? Me too! It’s fun and hilarious on the internet. But it turns out it’s significantly less fun in real-life conversations with female school teachers and administrators acting as if your kindergartener is a top candidate for their “Future Sex Offenders of America” program (which probably doesn’t even exist), while they judge you silently with a “He learned this from you, didn’t he?” look on their faces.
I’m a solid conversationalist. Top 10 percent, probably. I’m interested in, reasonably knowledgable about, and enjoy discussing all sorts of things. I’m like a poor man’s Renaissance man, or a poor Renaissance man, or just a poor guy who likes lots of stuff. Whatever.
I won’t list my interests because I just did and deleted them because it was boring to read. Please just believe me since you’re reading this on the internet. The entire point of the exercise was to establish that “penises” was conspicuously absent from the list.
As another example, I hate discussing Pokémon with my little son. I have no idea what any of the shit means on his 74 million trading cards, and every time I have to watch it on TV, I secretly want the power to go out or to die from a massive coronary.
All of which sounds more fun than discussing penises.
The talk was inevitable. But as a parent, you’re never quite ready for it.
So one day he whipped it out in the bathroom at school while goofing off with friends just as a teacher poked her head in to check on the group of kindergarteners, and for the first time in my life I had a second penis to deal with. Swell.
Everybody kind of freaked out. His teacher. His principal. His daycare lady. Even his mom, and she’s pretty chill most of the time.
There was a special parent-teacher conference between my son’s teacher and mother to talk about behavioral expectations. I take it seriously insofar as I want my son to follow directions in school, listen to his teachers, be respectful to others, and give himself the best chance for academic success.
Not showing your penis to other people is a solid, entry-level behavioral choice that, supplemented with other good decisions, can lead to a life free of prison time and also venereal disease.
But he’s totally his father’s son. So goofing off in the bathroom with friends makes total sense. I tend not to involve penises, but honestly? Who knows what I was doing when I was 5. Could have been super-penisy. I truly don’t remember.
In all seriousness, I have had a couple talks with my son at bath time about what is and isn’t acceptable regarding his privates, but the school incident suggests those talks fell on deaf ears.
I was forced to try again.
This is what that looked like.
The Penis Talk
Me: “Do you know what a penis is?”
Me: “What do you call your privates?”
5-year-old: “Privates.” Me: “What else do you call it?”5-year-old: “My peep.” Me: “Yeah. Mommy always called it that. You know how we ask you to call farts ‘toots?'”5-year-old: “Yes.” Me: “That’s because ‘toot’ is a nicer word. It’s the same thing with ‘penis.’ The real word for peep is penis. Adults just ask you to call it other names because the word ‘penis’ makes us uncomfortable. Can you say ‘penis?'” 5-year-old: “Pee-nis.” Me: “Good job. Do you remember getting in trouble at school this week?” 5-year-old: “Yes.” Me: “What happened?” 5-year-old: “I didn’t follow directions.” Me: “Right. What did you do to get in trouble?” 5-year-old: “I don’t know.” Me: “Yes, you do. Mommy was really upset. Listen, you’re not in trouble. But when bad things happen you have to talk to mom and dad about it. Now tell me why you got in trouble, please.”5-year-old: “I did unpublic things. In public.” Me: “Did you just say ‘unpublic?'”5-year-old: “Yeah.” Me: “I guess that makes sense. What ‘unpublic’ thing did you do?”5-year-old: “I showed my privates.” Me: “Why?”5-year-old: “Because everybody was goofing around.” Me: “Were other kids showing their privates?”5-year-old: “No.” Me: “Just you, then. Great. When you showed other kids your penis, did you dance and sing?”5-year-old: “No.” Me: “Good. Buddy, I need you to tell me when it’s okay to take your penis out of your pants.”5-year-old: “I don’t know.” Me: “You can figure it out. You’re smart. When is it okay to be naked? You do it every day.”5-year-old: “When I go potty.” Me: “Yes! When you go potty. Very good. When else is it okay to take your penis out of your pants?”5-year-old: “When I’m taking a bath.” Me: “Yes! Excellent. When you’re taking a bath. There is one other time when it’s okay to be naked. Do you know when that is?”5-year-old: “No.” Me: “This one is tricky.”5-year-old: “You say it, dad.” Me: “When you’re changing your clothes.”5-year-old: “Okay.” Me: “What’s the big boy name for your peep?”5-year-old: “Penis.” Me: “When is it okay to take your penis out?”5-year-old: “Going potty, taking a bath and getting dressed.” Me: “Good job, dude. That’s exactly right. Do you know why it’s not okay to show your penis to people?”5-year-old: “No.” Me: “I guess that’s good. It’s because it’s really private. Our penises are just for us. They’re not for other people. (I wasn’t ready to have THAT talk.) Do you know what would happen to daddy if he went outside right now and showed his penis to a bunch of people?”5-year-old: “No.” Me: “I’d go to jail. It’s really, really bad, man. Do you want to go to jail?”5-year-old: “No.” Me: “What kind of people go to jail?”Five-year-old: “Policemen.” Me: “Sometimes. They work there. But I mean the bad guys. What kind of people have to go live in jail?”5-year-old: “Robbers.” Me: “Yes. Sometimes robbers. Do you know any other ways to go to jail?”5-year-old: “No.” Me: “Good. Who is it okay to show your penis to?”5-year-old: “Just me. Do you know why ears are special?” Me: “Why?”5-year-old: “So you can listen to stuff. That’s why they’re attached. You have ears too, daddy.” Me: “Yes. Yes, I do. What if a kid at school asks you to show them your penis?”5-year-old: “Don’t do it.” Me: “What if an adult asks you? A stranger?”5-year-old: “Don’t do it.” Me: “Very good. What if your teacher asks you?”5-year-old: “Don’t do it.” Me: “Exactly. What if someone tries to show you their penis?”5-year-old: “I’ll tell them to hide it. I’ll say no, no, no, no! Or maybe I’ll growl.” Me: “You’ll growl? What will that sound like?”5-year-old: *growls* Me: “Whoa. Scary.”5-year-old: “That’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex. That’s what I will do.” Me: “Cool. When is it okay to take out your penis?”5-year-old: “Going potty. Taking a bath. Getting dressed.” Me: “I’m proud of you, kid. Are you going to show anyone your penis anymore?”5-year-old: “I’m never going to take it out again. I’m never going to do it again, daddy. I promise.”
So there you have it. My son will (hopefully) never take his penis out in front of anyone again.
He’ll be weird and sexually repressed, own too many cats, and I’ll never have grandchildren.
But at least I won’t have to talk about penises anymore.
Must Be This Tall To Ride is a blog by a parent who thinks about, talks about, and writes about the human experience as he sees it, and his efforts to live more effectively. Read more from him here:
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