Sunday, November 07, 2010

What Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It – excerpts from a pamphlet produced by Planned Parenthood by Cyma Shapiro

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?

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