There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 8th Grade
Strains and Gains
Guiding children through adolescence is an incredible challenge. Despite the wisdom gleaned from their own life experiences, parents often feel unprepared for issues currently facing teens. Lessons from our own adolescence may not hold true for today's youth.
It's also true that during their children's teen years, parents are given an amazing gift: the opportunity to guide and support a young person in becoming capable and independent.
"You call raising adolescents a 'gift'?" laughed one parent. "It's the biggest struggle of my life! Rebellion! Turmoil! The complete absence of rational discussion. Hah! Some gift!"
It may be tempting to equate adolescence with horror … but to the extent parents focus on the difficulties and pain, they miss the joys.
For young people, two major tasks are at hand:
- Establishing independence—asserting themselves as separate and distinct from mom and dad.
- Defining/clarifying a personal value system.
Simultaneously, parents face their own tasks:
- Letting go—allowing children the freedom to develop their separate identities.
- Establishing an atmosphere of safety and acceptance—in which attitudes and values can be explored, tested, challenged.
Heavy stuff … thus the "horror, pain and difficulty." Yet, when you understand the parent/child roles during adolescence, you can more effectively offer guidance and support.
For parents, it's unsettling to realize, "I don't have the ultimate power to create how my child's life will be." Long before their teen years, we recognize that, in the long run, kids make their own decisions. Parent influence carries some weight, but wanes over time. Which is ok. After all, we're raising children to be responsible adults, capable (we hope) of making healthy choices in their lives.
Teens may select paths and adopt values that are different from our own, or not what we'd prefer. That's hard for parents to accept particularly when the issues are so very big: relationships, sex, drugs, etc.
Amidst all of this, parents are expected to let go, yet still provide guidance. This requires that they:
- Offer opportunities for children to make their own mistakes … then assist them in learning the lessons;
- Express the family values and beliefs … then accept that the children may not fully embrace them;
- Listen, without judgment, to ideas expressed by children … then recognize the need to offer input—not dictates—based on personal beliefs.
Sounds good … but how to apply it? Especially with tough issues like sex? How can parents help kids make wise choices about their sexual behavior in a world that is sexually explicit and permissive?
You can only do your best … and there are no guarantees. Still, you can build the odds in your child's favor. Speak truthfully and sincerely with your child about sex. Offer the facts s/he needs to be informed and safe—along with your personal values—without suggesting they are one and the same.
Your 8th grader deserves to hear information about sexual development, intercourse, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, birth control … as well as your beliefs around these issues. Many young teens are experimenting with risky sexual behaviors! And it simply isn't enough for parents to say, "Don't!"
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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