My daughter is now in the fifth grade and the hot topic when she came home from school the first day of school was “mom, this year we’ll learn about Family Life.” I smiled and thought to myself, oh yes, family life…what the school system calls that week-long unit where they attempt to teach the kids about the reproductive system. This shall be fun.
I remember my own “Family Life” unit. It was a week of very uncomfortable conversation between the teacher and those students who were daring enough to ask questions. It was a week where many of us had too many questions about things we had heard but didn’t know how to answer. I wanted to go home and ask my own mother, but I knew I was NOT to use the word sex at home. It was awful. Five short years later, I got pregnant with my daughter. I vowed to not let her go through the same uncertainties as me. I would be open with her.
Ten years later, and I’ve kept my promise. Gina knows many things about our bodies and about the reproductive system – but most of all she knows she can come to me for ANYTHING. However, it is still important that she learn from the “professionals” at school. I was very anxious to go to her back to school night and hear what the teachers were planning for this infamous unit. What I heard left me walking away highly concerned.
When the teacher introduced “family life” she was visibly uneasy. She blushed, she whispered the word “sex” and she said that the County made them teach it. She also said that they made sure it was the last unit of the school year so that kids would have this conversation with their parents. Period. The end. Working with teen girls, being 10 not too long ago, and having been a teen mom I found this highly unacceptable and in my dream world this is what the Family Life unit would look like:
· Bring an outside provider to talk to the kids about the changes that are visibly coming
· Make it longer than a week. Kids need time to feel comfortable.
· Have a parent meeting prior to this unit; one devoted to just family life so that the parents can also shed some of their reservations.
· Don’t make it a taboo topic. It’s a natural change in life – like their butterfly and metamorphosis unit in the second grade.
· Put a positive spin on it – make it fun!
I’m well aware that these suggestions might probably never make it, but it’s worth a shot. I’ve joined a parent advisory committee to review materials that will be presented during this unit. It makes me nervous to know that the only person who might be mentioning these terms to these kids is so uncomfortable. An educator needs to be confident, at ease, and comfortable to present any topic. I don’t doubt she’s qualified, but she needs to shed some of the discomforts so that she can make the kids feel less scared and embarrassed during such a critical time. I might be asking for too much, but if we continue to say something must be done about the alarming numbers of teen pregnancies, then I think we need to evaluate what our children are learning early on, what’s being taught and most importantly how it’s being delivered.