Just when I thought my parenting gig was going on auto-pilot, at the beginning of 5th grade we’ve received a parent consent form from my son’s school. When I saw it was for health and sex education, I paused for a bit. I thought maybe the forms got mixed up. My son was only 10 year-old. He wasn’t even a teenager. I showed it to my husband as it made no sense to me. My son was still a baby! Puberty was at least 3 years away. I thought this was too early. I kind of started to freak out like a student whose teacher announced that they were having a quiz on a chapter she hasn’t studied.
I immediately sent an e-mail out to a bunch of mamas whose kids were in 6th grade to learn more about this class. They reassured me that it was age appropriate. I took a sigh of relief but I wasn’t completely calmed. In the meantime, my son was freaking out as well. He told his dad, he wasn’t sure he was ready to hear what was going to be told in those lectures. The consent form wasn’t very explaining so we couldn’t really answer him either. We decided to inquire more about this program.
When I contacted the school, they referred me to the program coordinator. She answered most of my questions:
- Isn’t it early?
The program is offered in 3 modules in 5 through 8 grades. Each module is age appropriate.
- Who provides it?
At Chicago Public Schools, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides the program called “Off to a Good Start”.
- What does it include?
The program, in general, is focused on puberty, reproductive systems, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and healthy relationships. First module, given to 5th grades, called “The Ins and Outs of Puberty”, includes identifying physical, emotional, and cognitive changes during puberty including the menstrual cycle, clarifying misunderstandings about what youth experience during puberty, and learning about the male and female reproductive systems.
- How is it given?
Four 45-minute lessons are given to girls and boys in separate groups to increase student’s comfort level. They all learn the same information including both female and male anatomy. Then, there is a quiz at the end to evaluate the effectiveness of the lectures. Both parents and the children themselves need to give consent to take this quiz.
After learning all this information we signed the consent form. We thought it was a good start, no pun intended. We wanted him to learn this critical information from the expert source directly not through his classmates.
We also discussed that it was better to start the puberty discussion with him as his parents before these lectures, not only to provide the information we deem appropriate but also to alleviate his unease and make him feel more comfortable. The information package also indicated that while the program’s goal is to provide facts about health, parents provide students with their personal values and expectations. Therefore, this program’s secondary goal is to start that conversation between the parents and the child and we needed to grasp that opportunity of a teachable moment. I assigned my husband to the task of having this conversation with our son. We researched and borrowed a bunch of books from the library to help their conversation with topics, explanations, and visuals.
Contrary to popular belief puberty talk with your child is not that hard. It will require a bit of preparation and planning, though. You can’t just go in blindfolded.
Here are few tips to keep in mind to make the puberty talk easier for you and your child:
- Talk to your child privately. Pick a time and place where you know you will not be interrupted. One-on-one conversation is more comfortable than a big family meeting.
- Keep your talk concise and on point. That’s why you need a roadmap. Don’t give in to the urge to veer off to different topics. Have your child digest this new information first before moving into deeper subjects.
- Use simple language. Even though your child is 10 years-old, they are still kids. Keep it as simple as possible. Give your explanations as a matter of fact.
- Provide assurance. The news of upcoming changes might scare or stress some kids. Make sure you sound assuring. Explain everyone goes through this phase and you will be there to support them along the way.
- Prepare your child for variability. Explain that everyone goes through puberty at the time and pace that is just right for them. Advise that being an early bloomer is not better or worse than being a late bloomer. The most critical point is to advise them not to compare themselves to their peers.
- Explain self-care. In addition to the health facts, explain that they will need to start paying attention to self-care. Provide preliminary information on basics then direct them to come to you for help when they need it.
- Talk about privacy. Going into puberty brings the sensitive issue of private parts and privacy. Go over the basic instructions of protecting their privacy and respecting others’ privacy.
- Talk about respect. As kids grow and go through physical changes, they should know they deserve to be respected by their peers and elders as well as they should respect others. Teasing, bullying and harassing because of physical and hormonal changes should not be tolerated under no circumstances.
- Provide other resources. When you research resources, you will see that the content varies by age and scope. Pick resources that are appropriate for your child’s age and your values and expectations. You can provide them to your child to go through them at their own time. There are many excellent books for every level on this topic which I will share in another post.
- Keep an eye on their research. Now that there is a new agenda item in town, your child might be inclined to do research on their own. Make sure the computer and electronics they use have appropriate parental settings, to protect them from visiting inappropriate websites.
- Let them ask questions. Make sure they are clear on what to expect and how to handle.
- Leave an open door for future questions. Let them know that you are always by their side to answer any questions and concerns any time they need.
After the lectures, I reviewed the documents my son brought back. They were solely focused on the health facts:
1. The list of physical, emotional and cognitive changes boys and girls go through puberty
2. Diagrams of male and female reproductive system with names of the parts.
A year after this program, I realize these lectures were very well timed. To our surprise, my son started to sprout in the second half of the school year and we were able to navigate him through the changes easily.
Do you have kids aged 9-11? Are you preparing for the puberty talk or have you done it already? How was it?