Helping Little Jane Learn to Tie Her Shoelaces and Say “No” to Strangers

Three national groups- Advocates for YouthAnswer, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States– have established a set of standards for what kids should know on the topic of sex at a number of levels.

According to the new rules, by the end of second grade, students should be able to identify body parts, including genitalia, by their correct names. By the end of the fifth grade, students should be able to define sexual abuse and harassment. And, by the end of high school, students should be able to describe common symptoms and treatments of all major STDs, up to and including HIV.

My first reaction, and those of most parents I shared this information with, was uniformly: Thank God! The second was: do I have to teach this sex stuff to my kids?!

As frightening as these topics will be for some parents- and let’s all be honest and admit to some discomfort at discussing sex with children- there are some common sense steps parents can take with their children to increase their kids’ sexual knowledge and therefore, their safety. Here are five steps every parent can take:

1.  If you taught your kids to use baby names or pet names for their genitalia, consider teaching them to use the actual names instead, and the sooner the better.   While you may be more comfortable using an infantile or made-up word to refer to your son’s penis, he won’t be for long.  Childish nicknames for sexual anatomy can help breed shame in a child.

2.  Talk often and informally with your children about the right and wrong people to talk about their genitalia to and who is allowed to touch their bodies at all, under any circumstances.  These kinds of talks do not have to take place, as many parents believe, behind closed doors.  Very young children sometimes like to talk about their genitalia.  Who should your child be allowed to talk to about his or her genitalia?   Certainly the first group is a small one:  your child’s parents, your child’s doctor, maybe your child’s grandparents.  That should cover it and the conversation should be a short one.  Who should be allowed to touch your child anywhere, under any circumstances?  No strangers!  This starts to set the stage for the sexual harassment discussions.

3.  Ask your children where they think it is not okay for most people to touch them, ever.    Most children are surprisingly modest about their bodies and many do not consider being touched by strangers, let along family members, in the genital area as being remotely “okay”.  Discuss why they feel that this is not okay and emphasize that the penis and vagina are private.  Emphasize that no means no and the child has every right to simply not be touched.

4.  Explain and discuss with your child what harassment and sexual abuse are and how these things, if they happen, are not ever your child’s fault.  Repeat over and over that anyone who touches your child’s body in a place that makes him or her uncomfortable is harassing them and if that person is touching your child in a sexual area, it is sexual abuse.  Make the point clear that it doesn’t matter if the person touching your child is a teacher, an uncle, another child, or a Sunday school teacher.  Making someone uncomfortable by touching them is wrong! Make very clear to your child that sexual abuse is not ever their fault and that people who sexually abuse other people can be punished.  Be sure they understand that the ones who will be punished are those inappropriately touching a child and not the child who was touched.

5.  Ask your teen what he or she knows about the symptoms and treatments for STDs.  Talk to your teen about what you know about the symptoms and treatments of STDs, using factual, not anecdotal, evidence.  Compare the gaps in your combined knowledge. Make it a point to fill in the gaps and correct incorrect knowledge of both you and your teen on this subject.  Just as importantly, explain that this is no academic exercise, but has real-life bearings on their safety.

At every step we’ve listed here, from childhood on through the teen years, make sure to emphasize to your child why you are pursuing this knowledge with him or her; because with sexuality, knowledge is safety.   And you want nothing less than real safety for your child.
Article Source:  Standards Address Sexuality Education for All Grades .” Curriculum Matters. Education Week’s , 12 01 2012. Web. <>.

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