Teaching Children Values

There are several important questions about values education that are commonly neglected. How do children learn values? What values about sexuality should children be taught and why? Should values education be freely chosen by parents, or dictated by government employees and the special interests that influence government policy? Where does education end and indoctrination begin?

Adults often have very complex and abstract value systems based on beliefs about the effectiveness of certain values to achieve happiness in this life or earn a place in the afterlife. Many parents and other adults want children to learn the same values as their family or group. Other adults believe passing on the same simple values they learned as children is their right and privilege, without any need for further justification. A few adults believe children should have as much freedom as possible in choosing their values, so alternative values should be presented and explained, and the children have the final choice as to which values they prefer to adopt.

There is widespread recognition that very young children learn more through modeling than through instruction. It’s sufficient for very young children to see models behaving a certain way, and the little ones will imitate the behavior they see through the action of “mirror neurons” in the child’s brain. But some adults not only model certain behavior, they demand that children imitate adults via threats of punishment for disobedience. What do such demands for blind obedience to authority actually teach children?

Parents often teach values by establishing rules with different levels of reward or punishment. Parents offer little rewards for behavior considered less important, and bigger rewards for behavior considered more important, or threats of mild punishment for minor rule infractions, and threats of severe punishment for major rule infractions.

A distortion of this strategy is that sometimes parents punish more or less severely for the same rule infraction, depending on the parent’s good or bad mood at the moment. That distortion effectively teaches kids that what’s most important is the current mood of the person in authority enforcing the rule. In some families obedience to authority is virtually more important than the specific rules themselves, and even more important than the child itself.

In my value system, authorities and rules exist for the benefit of children. Kids don’t exist for the benefit of rules or authorities. Some adults have what I consider very confused priorities, viewing nutrition and hygiene as minor values, for example, encouraging kids to eat junk food, and not encouraging dental hygiene, while those same adults place an extremely high value on hiding the genital area and abstaining from innocent sex play.

When some adults see children enjoying sex play the adult may encourage the child with praise and promises of reward, or lose control and beat the child with an electric cord while screaming that the child is a “whore,” as one victim described it, or there may be a wide range of reactions between those two extremes, such as simply ignoring the child’s behavior as normal and harmless. Some adults fear that if a child becomes “sexualized,” i.e. overly fixated on sex, it is a fate worse than death, despite no reliable evidence for that belief, as if survival necessitates that children become asexual and lose all instinctive interest in genital sensations.

Even some professionals who earn a living by providing family therapy for children with sexual behavior problems (i.e. coercive sexual abuse toward other children), admit that there is excessive concern about children’s normal sex play and often unnecessary and inappropriate intervention, as if children should be treated like adult sex offenders. “For many adults, the automatic response to childhood sexuality is that it is problematic and reflective of a sexually abusive experience.” (1).

The fear of “sexualizing” children goes back to very ancient religious beliefs about denying the pleasures of the body in favor of focusing on the spirit. That fear was also supported by early medical beliefs about the supposedly ill effects of masturbation, and the gruesome “virtue” of chastity belts or physical castration (clitorodectomy), still practiced in some Third World cultures and known as female genital mutilation.

That ancient fear has recently been reinforced by the mass hysteria over child sex abuse and overstimulation which is currently fueled by some quack psychotherapists, many of whom now call themselves sex abuse “counselors” and call their patients “clients” to avoid malpractice suits. Many adults view children’s sex play from that distorted perspective, or fear meddling repercussions from a mad mob of hysterics if their children aren’t mentally castrated and rendered sexually dysfunctional as is traditional.

Sex education today is commonly considered merely an urgent need to avoid infectious disease and unplanned pregnancy, rather than learning about pleasure and developing healthy sexual function. Traditionally, girls seem to suffer much more from hysteria over sex play than boys. “Modesty and chastity were to be fostered in both sexes, but were given greater emphasis where girls were concerned.” (2).

Right now there is a music video on the web about a wedding that includes humorous scenes of two little boys showing playful sexual interest in mature female anatomy, but although there are also little girls in the video there are no such scenes of little girls showing similar interest in men. Even in the recent, highly sexual comedy film “Buying the Cow,” in which a nine-year-old girl is shown writing love letters to an 18-year-old boy, her interest is portrayed as platonic; there is no suggestion whatsoever that she has any sexual interest in the older boy.

In real life little girls do express innocent sexual interest, e.g. looking in the doorway when a man goes in the bathroom, etc. But humorously portraying such normal feminine interest in public is traditionally taboo. Some individuals I’ve spoken to about this discrepancy are quick to search for “a good reason” for it, but I’m afraid the real reason is a bad reason: the perceived need to mentally castrate girls.

