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Dr. Logan Levkoff Headshot

Banning the Word 'Penis?' Parenting Fail

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Every now and then I get so completely aggravated by a "news" item that I feel compelled to write about it immediately. And that's what happened when I read Lisa Belkin's piece about a mother trying to shield her son from the word "penis." That's okay. Read that sentence again. I'm sure it sounds somewhat insane.

I am the first to admit that I am the language police. I encourage (no, I insist) that my children use anatomically correct language when describing body parts. I challenge their use of slang and always talk to them about what words (even profanity) means and why we should (or should not) use certain terms. Language is important; words are powerful.

So back to the original story. Carinn Jade of Mommyish became upset when her 3-year-old son came home from preschool hearing the words: win, penis and girlfriend.

Jade's reaction to the word penis:

I don't understand why little kids find the word "penis" so funny, but it's undisputed that they do. Which is one of the reasons we never introduced the word at home; it just becomes maddening ammunition to get a rise out of mommy and daddy. I also don't understand why some moms are obsessed with teaching their potty-training children the "appropriate" term for their genitals.

Breathe, Logan. Breathe. Why does the word penis get a rise out of you and his father? It's a word. It's the correct word. And the only reason they find it funny is because you make a big deal out of it. If you responded, "yes honey, that's your penis," or "sure, Daddy has a penis," calmly, then the power that term carries floats away.

Why do I know this? I'm a parent. And I'm a sex educator. I'm the teacher at school responsible for telling kids that they should use the word penis. And vulva. (Don't know that one? Read here.)

When we deliberately or inadvertently support our children's use of slang, it's as if we tell them: Yes, there is something gross or silly or ugly about that body part. Don't ever call it by its real name.

Think I'm overreacting? Try this: If we don't have a universal language for our body parts, how do our kids tell us when something hurts? Or if they've been touched inappropriately? Because I can assure you, one person's pee-pee may be quite different from another's.

This idea about children not hearing certain words frustrates me endlessly. Some are quick to say that when you teach kids about sexual anatomy, or reproduction, or sex, you take away their innocence. That's just not true. Their innocence is lost when they learn something from someone other than you -- something that perhaps you haven't shared with them or something that you deliberately led them to believe was untrue.

You want to know what word I ban? It's here. It's an F-word, but probably not the one you're thinking of.