On one level, the past 15 years have gone quickly, yet when I think back to everything I’ve accomplished, it seems like forever.
Fifteen years ago I was a school nurse at a private school in Orange County, spending most of my time putting Band-Aids and ice packs on boo-boos. Besides my nursing duties, I also taught many of the health classes, one being a parent/tween preparation for puberty class.
In October of 2002, I made the decision it was time to leave school nursing and pursue a business of my own full-time. I realized I had a great passion for helping parents and kids ease the transition through puberty, and I didn’t want to look back later in life and feel that I could have done more.
As I reflect back, I realize just how naïve and brave I was because I knew nothing when it came to running a business. I was lucky enough to find an amazing assistant and a very successful marketing professional. Back in 2002, websites and logos were pretty new, and I have to say our logo was pretty darn funny (picture of logo). Since our name was Birds & Bees Connection, what better logo than a bird and bee? Our current logo emphasizes the connection aspect between parents and kids.
The idea for Puber-Tea was the brainchild of my assistant at the time, now turned marketing director. We felt that just the term puberty didn’t do the class justice. We wanted to make it a fun and interactive tea party. My goal with all of my classes is for them to be enjoyable and engaging and to facilitate critical thinking skills.
Times were different then. Social media really didn’t come on the scene until 2005, and it really didn’t reach its peak until 2007, when suddenly my fifth graders were walking around with iPods and iPhones. In many respects it was a simpler world, yet that didn’t stop the curiosity of kids and the questions they asked.
I’ve noticed the students in my early Puber-Tea and Guy Talk classes seemed a bit more naïve than the kids I teach today. It’s not that they are any more educated, it’s just that social media has made them informed, but in many cases misinformed as well.
About 10 years ago I became aware that young girls were definitely starting to bloom at an earlier age, and I often had long conversations with concerned mothers over how their 10-year-olds could already have pubic hair and breast buds. Because of those conversations and my own observations, I knew something was changing and girls were entering puberty at an earlier age. I suspected one of the issues was environmental. The current research points to the onset of estrogen in young girls being susceptible to environmental factors such as food, antiperspirants and cleaning chemicals. Just about anything young girls were using on or around their bodies could have an effect on why puberty was starting earlier. This very issue has been addressed in the book New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls.
I also found that when I taught the fifth and sixth graders during the early years, they were calmer and their ability to be present and engaged was more evident. Now, I find that I my classes need to be simple and interactive to keep kids on task and not looking at their electronic devices.
In the earlier years when I read questions from my “question box,” I found them to be pretty much about puberty and when they were going to look like their peers. Every once in a while I got questions about sex. Kids at the point weren’t accessing or hearing the type of information they are now. Playboy was innocent compared to what is available online.
One of my biggest disappointments is that our education system still resists addressing these topics adequately. Taboos and fears still abound around the willingness to offer factual and honest information. You’d think by now we’d have moved on and become willing to give our children a comprehensive sex education. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most school administrators still fear this topic and therefore sugarcoat it when offering classes to students.
When I started, we were dealing with an “abstinence-only” educational paradigm. Politicians and healthcare professionals found out very quickly that this resulted in young people who were still sexually active but who had not had adequate sex education. This in turn created a higher teen pregnancy rate and increased transmission rates of sexually transmitted diseases. I’ve found that teens who attend my classes today are inadequately educated in all aspects of puberty and sex. Middle schoolers are engaging in oral sex and equating it to kissing, and we know that comprehensive sex education would go a long way towards decreasing the issues teens are currently facing. True, we’ve had a decrease of teen pregnancy and abortions, but the majority of that decrease is due to teen girls taking birth control. What we haven’t seen a decrease in is sexually transmitted diseases. The current statistic for new STDs diagnosed in 15 – 19-year-olds each year is estimated to be close to 10 million.
Even though I’ve come a long way since 2002, and thousands of parents and children have gone through my classes, I still feel there is work to be done. The hard fact is that only a small percentage of parents and children attend my classes, and it’s my goal before I retire for that number to grow exponentially. I don’t want any parents and children not to get the information they need to normalize the topics of puberty, sexuality and sex.
I charge all parents reading this blog to go tell your friends, relatives, schools, youth organizations and religious groups to contact us. Puberty, sexuality and sex can stop being so taboo and become something everyone is finally okay talking about.