There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 5th Grade (page 2)
What I Want to Know Is …
Why does getting married cause babies? Can boys have periods? Can you get pregnant before you have periods? Do guys get sterile from using all their sperm? What are birth control pills? How does sex give you AIDS? What's a wet dream?
These questions were asked by an average group of 5th graders during a sex education class. Some questions may surprise you, appearing rather simplistic. You're thinking, "Surely 5th graders know that!" Others shock you. "I can't believe they asked that—in 5th grade?!"
You'd be amazed at how much 5th graders have heard about sex, and how little they really know. It can put parents in an awkward position. On one hand, they frequently assume (incorrectly) that children understand far more than they actually do. Consequently, many overlook the sexuality basics, neglecting to pass them on to their children. On the other hand, mom and dad may hold back on more explicit sexual issues, assuming (again incorrectly) that "5th graders don't need to know such things."
The reality is, children are bombarded with sexual messages from friends, TV, movies, songs, the Internet. Many messages are inaccurate, perhaps irresponsible, even exploitive; a few may be factual; typically none contain the values you want your child to learn. Is it any wonder 10-year-olds ask sexually simplistic AND explicit questions?
The best way to ensure that your child receives accurate, value based sexuality education is for you to be the primary provider. This is not to suggest that sex education doesn't belong in schools. On the contrary, many excellent school-based programs exist (and for some students, these programs are their only source of factual information). But these programs need to be viewed in conjunction with, not in place of, parent-child communication about sex. A home/school partnership is ideal.
Don't be discouraged if you've had little open discussion about sex with your child. It's never too late to begin. Perhaps your reluctance was due to embarrassment, uncertainty, fear, or maybe you were simply unaware of the need.
Whatever the reason, you might begin by acknowledging that to your child … something like, "you know, sexuality has always been a hard subject for me to talk about. I do think it's important and want to answer your questions, to listen to your concerns and views. I also want to share with you my values around sexuality."
You needn't hold a formal session. In fact, the more informal, the better—you'll both feel more comfortable. Take advantage of naturally occurring "teachable moments"—a magazine article about teenage pregnancy, a news report on HIV/AIDS, a local program on sexual abuse. These are wonderful discussion starters. If your child has not begun experiencing the changes of puberty, surely some of her friends have. This is a perfect issue to address with 5th graders, since typically they have many questions and fears about it.
There are all kinds of opportunities and sexually related topics, if only you're open to them. And remember to address those issues you assumed were too advanced. As witnessed by the sampling of questions, children have bits and pieces of hearsay, a lot of confusion, and an abundance of curiosity about sex. A good rule is to explain what you think they want to know—and more.
If puberty is someone's idea of a joke, nobody's laughing. To say that this can be a difficult stage for child AND parent is clearly an understatement.
For children, puberty is the time of life when they typically: hate their bodies, no matter what the dimensions; feel weird, and can't figure out why; "know" they're not normal; don't want to grow up or be treated like kids; and quarrel a lot with parents who "just don't understand!"
For parents, puberty is the time when they typically: don't know what's gotten into their kids; feel awkward, excited, and nervous about their child's changing body; "can't do anything right!"; long for the days when they and their youngster could communicate—without yelling; panic at the pressures facing youth these days.
Science hasn't yet discovered how one can avoid puberty. But, with good preparation—knowledge, skills, and a good attitude the journey can be rather exciting … or at least a bit more pleasant … OK—let's just say tolerable.
Perhaps during no other phase of life do people undergo such physical and emotional transformation. While excited at the prospect of growing up, many kids (and parents) feel, "I'm not sure I'm ready for this."
Let your child know that such ambivalence is common. Encourage him/her to talk about feelings s/he has toward growing and changing; what s/he's looking forward to, or is concerned about.
Share your stories about puberty. Kids love being in on their parent's lives. It builds trust and reassures children that the folks appreciate what they're going through.
Your 5th grader needs solid information about developmental changes that occur in both sexes during puberty. Knowing this well in advance can lessen anxiety. Children should be reassured that each person has his/her own time clock. The body develops when it's ready … some begin early, others later. Even if they're not satisfied with their personal development schedules, children are relieved to hear they're normal.
If your child is embarrassed or genuinely uncomfortable discussing these issues, acknowledge this. You could say, "A lot of people are embarrassed to talk about these things. If you're feeling that way, I understand. I'm feeling a bit awkward too. Maybe we can help each other."
If s/he's reluctant to talk, don't force it. You might comment, "I can see this is hard for you to talk about now. Is there something I could do to help? Would you like to try again another time?"
Know too, there are many ways to impart this information to your child. Take advantage of the excellent books written specifically for youth. Leave them around the house where your child is sure to find them. (You read them too. Remember what it's like to have puberty strike. Such a refresher can provide you with facts you've long since forgotten … or perhaps never knew!) At a later point, offer to discuss the books with your child.
Above all, be persistent in being there and willing to talk. Don't be pushy, or make a big deal of it … simply seize opportunities which allow the topic of sexuality to come up.
Puberty consists of a series of events which unfold over the course of 4 to 5 years. Why not do all you can to ease the transition through those years? Your child will not be the only one who benefits!
A Check List
It's a good time to assess exactly what your 5th grader knows (or not) about sexuality. Inventory what's important to understand by this age, and catch up on items which haven't yet been addressed.
By 5th grade, children should have knowledge around anatomy and changes during puberty (for both sexes), reproduction and birth. Hopefully you have talked about HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation, masturbation, and premarital sex—and shared your related values. Have you talked about exploitation and date rape? What about sex role stereotyping, relationships, and decision making?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It's merely a reminder of the knowledge that becomes even more critical at this age for your child now.
If you're looking at this list thinking, "We haven't covered half of this!", don't panic. But do get moving! The 11-year-old needs solid information—often on issues which parents assume are "too advanced."
You may find the following resources especially helpful:
How to Talk With Your Child About Sexuality: A Parent's Guide, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2000
New York, NY
Let's Talk About Sex: A Read and Discuss Guide for People 9 to 12 and Their Parents
Sam Gitchel & Lorri Foster
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, revised edition, 1995
Click Here to Purchase This Book
Talking with Your Child About Sex
Mary S. Calderone & James W. Ramey
Ballantine Books, 1983
Click Here to Purchase This Book
Beyond the Birds and the Bees
Pocket Books, 1997
Click Here to Purchase This Book
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.