There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 7th Grade (page 2)
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!
Puberty. Almost sounds like a disease. For those experiencing it, it often feels like one. Of course, much of that has to do with the incredible physical changes that occur: hormones surging, bodies transforming (usually into sizes and shapes that are NEVER right!).
And let's not overlook (as if we could) the emotional upheaval that accompanies puberty: intense feelings of excitement, anxiety, happiness, anger, sorrow, delight … perhaps all within a matter of hours! Imagine experiencing such major change without understanding—without having a clue that it's all perfectly normal!
You can ease your child's passage through the puberty "weird years." Help equip your son/daughter for the journey—with information, support, and plenty of opportunity to share thoughts, feelings, and questions.
Although they're dying for answers as well as reassurance, many 7th graders are reluctant to approach mom and dad with their concerns. Don't mistake their silence as a sign that they know it all or don't want to talk about it. Sometimes their confusion is so great, they don't even know what to ask or how to begin! Add to that the awkwardness that often goes along with conversations related to sexuality … and you can appreciate their dilemma.
So, mom and dad, initiate the conversation. Just in case your memories of puberty have mellowed over time, here are some of the more pressing concerns:
I'm the tallest (shortest, skinniest, fattest) kid in the class. I hate it! Will my penis ever grow? Why am I so flat chested? I'm the only girl I know who hasn't gotten 'it' (my period). AM I NORMAL?
Parents can spare their children anxiety by sharing the details of how this puberty business works.
People grow and change at their own rate, whether they like it or not. AND, they begin the process of sexual development at the time that's right for them. Some start early, some late … either way, it's perfectly normal.
Offer your 7th grader a rundown of physical changes to expect during puberty. The entire process takes place over 4 to 5 years. It's marked by a series of events which occur in a fairly predictable sequence, although some young people follow a slightly different sequence—and that's normal too! Explaining this to your child is far more useful than simply saying, "Don't worry. Your body knows exactly what it's doing."
General order for girls:
General order for boys:
When children can gauge their own development against this kind of roadmap, they feel more assured that they're on track.
Remember too, that puberty is more than just physical change. Emerging sexual feelings, emotions, relationships, stresses … these are all part of the journey, and can be especially difficult to discuss. Here are some good resources to assist you:
The What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-up Guide for Parents and Sons, Lynda Madaras
Newmarket Press, 2000
Click Here to Purchase This Book
What's Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-up Guide for Parents and Daughters, Lynda Madaras
Newmarket Press, 2000
Click Here to Purchase This Book
It's Perfectly Normal: Growing Up, Changing Bodies, Sex and Sexual Health, Robie Harris
Candlewick Press, 1996
Click Here to Purchase This Book
The Dating Game
"I'm just not interested in having a girlfriend, but that's all my friends talk about! Am I weird or something?"
Middle schools are filled with many who fret, "What's wrong with me!?" if they're not yet interested in the other gender. Media and peer pressure to be involved in early relationships heighten the anxiety.
"I wish I was popular like Karen. All the boys like her." Disappointment, bruised self-esteem, secret fears and hurts rarely expressed to anyone—especially parents.
Although your child may not be dating for a while, recognize that many 7th graders sample boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. Help your child understand that people develop social readiness at their own rate. Acknowledge it's often confusing to be surrounded by friends who vary greatly on the readiness scale.
Even if your child hasn't expressed concerns about this, bring it up … just to be sure. Break the ice with your own recollections of 7th grade:
"I remember 7th grade brought lots of worries about dating and relationships. Me? I could have cared less at the time, but I didn't dare admit it. My friends would never let me live it down! But you know, I bet a lot of them secretly felt the same way I did."
"I wonder too about young people who are attracted to their same gender friends. With all the pressure to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, they must feel pretty isolated and afraid to talk about their feelings."
This kind of conversation is a nice acknowledgement that not all people have romantic feelings for or relationships with someone of the other gender. It opens the door for your child to discuss this with you if they are questioning their own sexuality.
By initiating discussions about these issues, you can help relieve the social pressures your children may be experiencing. Explore feelings and situations that can arise when romantic interests begin to emerge. Even if your child isn't ready (or willing) to talk freely about this, you won't be wasting your time. The message will still be heard: "If you find you're feeling confused about this, please know that I'm here for you. I'll listen, try to understand, and who knows? Maybe I can help."
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Child Development Theories
- Social Cognitive Theory
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- The Homework Debate
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Problems With Standardized Testing