doctor" is something most young children do as an exercise in understanding
their bodies and the differences between boys and girls.
- However, sexual allegations involving 11-year-old Raoul
Wutrich and his five-year-old sister Sophia in Colorado raises questions
for parents as to when innocent touching between children crosses the line
into potential sexual abuse. (He allegedly touched and kissed his sister's
- Children are sexually curious beings and it can lead
to kids "checking out each other's plumbing," says Mary Gordon,
parenting administrator with the Toronto District School Board.
- She assures parents this is normal, noting that inquisitiveness
begins in babies, re-emerges when potty-training occurs and peaks at around
- More importantly, she says, "Children need to know
about good touching and bad touching. If something doesn't feel right to
them, they must have the confidence to be able to say 'no' and walk away."
- Children should never be forced to touch, hug or kiss
anyone, even a relative such as an aunt, uncle or grandparent.
- 'Right to decide'
- "Teach children to shake hands in order to be polite.
Don't force them to kiss. They need to know they have the right to decide,"
says Kathy Lynn, parenting educator with a Vancouver-based firm called
- Although six is usually the age when playing doctor ends,
it depends on the child's age, stage, gender and development.
- "Sexual maturity comes at different ages and many
children are ready biologically before they are ready cognitively and socially.
Then it becomes a question of values and morality," says Gary Freeman,
a child psychologist at North York General Hospital. "A child may
be biologically ready for sex at 12, but that doesn't mean it's appropriate
for them to be having sex at that age."
- Age gap
- What concerns child-care experts about the case in Colorado
is the six-year age gap between the children.
- "This kind of behaviour is more common in younger
kids closer in age. Six years could reflect coercive behaviour," says
Miriam Kaufman, a pediatrician at The Hospital For Sick Children.
- A large age gap creates a power inbalance "that
can be terrifying for a child who can't articulate they're uncomfortable
with something or know how to stop it," says Freeman.
- Without worrying their children are perverted, it is
up to parents to monitor their child's play.
- "So much comes down to our judgment, which is why
so many of us lie in bed at night and worry about the choices we've made,"
- A Toronto mom says she rarely allows her six-year-old
daughter to go to other people's homes alone after catching a nephew, who
was two years older and had removed his clothing, playing doctor with her
- "I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors,"
she says. "What if mom is busy downstairs or in the garden and the
children are left unsupervised inside? The potential for abuse is there,
especially if your child is young and vulnerable and there are older children
in the house."
- If you do catch kids in the act, remain calm. Gordon
suggests parents respond in a straight-forward manner: "We don't show
our bodies to people like that. Our bodies are private."
- If they've shed their clothes, instruct children to put
them back on, explaining, "We wear clothes in our house."
- Children should be advised not to touch other people's
private parts and not to insert objects in body orifices.
- "Just as kids place things in their ears, bums and
noses, they'll also insert objects into their vaginas," she says.
- "It doesn't mean the child is disturbed -- she's
- It's up to parents to help children develop a healthy
attitude toward their bodies.
- "You can't blame kids for being sexually stimulated
because it's all around them. We all share the responsibility for childhood
sexuality," says Freeman.
- Meanwhile, local doctors are critical of the way Colorado's
Raoul has been treated (dragged from his bed at 10:30 p.m., shackled and
jailed), saying the child needs counselling, not incarceration.
- Raoul did not commit "a criminal act with malicious
intent," says Diane Sacks, a pediatrician at North York General Hospital's
adolescent clinic. "This is not spontaneous behaviour on the part
of an 11-year-old boy. He has either experienced it or seen it. At this
point, he needs intervention as well as investigation to see if he has
been a victim."