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November 7, 2010
I’m really big on disseminating information. I think it helps provide clarity, dispel myths and empower people. My friend is about to teach her nine year old about the “facts of life.” She’ll place much emphasis on menstruation since she believes that her daughter may start earlier than most.
As a member of my local Health Advisory Council, I was recently given the above named pamphlet, and thought I might share some interesting and perhaps provocative facts with you:
By Age Five:
Children need to know that: love should make people feel good, safe, and wanted; people’s bodies are different sizes, a woman does not have to have a baby unless she wants to.
Children need to be able to: talk privately with trusted adults about sexual issues, questions and concerns; use correct terms for all sexual body parts; say “No” to unwanted touch; talk about all of their body parts without feeling “naughty.”
Ages Five to Seven:
In addition to the above, children need to know that: all creatures reproduce themselves; how plants and animals grow and reproduce what they need and how we care for them; that everyone has sexual thoughts and fantasies and that having them is normal; about non-stereotyped gender roles; the basic facts about HIV/AIDS; about sexual abuse and its dangers.
In addition, children need to be able to: identify family members’ roles and responsibilities; operate within non-stereotyped gender roles; take an active role in managing their body’s health and safety; and develop, maintain and end friendships.
Ages Eight to 12:
In addition to the earlier information and skills about the changes in their bodies before puberty, preteens need to know: the general stages of the body’s growth; how female and male bodies grow and differ; that emotional changes are to be expected during this time; about menstruation.
In addition, they need to be able to: be comfortable with their changing bodies and know that the differences between themselves and their peers are normal.
Preteens need to know that sex is pleasurable, not only a way to have a baby; what rape is; about sexually transmitted infections and diseases, including HIV; to be able to accept human sexuality as a natural part of life; recognize the legitimacy and normalcy of sexual feelings; protect against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
About human reproduction, preteens need to know: the biology of the reproductive cycle; about contraceptive methods; what abortion is. They need to be able to talk about how babies are made; how pregnancy can be avoided; describe the reproductive cycle.
About contraception, preteens need to know: that no one has to become a parent; that having a child is a long-term responsibility; that contraceptive options are available and to name a variety of contraceptives and discuss safer sex.
About relationships, preteens need to know: about the potential for being hurt in exploitative relationships; what are or should be appropriate roles for young women and men; about diverse family structures, the relationships among family members; and family, community and peer attitudes regarding dating.
Finally, they need to be able to make friends and end relationships without anger; and recognize and protect themselves from abusive relationships.
I make no judgments about whether these are tips are sound or necessary. In the introduction, the pamphlet states that, “Parents and other caregivers must be able to provide their children with the information they need to make responsible choices about their sexuality.” It further states, “Understanding one’s sexuality is a lifelong process…………Parents and caregivers must remember that all of us are sexual…and sexuality influences how we feel about all of these things and how we experience the world.”
I believe that all of us have an obligation to educate and inform our children about all of these issues. In what way and in what time frame will be determined by our cultural mores, education, personal sensibilities, and the developmental age of our children, in addition to many other factors.
I think that for many of us, regardless of how “open” we may be, the suggestions brought forth here demand examination, discussion and reflection. How many of us were educated in this manner before we were exposed to the realities of sex and our own sexuality? How many of us have prolonged discussing these same issues with our children?
November 6, 2010
An open and honest relationship – started early and continued throughout adulthood – between parents and children is the foundation for healthy and responsible decision-making about love, life and sex. Research indicates that strong family connectedness will help children develop positive self-esteem, resist peer pressure and make responsible choices independently.
Unfortunately, many parents feel uncomfortable tackling such difficult subject matter on their own, especially when their children are still young. Some are unable to broach the topic because of their own lack of information, while others feel that addressing such a mature topic will encourage unhealthy behaviors.
But we know the opposite to be true— starting early, and talking often about sex and sexuality by first starting with more comfortable issues such as love, relationships and responsibility will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of open communication and trust. Moreover, parental involvement in young people’s lives improves youth’s self-esteem, positively influences their decision-making skills and delays the onset of sexual activity.
