Tips for Talking: The Birds + The Bees
Cue that awkward moment when people learn I am a sex ed teacher. Yup, there it is. Crickets. And, raised eyebrows, and half grins.
I get it. I mean, I totally get it. That’s weird. How does one even “fall into that profession”?
Well, for me, it was actually my first “real gig” out of college. I studied Child & Family Services through Iowa State and was hired by Youth & Shelter Services in Ames as their Boone County Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Educator & Coordinator, soon the following graduation.
I was 22-years-old and willing to take whatever task life threw at me (especially if it was in the form a paycheck!)
I served in that position for two years (before moving back to my hometown), at which time I was hired to continue teaching on contract. Fast forward 15 years and here I still am: talking to 6th, 7th and 8th graders about abstinence and contraception, partner communication, refusal skills, sexually transmitted infections, and unplanned pregnancies.
[I can’t decide whether the word “gonorrhea” or “genitals” makes them giggle and squirm more?]
I am often asked by my parent friends if I will come over and have “the talk” with their kids so they do not have to. And, of course, I agree; but really, they don’t need me to. And, neither do you.
Children of all ages are trying to understand what is happening to their bodies, what values to follow, and how to respond to the constant messages surrounding them on sexuality.
Providing our children with sexuality education is one of the important responsibilities of parenthood, but one for which we may feel ill-prepared or uncomfortable.
Despite any of our understandable discomfort with the subject, we cannot afford to leave our child’s sex education to television, magazines, movies, the Internet, or other children. Young people need accurate and caring information from their first and most important sex educator: us. Our children can benefit from our experiences and learn from our values.
The most common fear I hear from parents are, “giving our children information and talking openly about sex is like giving permission or putting the idea into their heads”, but this is not the case. My experience in the classroom has taught me that young people already know an alarming amount, while simultaneously failing to know anything at all. The combination is dangerous and scary. They know a lot of half-truths, myths, and assumptions based on bits of information they have picked up here and there (the school bus, locker rooms, Internet), and usually, from (inexperienced and misinformed) peers, their own age.
The “big talk” is a thing of the past. Learning about sex should not occur in one all-or-nothing session. It should be more of an unfolding process, one in which kids learn, over time, what they need to know. Questions should be answered as they arise so that kids’ natural curiosity is satisfied as they mature.
Parents are encouraged to use the correct anatomical words. They may sound medical, but there is no reason why the proper label shouldn’t be used when the child is capable of saying it. These words — penis, vagina, etc. — should be stated matter-of-factly, with no implied silliness. That way, the child learns to use them in a direct manner, without embarrassment. It also empowers the child to speak out to a trusted adult as tools for safety.
Body changes and sexual issues are an essential part of human development. And, it is never too late to start talking.
There are many helpful and medically-sound resources available. This site is one that I personally use and like as an educator when parents seek age-appropriate conversation starters. Family physicians are another invaluable resource.
“Children are mirrors, they reflect back to us all we say and do.” Pam Leo
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