sex ed through the ages
My two older boys — 7th and 5th grade – are both wrapping up the end of the school year with “health” units (code for sex education). I’m a firm believer in age-appropriate sex ed, and we’ve had a variety of conversations over the years, but I was curious how “age-appropriate” would pan out in my household of 13 & 11 year old boys and a very curious 8 year old girl. So far it’s gone quite well, and I have the ultimate respect for the teachers who take on this task in a co-ed classroom setting.
I know parents have very different comfort levels, and if your kids are very young, this seem awkward or scary. It does sneak up on you when you least expect it, though! One summer when my boys were 6 and 8, I was frantically busy leading our Vacation Bible School and sex ed was the furthest thing from my mind. My boys came home from a good neighbor’s house filled with all kinds of misinformation. At that point I decided (or maybe they decided) it was time to discuss the subject.
Sexuality information is widely available from trustworthy and not-so-trustworthy sources, and the most important thing to me is that my children receive accurate, factual, respectful information and that we have honest, open conversations about the ethical/moral/spiritual issues.
My three kids have very different personalities, so we’ve discussed sex in different ways. My oldest doesn’t share much, so while I know he has the information, I don’t hear the daily details. My 5th grader has raced home from school, pulled out the handouts and shared all about the videos and conversations of the day. It’s prompted great conversations with both sons (much to the chagrin of my oldest, I’m afraid!).
My 8 year old is absorbing a lot, of course. The older ones are trying to protect her from scandalous information, such as sketches of the female reproductive system. I think they want to feel they have some proprietary information — very amusing to me!
As the topic arises, I’ve found it very helpful to have some books on hand to share and discuss, and for the kids to have on the shelf when they’re feeling privately curious. I thought I’d share with you some resources that have worked for our family at different ages:
- for younger/middle elementary: What’s the Big Secret? Talking about sex with girls and boys by Laurie Krazny Brown, Ed.D., and Marc Brown. This comic-style book illustrated by the Arthur creator gives helpful content in a friendly, non-threating way.
- for older elementary girls: The Care and Keeping of Me: The Body Book for Girls by the American Girl Series. I look forward to sharing this with my daughter in a year or so, and I really wish they’d make one for boys!
- for upper elementary boys: What’s Happening to Me? by Alex Frith. This friendly illustrated Usborne book answers questions like “How do I shave?”, “When will my voice break?” “What’s testosterone for?” and “Why are girls different?” Please note that it has detailed information and illustrations about boys and girls.
- for middle school/teens: The What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys by Lynda Madaras. This is a more mature, explicit book with a wealth of get-real information, including quotes from real boys, how to figure what’s normal and what’s not, romantic and sexual feelings, and a comprehensive resource section. It does include discussion of homosexuality and other sensitive topics, so be sure to preview first (as with any sexuality book).
I hope I haven’t scared any of you with younger ones away, but it doesn’t hurt to think about your approach before you’re caught off guard. My advice is to be prepared to share age-appropriate information whenever the kids (not necessarily we adults!) are ready.
For information on what is age-appropriate, check out this article by Thomas Haller: What children should know about sex through the developmental stages.
What are your thoughts on this hot topic? What resources would you add to the list?