Q. I am uncomfortable that our 11-year-old son is drawing nudes. He is a budding artist and I want him to develop as an artist, but I'd rather he draw fruit in a bowl than nakedness. His father is an “art dad,” similar to a “stage mom,” and pushes him beyond his age. Can you totally be on my side and say 11 is too young for nakedness?
A. I am mostly on your side. By the time kids are 11, you should have discussed all the parts of the human body, including genitals, with them so that they have an understanding of their own parts and what they are called.In addition, children are sexual beings with their own very normal sexual thoughts.
As I explain in my new book, “Changing You: A Guide to Body Changes and Sexuality,” you want your kids to know that this is OK. Usually, kids just enjoy their sexual thoughts and feelings, especially if they are given the message there is nothing wrong with them.
Unfortunately, they are exposed to near-nudity on television and the Internet. But obviously, the stimulus of a live nude person at close range will stir more excitement. An 11-year-old is not an adult who can deal with such stimulation. This is why I advise parents not to go around naked in front of their kids. In this way I am on your side.
Art might be the only exception — where people can appreciate the human form in a way that is not overly sexually stimulating.
But, as we know, many of us got our anatomy lessons from looking at art — many a little girl has gazed at Michelangelo’s statue of David, and not to marvel at the sculptor’s artistic genius — so it’s naive to be unrealistic about this.
Is your son able to draw these nudes because they are presented in an artistic context and he genuinely sees them that way, just as if he were to be shown body parts in a biology class and see cells? Maybe, but probably not. It is likely to be at least somewhat arousing. As long as it is more artistic than arousing, this may be fine.
To determine this, observe what is going on with your son. Is he uncomfortable or anxious, or having thoughts that rev him up?
Some teachers present their material in a nonthreatening and nonstimulating way. Others don’t think about the fact these are children, and present their material in a more pornified way. Find out more from the instructor — whether the model is draped, how near the model is to the subjects, how your son behaves in class.
If being in this class is overstimulating your son, he should go back to drawing fruit in a bowl. Give him another five to seven years before he works with nudes.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: While children should have knowledge of the human body, including their genitals, exposure to actual adult nudity is often overstimulating to them and therefore not advisable.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .