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Preparing for "The Talk"

With a focus on healthy relationships, communication and combating negative media messages, sex education isn’t what it used to be

By Michelle Thornhill

Timberlea mom Jennifer Huston’s conflicting feelings are common among parents who first learn that sexual health education begins in early elementary school.

“My son is going into Grade 4 in September,” Huston says. “That seems a little young to me to be learning about sex, but kids are maturing faster these days so I see the need. I just want to hold on to his innocence and naivety as long as possible.”

Many parents want their children to grow up healthy and informed while simultaneously wishing they wouldn’t grow up at all. The good news is that the sexual health curriculum in Nova Scotia schools has been designed to meet the needs of a fast-maturing generation without contributing to their loss of innocence.

Natalie Flinn is the Active Healthy Living Consultant with the education department. She says the department, in collaboration with the department of health and wellness, has been studying hyper- sexualization in our culture, which is known to be one of the main forces that hurries our children. The curriculum they have helped develop is an age-appropriate aimed to combat negative mass-media messages.

Flinn speaks of how the curriculum is based on empirical studies. “What we know is that comprehensive sexual health education is protective of children,” she says. “It has never been shown to be harmful and it doesn’t lead to early initiation of sexual behaviours in any way. Media marketing and sexually exploitive materials actually do have documented harms.”

The media she refers to isn’t limited to pornography or Miley Cyrus’ latest publicity stunt. Children are targets of consumerism from birth, and are bombarded with clothing and toys that perpetuate gender stereotypes. Magazine covers in the grocery store, billboards, children’s cartoons, video games, and even classic fairytales can send young children messages that run counter to the image of a healthy self and a healthy sexuality. Even with parents’ best efforts, children will encounter this pervasive culture countless times before they ever step through the doors of an elementary school.

For this reason, formal sexual health education begins in Grade Primary. Present-day sexual health educators recognize that sexual health is not just about preventing negative outcomes. It is an ongoing discussion with a trusted adult that encompasses a broad range of topics, which, in time, form the core of our sexual health.

So what does that look like to young children in the classroom? Flinn says it looks like healthy relationships. “In grades primary to three, it looks like relationships with our family because that’s their key one,” she says. “In grades three to six it’s relationships with friends and peers. And in the natural progression of youth development, our primary relationships of interest become those of intimacy.”

“Sexual health is about more than just sexual behaviour,” she elaborates. “It’s about human rights, communication and interpersonal skills, and about identifying what we value... It addresses topics like body image, positive self-identity, personal safety, emotions, and media literacy. We consider all of these to be sexual health outcomes.”

With so many components now recognized as important to comprehensive sexual health, how can parents and educators instill all this in today’s children and youth? Many adults today had a comparatively inadequate sexual health education ourselves, other than “the talk” from a nervous parent or perhaps an outdated VHS tape. We’re only a click away from information this day and age, but children and youth also need motivation and skills necessary to navigate in a world where media has such a loud voice.

Officials in the school system have been working to ensure that educators are given plenty of opportunity for personal development in this area. Furthermore, they are being trained to act as resources for parents as well.

Parents can start by being cognizant of how our own attitudes may be shaped by our media culture, and try to model self-respect as well as healthy relationships. We can speak to our children often and early about sexual health issues so that when they become adolescents, the lines of communication will be well established.

While it pains us to think about it, children, like all humans, are sexual beings. Parents want them to have healthy habits and accurate knowledge so that they may thrive in, or outside of, intimate relationships down the road. Parents who want to ensure they are providing a safe environment to talk about sexual health issues can ask their child’s teacher to recommend resources, obtain a copy of “What Your Child Needs to Know About Sex (and When)” by Dr. Fred Kaeser, or visit the Nova Scotia Government’s website and search for the “Talk Sex” Pamphlet.

Side Bar:

What are children learning in Sexual Health Education?

Grade Primary:


• Proper names for parts of the body, including what areas are private

• Emotions

• Developing a positive self-identity

• Recognizing diversity in families, including those with same sex parents
• The importance of healthy relationships with family and friends

Grade 1

• Developing a positive self-identity
• Concepts relating to gender

• Communication skills for building healthy relationships

• Discussing how media can be both helpful or harmful to one’s health

Grade 2

• Emotions and the brain

• Recognizing the outcomes of personal choices

• Empathy

• Awareness of individual and family values

• Internet safety and the dangers of sharing personal information

Grade 3

• Recognizing the outcomes of personal choices

• Maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family
•Evaluating media messages

Grade 4

• Communication and interpersonal skills

• The physical and emotional changes of puberty

• Gender roles and gender identity

• Awareness of personal and family values

• The link between positive self-identity and healthy relationships.

Grade 5

• Sexual orientation and homophobia

• Reproductive systems

• The process of reproduction

• Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections

• Positive versus negative relationships

• Countering relational aggression

• Evaluating gendered media messages related to body image

Grade 6


• Exploring the concept of sexuality

• Describing common sexually transmitted infections

• Recognizing ways of managing feelings during the onset of puberty
• Practicing communication skills that keep relationships healthy, safe and productive
Creating a personal value code of ethics on relationships within their lives

Resources: www.sexualityandu.ca/parents

http://www.novascotia.ca/dhw/healthy-development/documents/Talk-Sex.pdf

http://www.cfsh.ca/files/Publications/parent-brochure_web_6pg.pdf



 

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