Miss 9 asked me an awkward question about babies the other day. I am generally happy to answer, but the look on my in-laws’ faces prompted me to delay with some generic and useless response. She’s since forgotten….for now.
It’s a tricky one. When we were expecting #3, she had a lot of questions. Her dad and I were about to answer them all when I realised something: we were happy to explain how babies were made, but other parents might not have been so happy if she decided to discuss it with her friends. Especially given that, as a 6 year old at the time, she was prone to retelling slightly different versions of anything she was told. A common problem at that age and possibly the reason for the Chinese whispers game we used to play as kids ourselves!
Still, even fearing the wrath of parents at the school gate, I’m not making up some crap about a stalk or seeds being planted (which may fairly accurate, but the gardening analogy makes me cringe. And kids are so literal that analogies are not helpful).
I settled for the truth, but not the whole truth: women have special eggs in their bodies. When they decide to have a baby, the egg travels to the uterus and begins to grow into a baby. Ta da!
As she has just turned 9, I’ve been prepping myself for the puberty talk. After all, the average age bracket for the start of menstruation is 9-16 years of age. As we’d prefer to have the talk before the school one, I checked with the teacher when this would be.
The answer shocked me. If they don’t discuss puberty in Health class til then, when do they discuss reproduction and relationships?
I’ve worked with young people for a long time and, however repulsive the thought is to us, there are 12 year olds having sexual experiences. If they’re not, they’re talking about it or hearing about it from friends, on TV, on the internet.
So why does the education system continue to teach our youngsters about their bodies too late?
We are failing our young women and men in a major way.
Obviously schools are not entirely to blame – teachers are not parents. They are not responsible for raising our children.
So the next time we have an opportunity to bring this up, when she asks, we will. Perhaps not right there in the aisle of the supermarket when I’m buying sanitary products, but certainly in the car on the way home.
I’m definitely not going to wait until she is twelve, just because it might feel easier to let the Health teacher do it.
In the meantime, we talk a lot about healthy bodies. Not fat and thin, but healthy, unhealthy, good choices.
In fact, the phrase “good choices” is an invaluable one. From food to behaviour to friendships and family relationships.
“Is that/Was that a good choice? Why? Why not?”
Sometimes the question is asked calm in retrospect, othertimes it’s a frantic half scream as I catch them about to do something potentially dangerous…“Is that a good idea? Is that a good choice?”
My tone is a good indicator of the answer I’m expecting!
Let’s hope that as our children hit their tween and teen years they ask themselves the same question: is this a good choice?
A useful link, for those in the same boat: http://www.fpa.org.uk/