How to react to kids’ butt jokes

Oct 02, 2023

A parent asked for my advice when they found their Primary School aged child had been sent this cartoon from another student. The parents’ initial reaction was to report it to the teacher. The child was very upset with the parent as it meant their friend might get into trouble. They asked for my opinion, part of their question caught my attention: 

“...While the image is not sexualised as such, I don't think it's body positive. You see I'm having trouble articulating what the problem is with it. Am I being squeamish? I'd be interested in your view…”

The parent went on to say: “I didn't quite get the joke initially and asked another adult what they thought - they also didn't get it. It’s meant to imply I’m ‘buttman’ - which I’m sure many kids would find hilarious!”

It’s very interesting to think about adults' reactions compared to kids’ reality. If we take a moment to pause and think about the image itself it’s actually not inappropriate, it’s more of a silly joke that is not in the taste of most adults.

The typically expected behaviour of young kids tells us that butt/bum jokes are harmless and part of typically expected behaviour development. Often kids find it hilarious to say these words out-loud for the first time, to think about bums and what they are for, referring to them for the first time with peers, etc. Kids are exploring boundaries and working out what is socially ok and what is not. It’s an essential part of their development, and during this time they need our positive, non-judgemental, non-punished and supported guidance. In my new book Talking Sex I outline typically expected sexual development and behaviour at different ages and stages and suggest how parents can respond age appropriately. 

The most important thing is to keep the line of communication open with our kids. If we react harshly and punish them for a silly butt joke, they may not come to us when they accidentally come across inappropriate content in the future out of fear that they will get in trouble. This is particularly concerning with the rise of online child sexual abuse. The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation has reported a 60% rise in sexual extortion (sextortion) in 2022, and the eSafety Commissioner received almost triple the number of sextortion reports in the first quarter of 2023. 

Our kids’ online safety has never been more important. Teach them that it’s ok to have a little giggle about butts and bums, but to tell an adult if they accidentally find inappropriate content.