(Your kids are going to learn about sex with or without you…)
As someone who has taught about puberty and sexuality for 30 years, I am amazed that the denial and parental naivete around these topics is so pervasive– especially in the age of electronic devices and social media.
I realize that it can be difficult for parents of tweens to accept that their children are entering puberty, but the reality is that puberty is beginning earlier and earlier. Most parents want their child to stay a child, and the thought of them going through puberty and being sexual is painful. It does our children a great disservice if we don’t adequately prepare them for this very important and challenging time in their lives.
We constantly get phone calls from parents who are interested in our classes, and on some level, I think they would like us to talk them out of taking a class with their 4th grader. They would like us to tell them that 4th grade is too young to be having any puberty talk with their child. We don’t, because 4th grade is really the prefect age to begin the puberty talk.
We meet a lot of dads who are in total in denial about the fact that their “little girls” are growing up. Fathers of 5th-grade daughters will insist to us that it will be at least 12 years until they need any kind of information about puberty. Typically, the moms in these families totally understand the importance of having a class, but the conversation with dad can be very challenging.
Oddly, the fathers who have a difficult time accepting that they need to talk to their sons are coming from a very different point of resistance. They say, “Why does he need this information when I survived without it?”
I totally understand where these parents are coming from, but I also understand that if their children don’t receive adequate information that properly prepares them for all the physical and emotional changes they will experience, they might wind up with a child who enters puberty unprepared and overwhelmed by their experiences. Parents usually want their children to feel secure and have positive self-esteem and self-image, but failing to prepare them adequately for puberty can negatively impact both.
When parents who aren’t ready for their kids to grow up are also willfully oblivious to the fact that their children are hearing all kinds of information from their peers, misinformation can spread unchecked. Couple peer information with the fact that the average grade at which most kids get their own mobile device is 4th grade, and you have a recipe for disaster if parents have their heads in the sand.
More than puberty, sex really is something tweens and teens need to know about. If you’re waiting until they come to you with questions without having laid an early foundation of safe, open conversations, you’re likely to be waiting for a very long time. They won’t be waiting to ask questions—they’ll just seek answers elsewhere. Where will they get their information from? Peers? Older kids? The internet? Where do you want your child learning about sex?
Imagine a group of curious 4th grade boys and girls searching the internet. It happened last year at a local school, where a bunch of 4th grade girls inadvertently taught themselves about oral sex this way. Boy did we have parents signing up for classes fast in the wake of that. Yet this year when the crisis had passed, everyone reverted to believing something like that couldn’t happen to their children.
Every one of our classes has been specially designed to address these topics in an age-appropriate manner. Puber-Tea and Guy Talk are tailored to 4th graders, who just need the basics about the physical and emotional changes that will occur in their bodies during puberty. Rites of Passage, for 5th and 6th graders, goes deeper into and then beyond puberty—again in an age-appropriate fashion. The Bridge and 4Teens address the challenges that teens face in middle and high school.
Each course gives kids the information and tools they need while creating strong critical thinking. Because these classes have parents participating, they empower parents as educators and open the dialogs most parents really want to be able to handle at home.
Let’s be honest: our society is permeated with sex and sexual images. Everywhere you look, something has a sexual connotation. Despite this, when it comes to talking with our children about sex and sexuality, most parents would rather have a root canal then initiate that conversation.
You can bury your head in the sand if you want to, but your child will go through puberty and will have curiosity about sex. It’s a given. And the longer you wait to begin the discussion, the less likely your child will ever come to you with their questions and concerns.
As a friend once said to me, “It’s time to put on your big kid pants.” Don’t give in to the temptation to be an ostrich about the things your kids really are ready to learn. Take a class, read a book and begin the conversation with your child. Having these early, ongoing conversations might feel scary and risky, but the consequences of not doing it are much more risky in the long run.