Back-to-School Realization: You’re the Sex Ed Teacher

If your household is anything like mine you’re scheduling after school activities (piano, swimming, karate, hockey with talk of parkour and circus too), buying new corduroy pants and backpacks, and recommitting yourself to meal planning and healthier more diverse dinners.

If you’re a bit like me, ‘back-to-school’ time provides one more opportunity to think about the passage of time and how your kids are growing up fast.  My eldest has gone miles in terms of his independence this past year.  At 9 there are parts of him that are so grown up – so exposed to the world around him.  My 6 year old is far from a baby too.   Just yesterday, at the swimming pool, I watched him shower on his own, towel off and get dressed without any support from me.  Their growing up breaks my heart a wee little bit but mostly I feel this insane ballooning of my heart and all of my internal organs as I watch them developing into compassionate, smart, creative and funny humans.

‘Back-to-school’ also triggers some thinking about how my kids learn and what they learn.  I try to be somewhat engaged in the school curriculum.  I like to review their work and attempt to notice their improvements.  I’m still ahead of them but really, where math is concerned, I’ll be toast by grade 6.

I always love the first meeting with their teachers.  It’s a chance to get to know that person (however briefly) and see whether they are ‘getting my kid’.  Have they begun to notice what is special about them?  Are they appropriately focused not just on the hard skills (reading and arithmetic) but on the social skills too?  I like to set a goal or two with the teacher and my boys that are related to the non-academic side of things. It might be about generosity, not showing off, patience or listening to the teacher the first time.

Where Canadian sex education is concerned, there are guidelines for sexual health education but each provincial ministry chooses the degree to which it’s learning outcomes reflect the national standard. By way of example, British Columbia has some learning outcomes relating to sex and sexuality, but since the government and school boards monitor and encourage nothing relating to comprehensive sex education, I consider sex-ed one of the areas of learning that will not get its proper due in the classroom. Not in grades 2 or 3. Or 10 or 11, for that matter.

I quite like the Canadian guidelines.  Check out this nice definition.
Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 12.22.25 AMYou can download a copy of the Guidelines here.

Teachers have a laundry list of curricula that are set out for them to cover in any given year, and with large classrooms and diverse students needs, smaller curricular elements that do not draw on their strengths can be passed over since covering it all is all but impossible.

Guess what often gets left out?

Given the value-laden topic and the overarching discomfort we have as a society in discussing sex and sexuality, it’s hardly the fault of our teachers that they usually stay clear of the learning outcomes that are in any way related to the topic.  Did I mention that they don’t get a stitch of training on how to cover this material when they are in teachers college?

So, like the non-academic goal that I mentioned above, it’s not a bad idea for parents and other trusted adults to develop a plan for sharing knowledge about sexual health to our kids.  It doesn’t need to be extensive – you don’t need to write it down.  Just answer the following (maybe, if applicable, with your spouse or co-parent):

What sexualized messages are your kids exposed to at this developmental stage?
What are they curious about when it comes to bodies and sexuality?
Does their school provide sex ed?  Does the school bring in an expert?  What will be covered this year?
What do you want your kid to know relating to sex and sexuality this year to support their sexual intelligence?
How often will you broach the subject?
Are there people who can reinforce the messages that you wish to convey? How can they help you share these lessons?

I’ll share one of my goals here.  My 9 year old, on top of reading the Harry Potter series in the last 6 months, Archie Comicsrecently was gifted 67 Archie comic books.  I loved Archie as a kid – but man – after a short session with an Archie Double Digest, I’m pretty grossed out with the gender representations that are reinforced on just about every page.  I plan to have a number of conversations with my son about how these comics and other gender representations that are fed to him by mass media are limited and harmful.  I feel like I’m raising a kid who gets it but reinforcing the lessons now feels important and I need to help him see that not everyone gets it like he might.

A little help in planning your ‘teaching’ goals

  • Read this article that I wrote for Help We’ve Got Kids which attempts to outline why parents ought to be sex educators to their kids and some loose age-appropriate learnings. The guideposts are only suggestions – you know better than anyone when your kid might be primed for learning.
  • While the order that information reaches kids isn’t critically important, do keep in mind that they need to learn how to crawl before they walk.
  • Remember that you can read books with your kids, start conversations when contextually appropriate (after watching a tv show or a movie, when listening to songs) or you can put it in your calendar and bring up the subject out of the blue because it never seems to come up otherwise.

It might interesting to some of you to read British Columbia’s Ministry of Education documents that cover learning outcomes relating to sex and sexuality.  This doc set out k-7, this doc covers grade 8 and 9 and this one is for grade 10.

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If you found this post helpful, you might be interested in this one about how to have convos with your kids.

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