There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 6th Grade
This Too Shall Pass
You don't get it. You pride yourself on the relative ease with which you've discussed sexual issues with your child in the past: answering questions honestly; initiating conversation; creating an environment in which sexuality is viewed as a special and positive aspect of ourselves.
What happened? Suddenly, your 6th grader has decided the topic is off limits. S/he's appalled (embarrassed, disgusted, nervous … take your pick …) whenever the subject comes up. That's just what you've been trying to prevent … why you've worked so hard to communicate. And it's come to this? So you wonder, "What did I do wrong?"
Nothing. You have a typical 6th grader. As 6th graders go, sex is gross, embarrassing, stupid, funny, or all of the above. B.P. (Before Puberty), things were different: sexuality was neat to talk about with the folks; the issues were matter of fact, non-threatening, and your child was an interested bystander.
D.P. (During Puberty), sexuality becomes terribly personal! Bodies blossom, fantasies and strange new urges arise; simmering concerns about what's normal result in considerable uneasiness; many 6th graders know of someone—a friend or classmate—who is actually experimenting with sexual activity (Yes! Unfortunately some children become involved very early!) Suddenly, sexuality is hitting too close to home, it's scary … and "I'd rather not talk about it!"
Such is a typical 11-year-old's response to the topic of sex. It's now especially important that parents muster patience, understanding, and support in order to teach children what they need to know:
- Continue broaching the subject—keep it light, don't push. Settle for a monologue if need be … at least it's putting out your message.
- Avoid preaching. As sex becomes more of a real issue in a child's life, it's easy for parents to fall into the lecture mode. "Do this … don't do that" is likely to fall on deaf ears—spurring even more resistance to discussion. When parents truly listen to their children, encouraging them to express personal views, communication is enhanced.
- Encourage your child to examine, clarify, and discuss his own values about sexual issues. Parents hope the family values will be accepted. Be prepared to hear that some of your child's views differ from yours. Make it safe for him to disagree; help him know your love and support is not contingent on his acceptance of your views.
- Acknowledge your child's reactions … something like: "You look uncomfortable talking about this. How can we make it easier?" or "When I was young, I was so confused about sex that I had a hard time asking questions. Is that how you feel?"
- Acknowledge your own feelings, for example: "I'm frustrated that you seem to be tuning me out. I'd like to be able to talk about this together."
- Invest in some of the wonderful sexuality books written for young people. Leave them in an obvious place.
- Keep your sense of humor … and use it. This needn't be a heavy subject. Take comfort knowing that your child is moving toward A.P. (After Puberty).
Give yourself a break. Your influence on your child is a powerful one … and only one of many. Remember, you can take neither credit nor blame for the ultimate outcome. You can only give it your best effort.
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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