Much has been written in the media of late regarding puberty in young children and when sex education ought to be introduced to children, particularly formal sex education at the school level. One recent article stated that new Melbourne research claims that “sex education should be fast tracked to children as young as five.” A La Trobe University study found that “The gap between formal lessons about sexuality is too great in Victorian Primary Schools.” The same report suggested that it was better for educators to get in too early than too late” on the subject of sex education.
As an educator I have been primarily responsible for teaching our Puberty/ Sex Education curriculum to our Year 7 students for the best part of 18 years. It is an interesting stage for the students. You have some who feel they are well and truly ‘in the know’ about all things puberty related, whilst other students sit in the classroom with a face like a deer stuck in the headlights, hoping that the entire lesson will just vanish into space. And please, please! Don’t ask mean any questions!!!!
I actually really enjoy this part of the curriculum. I feel it is a privilege as an educator, to help guide students through this often tumultuous stage of their lives, and to help address their natural questions in a safe environment.
But what is the role of parents in this area, and when should we begin having these discussions with our own children? As an adolescent girl, I could think of nothing worse than being forced to talk to my mother about anything even remotely puberty related. I wanted the ground to open up and suck me under whenever she even broached the subject. I still recall my total horror and returning home from school one afternoon to find a brown paper bag on the end of my bed, containing a book about changes to my body- AAARRRH!!! I don’t even recall what I did with said book- but I NEVER even looked at it. And any further attempts to engage me in conversation for anything puberty related, was quickly dismissed by me.
In my own parenting journey, the road was quite steady when my teenage son hit adolescence. We found the doors of communication were wide open, and we have been able to hold quite civil conversations about anything puberty/ sex related. “Fantastic, wonderful parenting!” you may be thinking! STOP! Hold the press! Yes, it was going well, it’s easy I thought to myself, just be open and honest and make sure you’re child never feels it’s embarrassing to talk about puberty….until…. Miss pre-adolescent 10 year old appears…
I shouldn’t at all be surprised, yet I am! My pre-pubescent 10 year old daughter is TOTALLY mortified at any mention of the P word.
“Don’t even talk about it Mum” “Eeeeew, you are totally disgusting!!”
I seriously don’t get it. I am an educator. I specialise in teaching all things puberty and sex related, heck I’ve even written two best-selling books on the subject for young people- why is it that my own flesh and blood refuses to engage in any mother/daughter discussions relating to her body? It comes down to personality, I have surmised. Some children will be more than happy to talk to their parents about embarrassing topics such as puberty, and others would prefer to hear it from someone NOT related to them in any way-ie: the school nurse or teacher.
When it comes to discussions about sex and puberty with your adolescent, many parents may want to bury their heads under the doona and avoid ‘that chat’! My experience has been however, if you keep discussions as open and honest as you can with your child, the less likely it is to be a major issue.Know this! Our child will hear information from a variety of sources. Wouldn’t you rather they receive the correct information from you?
Most schools will have visits from a school nurse during the Senior Primary years, who may run introductory sessions about what to expect during puberty and may introduce the concept of conception, so that students have a basic understanding of how babies are conceived. This will hopefully form a good basis for discussion in the home, where you can follow up information and discussions from school.
Increasingly however, children are going through the early changes of puberty earlier than ever before. There are a number of factors offered for this, including changes to the Western diet to hormones found in some foods.
Be alert to the changes your child may be experiencing with their body and try and encourage an open dialogue with your child, or an adult they trust.
Now I am fully aware that for some parents, perhaps dues to their own upbringing, religion or family or parental circumstances, talking to your adolescent about sex can be as mortifying and painful as pulling out your own fingernails! Do not feel distressed if this is a difficult topic for you to have a conversation about. There are some fantastic resources and books available in the marketplace that you can give to your child (but please, don’t hand it to them in a brown paper bag!)
Many parents have shared with me that they will sit in bed with their child at night and read a chapter out of a puberty book together- then discuss these point.
Whatever you do, make sure your child has someone in their life that they know they can talk about body issues with. If not you, perhaps approach a close relative or Youth Pastor that they would be happy to talk to.
In my experience, most adolescents are most eager to find out more about their body’s function (once they get over the initial embarrassment of the topic) and how these changes occur. And even though they might snigger and act embarrassed at first, many teens find the creation of new life and understanding the growth of a baby, fascinating.
I also find that many adolescents experience fears and concerns at some point about the changes they are experiencing during the onset of puberty. For this reason alone, I believe it is important that we try and facilitate an active dialogue with our children about this topic, and allow frequent opportunities for them to ask questions or share concerns without causing any undue embarrassment.
TIPS FOR TALKING PUBERTY WITH YOUR CHILDREN:
- Rather than waiting for the big CHAT, encourage ongoing dialogue with your children as they grow up
- Don’t assume that your child doesn’t know anything about puberty- you’ll be surprised at what gets discussed in the playground at school
- Provide resources that your child can read only if they show interest
- Talk about your own experiences of growing up, with your children- look for teachable moments!
- If your child is going through puberty at an earlier age than expected, reassure them that they are perfectly normal and okay.
- Avoid making constant referrals to body changes- your child will probably feel self- conscious enough, without parents and relatives adding to their embarrassment.
I think my teenagers know more than me about this subject! We have always been really open in discussing sex and puberty in our household, and have answered questions as they arose. Sometimes I think you can give too much information and not really address the simple questions they are asking. We need to be careful not to give them more detail than they require at certain stages.Alyce, mother of three
I believe in giving simple explanations to solve a child’s curiosity, and then address more information as they reach adolescence. Always address their questions and never say ‘I’ll discuss it later.’ This way your teenager knows that you are approachable.Cathy, mother of teen son & daughter
It is better that your teenager finds out the truth from us parents, rather than through school yard chatter. It’s also important to discuss these issues in relation to your family values, beliefs and standards.Marg, mother of two teenagers
I just answered questions, age appropriate, as they were asked, so that when my children entered adolescence, it was quite natural for them to ask me questions. I much preferred my children to ask me questions they were curious about, rather than receiving often distorted views of truth dorm the school yard or other places.Jennifer, mother of four
Sharon latest book Wise guys
Available at www.sharonwitt.com.au