In the past a 12-year-old girl was considered competent to babysit for her 8-year-old sister, but nowadays parents will often hire a babysitter for both, supposedly to protect both girls from dangerous strangers lurking about. (Dangerous strangers have been breeding like rabbits recently, I guess, compared to the good old days.) But in reality I suspect the real need is to keep the 12-year-old under surveillance so she won’t be free to express her more-than-platonic interest in boys, either on the phone or on the web, further enforced by parents insisting they be informed of the girl’s FB password to monitor her communications.

An early interest in sex play is acceptable behavior for boys but not for girls? Whatever happened to modern feminism? Evidently, feminist enthusiasm for sexual equality ends where sex play begins. Exception: some pro-sex feminists seem to be more consistent, but I’ve never found any feminist who comes out and specifically says that little girls have as much right to enjoy sex play as little boys, even if that involves expressing playful curiosity about mature male anatomy.

Some adults can’t even confront the evidence that popular attitudes about children’s sexuality are clearly hysterical. They meet citations of the evidence with the old fallacy: argumentum ad hominem – immediate personal attacks against the speaker’s purported character or supposed motives, instead of addressing the truth or falsity of what he actually says. Demands to block open discussion and censor expressions of alternative values clearly qualify as attempted indoctrination.

In practice sex play has no more significance for the normal child than any other kind of play, and children certainly are interested in all body pleasures. A child who has been neglected or terrorized against sex at an early age may express no interest in sex, but that is a mentally castrated child, not a normal child. When children focus on something they are very perceptive observers, and enjoy imitating actions even if they don’t understand the specific logic or value of the behavior. From a child’s point of view, successful performance is its own reward. As Dewey put it: “In play the activity is its own end, instead of its having an ulterior result” (3).

Young children often crave physical contact. In toddlerhood children prefer to move around rather than cuddling, but that is a temporary phase. At any age a child may focus on other things and be uninterested in skin contact. But interest in sex play begins in earnest by age three or so, and continues (or not) depending on how adults react to it. Children who see each other nude love nudity, and those who receive full-body massage love massage. In contrast, children who are told they must hide their genital area (prescriptively labeled “private parts”), and by age six are told they are now “too big” to sit on daddy’s lap, become fearful of sexuality.

Children kissing each other deeply on the lips is a form of play like any other. They see adults do it and imitate what they see. The significance that adults project into children deep kissing each other on the lips is a consequence of values instilled by their parents or other teachers. The laws in most places prohibit allowing children to see sexual activities or even educational films of sexual interaction. Think about that. There are laws against teaching children that sex is good, but there are no laws against teaching children that sex is bad. That is an effective way to indoctrinate children that sexual activity is negatively valued by “society:” i.e. government employees and the special interests that influence government policy.

Should parents with their own set of values be forced to reject their own values and instead adopt the values of others, enforced by government employees on the excuse that children need to be “protected” from “sexualization”? A common answer to that question is: Yes. Everyone should be “free” to do what I want, not what you want. Hence the pathetic spectacle of each group defending itself and hoping some other group will be outlawed and persecuted, not us.

There is extensive research that indicates internal motivation is the most powerful incentive for learning. Ideally, learning about any subject should be motivated by the child’s own natural curiosity. Conversely, some evidence suggests that threatening children with punishment is the worst way to educate children. A compromise is to offer children incentives for learning that coincide with the child’s desires. “We should associate pleasure with whatever we wish children to learn.” (4).

Adults who give a child as much freedom as possible are modeling respect for the child as an autonomous individual. A child can never truly be an extension of a parent, because the mere difference in age sets them far apart. The greatest joy for an adult should not be to think: “This child is a kind of extension of me,” but rather to know: “This child is a unique human being, and if we try we can respect and communicate with each other as individuals.”

Ideally, opportunities for body pleasure could be offered as a reward for socially constructive behavior. That would teach children the value of the healthy body, as well as the value of socially constructive behavior. For example, children who respect others and behave empathically, rather than ignoring or disturbing others (as mentally castrated children often do), could be rewarded with the freedom to enjoy optional “massage time” with other children who have behaved themselves similarly and express a mutual wish to do so. That would teach children the important value of socially constructive behavior in the most effective way possible.


  1. Friedrich, William N. Children with Sexual Behavior Problems. W.W. Norton, 2007.
  2. Lascarides, V. Celia, and  Hinitz, Blythe F. History of Early Childhood Education. Routledge, 2000.
  3. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. Macmillan, 1930.
  4. Edgeworth, Richard Lavel. Practical Education (1798), with co-author: Maria, his daughter, quoted in Reference 2.

About Frank Adamo

Author of the novel "Revolt of the Children," the eBook "Real Child Safety", a photo-documentary "Girl Becomes Woman," and a video for kids "Buddy Massage." I do not defend, promote or excuse any kind of abuse or exploitation. Become a part of the Foundation for Research and Education on Child Safety. www.FRECS.org
This entry was posted in child sexual abuse, children, sex, sex education, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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