Anyone who has experienced a professional massage knows that massage is very enjoyable. The standard price may seem excessive relative to the pleasure, but there is actually much more to massage than merely pleasure. Searching “child massage” on the web reveals that there are reliable authorities to confirm the health benefits of massage, even if the massage isn’t performed by a professional. So why don’t most people practice daily massage? Why isn’t child massage more popular?
There are several books and videos available about child massage (1,2,3,4). The University of Miami Medical School has a Touch Research Institute which has published over 100 studies on all ages. They have found that massage facilitates weight gain in preterm infants, enhances attentiveness, alleviates depressive symptoms, reduces pain, reduces stress hormones, and improves immune function The research has been partly funded by the Johnson and Johnson Baby Products Company. J&J itself also published a great book many years ago: “The Many Facets of Touch” (1984), as part of a Pediatric Round Table series.
Daily massage is now recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and many pediatricians, especially for babies, and there is no good reason to stop the practice as a child matures. The skin isn’t merely a covering for the internal organs; human skin is also an organ of perception – the largest body organ of any kind. Gentle skin contact causes a cascade of physiological effects that communicate safety, friendship, and affection, as well as modulating mood and the immune system, regardless of who does it (5).
Busy parents should invest their limited time in talking with children about what the children are interested in, expressing love and guidance, but words aren’t enough. Daily massage is a way to communicate feelings in addition to words. If parents aren’t always available, siblings or friends can learn how to perform a good massage with a minimum of study and effort. As I describe in my free video Buddy Massage gentle skin-to-skin contact also fosters social relationships, especially when monitored by a parent, teacher, or other responsible adult.
Children should be informed that interpersonal skin contact is an option rather than an obligation or an unspeakable taboo. The prior, voluntary consent of the children giving and receiving the massage is always needed, as well as parental consent. Appropriate hygiene before massage is also mandatory. Children should be informed that massage relaxes the body and mind, so a child being massaged may fall asleep. The child receiving the massage may also experience a genital erection, which is another natural consequence of deep relaxation.
Sleep and genital erection are nothing to be ashamed of. If massage takes place in the nude, as it normally is, and if there is a genital erection, the child should be praised since erection is an indication of healthy genital function. If anything, not experiencing genital erection may indicate dysfunction. Failure to experience clitoral erection may be normative in adult women, most of whom were mentally castrated in childhood, but clitoral erectile dysfunction is not normative in children.
Schools in several countries now include “massage time” in the classroom to foster relaxation, social harmony, and discourage bullying (6). Satisfying children’s need for gentle skin contact may discourage many from indulging in unnecessary violence or inappropriate sexual contact. Once kids have experienced a good, thorough massage at home or in school, they will want it again every day. But once a day is enough. Children would get bored with too frequent massage; they never lose interest in other forms of activity, especially physically active games or sports.
The various members of the shame lobby (religious fundamentalists, feminists, psychotherapists) are suspicious of skin contact and nudity, especially for children, and blatant paranoia over child sex abuse is rampant thanks to the sensationalist “news” media, political opportunists, and profiteers in the sex abuse rescue business (7). Some drama queens declare that any skin contact with a child is “overstimulation” and worse than death, despite the clear evidence to the contrary (see The Rind Study ). Unfortunately, social workers, teachers, law enforcement agents, and other government employees are sometimes more interested in their own job security or career advancement than in protecting and serving the public.
How pathetic to see parents who certainly know better pretending to be “concerned” about nudity and skin contact in order to appear politically correct. In the current climate of mass hysteria over sex, parents should inform children that child massage and buddy massage should preferably be discrete rather than openly broadcast. Schools can play a role in normalizing child massage, since whatever schools do is widely considered socially acceptable – even though the prestige of traditional schools is actually unjustified.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that many individuals who are hysterical about skin contact and nudity have a personal agenda; they are probably sexually dysfunctional due to touch deprivation in their own childhood, and can’t bear the envy of thinking other children may enjoy what they missed. A community needs rules, but that doesn’t mean any and all disagreement and non-conformity to numerical norms must be viciously censored and violently suppressed. A community that behaves so intolerantly must view itself as extremely fragile, or else so-called threats to community stability are merely an excuse for gratuitous sadism.
In an ideal world people would respect individualism, diversity, and nonconformity. Once upon a time, some countries even officially boasted that they value courage and rugged individualism. But times have changed. Nowadays, some people are so insecure and paranoid that the only courage many people respect is the “courage” to conform to the current whims (“standards”) of their dumb-down community, “informed” by the highly selective and sensationalist “news.”
Hopefully, someday child massage may become widely accepted, and communities may enjoy the social and health benefits of citizens who have never been deprived of innocent skin-to-skin contact.
- Aucket, Amelia. Baby Massage. (Morrow, 2001).
- Jelveus, Lena and Anders, Jelveus. Swedish Child Massage. (Swedish Health Institute, 2004).
- Torporek, Robert. The New Book of Baby and Child Massage. (Running Press, 2001).
- See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wLRNlKBw6k and search “Child Massage” on YouTube for many others.
- Montague, Ashley. Touching. 3rd ed. (Harper and Row, 1986).
- See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlPxpij_NRM and https://youtu.be/kJMVbnd2SNM
- Levine, Judith. Harmful to Minors. (University of Minnesota Press, 2002).