There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 7th Grade
Remember what the middle school years were like? An emotional roller coaster: hormone madness and changing bodies; a very shaky self-concept; novel interest in the same or other sex—which is exciting, awkward, confusing—all at the same time; a simultaneous craving for and fear of new freedom … independence from mom and dad.
Middle school: the wonder years. Young people wonder, "Will I ever be normal?" Parents wonder, "Will this ever end?"
Clearly, life's a challenge in middle school … for all involved. It's a time when parent/child conversations of any sort can be tough; conversations about sexual issues impossible!
For parents, there's a temptation to shy away from the subject. Old anxieties come back to haunt us. Concerns like: "Maybe all this discussion with children about sex isn't such a good thing. We don't want to encourage them … you know, put ideas into their heads." Or: "Is it a mistake to talk about this so openly with kids? Why not let them stay innocent as long as they can? There's plenty of time for them to learn about all this adult stuff."
Sound familiar? Rest assured, mom and dad, the very least of your worries are the "ideas" you might put into your child's head. The reality is, your 7th grader is exposed to a daily barrage of sexual messages … from peers and the media. The messages are frequently inaccurate, irresponsible, even exploitive!
As parents, you're in an ideal position to clean up sexual "mythinformation." The "ideas" you'll be putting into your child's head are about your family values around sexuality; they're about accurate information; respectful, positive attitudes toward sexuality; and about love, trust and support.
But what about the fear that knowledge equals activity—that giving kids information on all this adult stuff might encourage sexual experimentation?
Research indicates that such is not the case. In fact, teens are far more likely to learn by doing when they have been kept ignorant (innocent?); have been given little or no opportunity to talk openly with parents or other trusted adults about sexual issues; and when their sex "education" has been left to peers and the media.
Surely, as a parent you do not want to leave your child's sexual learning to chance. The results of "trial and error" sexuality education are disheartening at best. Often they are devastating: premature sexual activity, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections. These are just a few of the consequences of sexual ignorance.
So, mom and dad, put those old anxieties back where they belong—and remember what you already know: your children need and deserve to hear from you about all the issues of importance to their lives … including sexuality.
During the wonder years, kids and parents have loads of things they're concerned about, confused by, frightened of. Making it safe for the family to talk about sexuality lightens the load. Difficult? Embarrassing? Awkward? Sure! And well worth the effort.
Stuck for an icebreaker? Try something heartfelt and honest, like, "You know, talking about sex is a little uncomfortable for me. I imagine it's hard for you too. I do think it's important that we talk, so … maybe we can help each other out, ok?"
Broach the subject by using "teachable moments" like a news story on HIV or teen pregnancy. Watch TV. together and discuss the sexual messages you notice. Take any and all opportunities you can, mom and dad, to put your ideas into your child's head!
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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