Teach children about sexuality

April 1, 2011

The topic of sexuality is a sensitive one, leading to many parents shying away from its discussion until there's no avoiding the discussion at puberty.

In smaller schools, science and gym teachers traditionally present these classes, separating the boys and the girls to make it more comfortable. At my daughter's school, both of these teachers were male. Being a busy mother, I almost brushed it off, but something inside me said, "This isn't right. Do I want my 10-year-old to hear about puberty and menstruation from a guy?" So I volunteered to sit in on the class, only to have the science teacher dump the curriculum on my lap for me to present. This was much to my daughter's dismay and disapproval. "These are my friends, how embarrassing, please Mom," she pleaded. Nevertheless, we worked out a deal and moved on with some degree of acceptance.

I prepared extensively and learned immensely. To my surprise, the big day was nerve wracking. My voice cracked, my heart raced, and it wasn't until it was over that I was able to catch my breath. The girls were asking questions I felt needed to have been addressed at home. Here I was, a pediatrician and a mother, and I could hardly get through them. What did other mothers do? Was it just as difficult for them too? At this point my daughter came up behind me and whispered: "Good job, mom!" We hugged.

The pediatric literature on sexuality provides ample information about what children need to know and at what ages. Yet somehow the topic of sexuality is so sensitive that many families shy away, until there's no avoiding confronting the subject at puberty.