Sharing your expectations with your kids, expressing why you feel the way you do and giving them the accurate information they need to stay healthy will help to keep the lines of communication open and make you an “askable” parent. Education is power. Sharing medically factual and honest information does not give permission to have sex, just as teaching your child how to use their seatbelt doesn’t send a message that you want them to drive haphazardly.
Be the source and keep an open ear when they need it. With so many messages about sexuality bombarding young people, you want to be sure your kids can sort out the facts from the fantasy. Teens rank parents as their #1 influence – they need your guidance on sexuality whether or not they ask. Studies show that kids who feel they can talk with their parents about sex – because their parents speak openly and listen carefully to them – are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as teens than kids who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject. Effective parent-child communication is the cornerstone of strong and healthy families and will lay the groundwork for keeping our kids safe and resilient.
Here are some tips to help get the conversation started:
Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes -Talking to your children about love, sex and relationships will be more successful when you’re clear about how you feel about your own values. You are the strongest influence in your child’s life. Share your values, but understand and accept that your child may not share your beliefs about sexuality. If they share their values with you, by really listening to them, they will feel valued by you, and in turn learn to have a strong sense of self-worth.
Also, be on the same page with your parenting partner. You don’t have to agree, but being consistent in the messages you send is vital, especially since youth receive so many mixed messages from all the other influences in their lives.
Be an Askable Parent – Reassure the child that it’s good to ask questions, for example always respond with saying something like “That’s a great question.” Affirming a question may be more important that the answer itself.
Teachable Moments – Use moments that arise in everyday life, as occasions for discussion; by doing so your children will be a lot less likely to tune you out. Watch a TV show, use a public service announcement, a pregnant friend of even a pet, a movie or magazines to create these teachable moments. Ask your child what they think rather than lecturing, and in the process, share your messages and values on the topic.
Don’t wait for your child to start the conversation – Just because they haven’t asked, doesn’t mean they don’t need to know. Many adolescents wish they could talk to their parents about sex, but feel uncomfortable asking questions- Then they may end up getting all the wrong information from their friends and TV!
Schools and Parents Working Together: A Powerful Partnership – We know that in order to promote positive and healthy views around sexuality we must work together with our community and our schools. Do you know what your school teaches? The only sexual health related state mandate is HIV/AIDS Education. Advocate for a comprehensive sexuality education curricula in your school and couple it with a parent education program either through your PTA or SEPTA.
Be Positive and Encourage Health – Sending affirming messages about sexuality will help your child to formulate a positive outlook and learn to respect their bodies. One way to do this is by normalizing sexuality, making talking about it as common and as important as brushing your teeth.
Heather Simonson, LMSW, a Licensed Social Worker and Certified Sexuality Educator, is the founder of Sexuality Education and Counseling Services, an organization that empowers others to embrace sexuality with pride and respect through. She is a nationally known trainer and counselor specializing in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, youth development and parent/child communication. Heather created PEP Talks, the Parent Empowerment Program, to provide parents with the support, education and tools needed to help their children successfully navigate through life.
November 5, 2010
Seth was off Tuesday for Election Day, and we had a playdate here with his best buddy Nathan. It’s been some time since they got together here, since over the summer, we hosted various playdates at our community pool.
His mom dropped him off, and they proceeded to first play upstairs, then gradually made their way to the basement. There, Seth played Wii, and Nathan perused the spacious closets full of toys and entertained himself. Things were going swimmingly for some time, until the both of them wound up in my home office proclaiming they were bored. Seth was armed with his tool kit in hand, asking me what needed fixing in the house. I wasn’t keen on going that route for my little Bob the Builder and his willing assistant, so I had to think fast.
Bored? How could they truly be bored? We don’t lack for toys and means of entertainment. Perhaps they were actually in toy overload and couldn’t focus? It was all likely becoming one big blur of legos, megablocks, fire trucks, spy kits, space vehicles, power rangers, rescue heroes, game boys, etc. You name it.
