“Let’s do a quick review of the changes that occur at puberty” I said to the group, “And then we can move on to some other material that might be new to you.”
In my mind, we would not need to spend too much time on the nuts and bolts of pubescent changes. As I led the group in a multiple choice trivia game on the topic, I quickly realized that my original lesson plan needed to be adapted. I was operating under the assumption that the participants were more or less at the same place with regard to their baseline knowledge of male and female anatomy and the corresponding vocabulary for terms associated with puberty. Interestingly, the level of awareness varied considerably. No problem. I can be flexible. I would simply delve into the facts in more detail than originally planned.
This was a great lesson for me on a couple of levels. 1) It reminded me that I cannot make any assumptions about the knowledge an individual person possesses on a given topic; 2) Although the girls had technically gone through the same formal sex/health ed lessons at school, they were not receiving enough education on some of the fundamentals. Until this point, the public school education consisted of two lessons during fifth grade gym class, led by the physical education teacher. That was almost two years ago among this group of individuals.
What this particular Girls Group meeting left with me was the realization about just how much we rely on schools to teach our children about sex (in this case, the developmentally appropriate topic of puberty). When I think about all of the ways I help my two kids make healthy choices in their lives – e.g. the amount of screen time they have or the timing and contents of a snack between school and dinner – – I know that talking about sex in developmentally appropriate ways is no different. School districts vary tremendously in both the quality and breadth of their curricula in this area. Many of us, as parents, benignly rely on our schools, exclusively, to share information about sex. What a great wake up call for us all that we need to be continuously talking and checking-in with our kids.