My daughter in Grade 5 has brought home a letter from school saying that they will be starting a sex ed unit. What should I expect and how should I handle her questions?
Depending on where you live in Canada, the content of sexual health education in Grade 5 might be a little different. Hopefully the letter sent home tells you some of the key topics that will be covered, but you can call the school and find out what is in the curriculum, to help with homework.
Typical content for this age would include the changes of puberty, so young people understand that what is happening in their body is normal. Some of those first changes, like hair starting to grow under the arms, can begin as early as eight or nine. By 12, about half of girls have already had their first period, so it’s important to have those conversations early to be prepared for these changes. Some classes might also talk about sexual harassment, sexting and healthy relationships.
Although it might feel a bit uncomfortable to think about your son or daughter growing up already, they need accurate knowledge to make healthy choices. But beyond basic biology, they also need you to share your values and hopes for them, to help them make sense of all the different messages they encounter in the media, on the playground or in the music they listen to.
Your daughter might ask about your own experiences growing up, and that’s a great place to share your honest, thoughtful opinions. It’s best to answer questions as briefly and accurately as you can – and it’s okay to say you don’t know, and offer to learn about it together. (Check for reliable sources online in advance, though!)
Chances are your child won’t ask detailed technical questions, but will have equally important questions about feelings. They need you to reaffirm this is all part of growing up, and that you’re willing to share in their learning.
Elizabeth Saewyc is a PHD, RN and Anda Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2015.