Recalling that I’ve learned to keep on hand in the pantry various mixes for cookies, muffins and brownies…..Seth has always loved to help in the kitchen….I quickly proposed we bake. They jumped on the opportunity, and Duncan Hines chocolate chip cookies won out. While fun, this took all of 15 minutes (not counting the oven and eating time). Then what?
Nathan loves to write (he knows I’m an author), and Seth likes to draw, so I proposed we create books. Armed with stapler in hand, paper, etc., they sat down at the kitchen table (after licking off the cookie dough spoons), and put pen to paper. After another 15 minutes, they were ready to move on.
I wasn’t sure what to propose at this point….until a moment of inspiration. The two of them started bantering back ‘n forth about how they met. I was so intrigued by their dynamic, that I whipped out my FLIP video camera (which I adore) and told them we were going to make a movie about the history of their friendship. They’ve known each other since they were 4 (they’re now 7), and theirs is a charming friendship. I’d like to share it with you (see below). And, I’d like to recommend that you consider filming your children interacting with their friends, etc…..and be spontaneous….some of the most precious moments can be captured at the drop of a hat, and I’m grateful to have preserved this time between them. It doesn’t always have to be a birthday or momentous occasion when we break out the video camera.
They both had a blast doing it. And, it reminded me of my childhood friendship with Audrey, who is still a close friend today. We both recently celebrated our 50th birthdays, and we’ve been good friends since kindergarten. There’s nothing that truly compares to a childhood friend who knew you “then.” While I welcome new, empowering friendships, having a history with someone means a lot. She knew me when I had childhood dreams. She knew me when I learned to ride a bike. She knew me when I felt unpopular in Kindergarten. She knew my crushes on boys. She knew my breakouts. She knew when I first got my period. She knew my mom before she passed away, and I knew hers. She knew the dynamic of my family as I was growing up. We went to the same college (had different roomates). We traveled overseas together. We socialized as singles (she’s still single). It’s hard to believe decades have passed. Lots of memories. She’s like an “aunt” to Seth, and I’m so glad they have that relationship.
As I watched Seth and Nathan, I wondered if their friendship will be one of longevity. It would certainly be nice for both of them. And, it would be cool to see how they mature and grow into the men they are meant to be. Time goes fast, and they may not follow in each other’s footsteps. But, I’ll always have the FLIP video of the day the two of them talked about how they came to be friends. And, hopefully in years to come, they’ll look back on it as well….smile….and be grateful they still have each other, as I do my special childhood friend.
http://sharing.theflip.com/session/e4abdfd33c45b36384aa19060d523fff/video/25799301 – click link to watch video
November 4, 2010
I started to write a whole blog about amniocentesis and advanced maternal age and genetic testing and blah blah blah and it was just kind of depressing. What I really want to talk about is the fact that my mother is coming to visit today. I’m really looking forward to seeing her, but I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about how she’ll react to my big old pregnant belly. Is she gonna think that I’m holding it together this time, or is it gonna be obvious that I’ve already gained the recommended amount despite the fact that I’m only halfway through my pregnancy? Overall, I feel really healthy and extremely blessed to be pregnant again, not only with our fourth child but with our very first son. I’m very much looking forward to sharing that joy with my mother, who had five children of her own. I do have to admit, however, that my mother’s reaction to my ever-blossoming pregnant body is not exactly at the bottom of my list of worries.
I come from a long line of women, you’re probably not at all surprised to hear, who were obsessed with their weight. I can still remember visiting my grandmother in the nursing home when she was 93 years old, and her telling me that she weighed herself every day and replaced two of her daily meals with Slimfast shakes. Why they would let a 93 year old woman have Slimfast instead of a meal, I have no idea. I guess I say all that to say that I come by all this neurosis honestly. Anyway, my children are totally excited for Grandma’s meet. She may even get to see my eldest daughter’s first winter swim meet, and we all plan to go out to dinner on Thursday night to a fabulous restaurant in Abington, PA called Timber. It should be a fun evening. By then I should have the results of my fetal echocardiogram and hopefully have been told that the baby is growing fine and is completely healthy. By all accounts, it should be a fabulous weekend…if I can just let go of my age-old neuroses and relax, it might actually end up that way!