Another project I’m working on (because I can’t have enough projects) is a series of articles in my church’s monthly newsletter. We’re trying to build up support for our sex education curriculum, Our Whole Lives, so I figured I’d start a regular column addressing parents on ways to talk to their kids about sex and related subjects, taking from the OWL curriculum. I’m going to be posting my articles here as well, and I’d like some feedback on the content. I’d especially like tips from other educators and parents and good resources for parents and the age group we’re covering. Here’s my first submission:
"Something that helps so much with parenting, or helping to raise a child in any way, is preparation. That’s why we have so many books and classes on the subject, and why having our elders to give us advice is so important to us. One of the most difficult subjects that come up during child-rearing is sex education. Especially in our neck of the woods where there is little to know good or accurate health and sex education for our children, the responsibility falls firmly on the parent’s and caregiver’s shoulders. Luckily for UUs, we have a great sex education program, OWL (Our Whole Lives), that follows our children from Kindergarten to twelfth grade, and also continues into young adulthood and adulthood. Here at UUFF we are lucky to have a minister who is passionate about the OWL program, a DRE that has been through trainings and loves teaching the program, and several people who are trained or want to be trained in various ages of the curriculum.
One of the main goals of the OWL program for youth is to encourage conversation between the kids and their parents and caregivers. That’s where this comes in. Even with the OWL program it can be difficult to know how to talk to your kids about health and sex. Sometimes kids can be embarrassed to ask questions, and sometimes it can be embarrassing for you or you may not know enough about certain subjects and not know what resources are best. As someone who has been a sex educator for several years, I can tell you there’s a lot of information out there and a LOT of misinformation. In order to help you be prepared for this, I’ll be writing a regular column in the Beacon on various subjects from the OWL curriculum. We’ll address ways to bring up these subjects to your kids, how to answer questions in a way that encourages more questions, and how to sneak in sex education lessons in your day to day life. Sex education is about health, consent, building and respecting boundaries, and how to build healthy relationships. Theres a lot of ways that you can encourage that in many different interactions with your kids.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is to think back to your own youth. What questions did you have? Who did you talk to? Did you have any formal education? Was the experience positive or negative? What would you change about your experience for your child? What would you keep the same? Really think about your experiences and what you want for your child. What problems did you encounter in your life that would have been different if you were actually taught about it? What situations were you able to handle because you were prepared? If you were embarrassed or anxious about asking questions or anything having to do with your sexual and romantic health, what were the reasons why? One thing we know is that we as a society are bombarded with messages about sex, bodies, and relationships. Many of these messages are negative. What messages did you get about your body, touch and affection, gender roles, loving and intimate relationships, dating, sexual attraction, romance, when it’s okay to engage in sexual behavior, sexual pleasure, sexual responsibility, sexual health, consent, and boundaries? What message about sexuality did you get from your parents? What messages might your children be getting from you?
A lot of the time it’s not necessarily the words that are used, that even we as parents use, but the emotional feelings behind the words. Even when your children are very young if they notice you reacting negatively to something, they begin to associate that thing as being negative, even if that things are their own bodies. We’ll be talking about this a lot through this series in more detail, but begin to think critically about your interactions with your children and the interactions others have with your children. What messages might they be getting subconsciously? What messages do you want to give them? Children are learning about sex and related subjects every day, it’s not a question about if we are to teach our kids about sex but rather a question about how we want our children to be taught.
If you’re looking for a good start to begin your self education, the OWL program recommends Pamela Wilson’s book, “When Sex Is the Subject” as a general resource. There is also “The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Child Needs to Know and When They Need to Know It” by Meg Hickling, “All About Sex: A Family Resource on Sex and Sexuality” by Ronald Filberti Moglia, As we go through this series we’ll have suggestions of books to read with or give to your kids, but for right now we’re focusing on you. Good online resources include the Planned Parenthood website, kidshealth.org, goaskalice.columbia.edu, and the brilliant website Scarleteen.com. for videos CSPH has a great series called “Use Your Words” on Youtube.
Next month we’ll start with addressing bodies with children from Kindergarten and First Grade, as well as younger children. Until then, be thinking about the things we addressed here and what kind of questions you may want answered in these articles.
About the author: Lydia Nelson
I’m trained to teach the OWL program to the age groups from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade. I’ve been teaching sex education for several years online to teens, young adults, and adults. I volunteer with Planned Parenthood and you’ve probably seen me helping around UUFF as teen advisor, RE committee member, during services, during SHARE Sundays and Camp UU, as well as any other task that needs to get done. As caregiver to a five year old and three year old, I’m old hat at fielding awkward questions and finding places to insert some sex education learning. Feel free to come talk to me whenever you see me!”
As I said here, my next article will be on bodies for grades K-1 (ages 5-7). I’ll post my article here probably soon since I’m in a groove. If anyone has any resources on how to talk to that age groups about bodies and body positivity and ways to increase body positive messages, as well as any media I can suggest with a body positive message for all kinds of bodies (including disability, race, gender, and size) please let me know!~