Right From The Start: Talking with Elementary Age Children about Sexuality

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“The Sex Lady” and proud Baltimorean Debbie Roffman.

On November 17th, The New Century School continued its important and informative speaker series for the community with a presentation by renowned author and nationally certified Sexuality and Family Life Educator Deborah Roffman.

Ms. Roffman believes strongly that parents should be their kids’ primary source of information about sex. Although many parents consider talking to young children and even teenagers about sex to be one of the most difficult challenges they face, Ms. Roffman brings her more than 30 years’ experience to bear in de-mythologizing this critical topic.

It comes down to opening the dialogue. Kids are exposed to sex-related information and images through media and other outlets no matter the measures parents might take to limit age-inappropriate material. Becoming the reliable source to help them navigate these often confusing and contradictory messages will get kids off on the right track to a healthy, age-appropriate relationship with sexuality.

Ms. Roffman began her talk with child developmental stages and showed how naturally kids evolve from realizing they are individual selves in toddlerhood to wondering, “How did I get here?” as young children, and ultimately to the logical next question once they can articulate it: “Where do babies come from?” She even provided suggested scripts for how to respond to the inevitable embarrassing questions or to gently correct the misinformation kids might be thinking. With graciousness and many amusing anecdotes, she helped the audience see that we can relate to our kids about sexuality on their level. Again, the emphasis is on keeping the lines of communication open. “Connectedness with parents,” she said, “is the number one factor in avoiding risky behavior.”

Ms. Roffman is a Baltimore native, teaching sexuality education to 4th- through 12th-graders. She has published three books—Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex; But How Did I Get in There in the First Place?: Talking to Your Young Children about Sex; and most recently, Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ Go-To Person about Sex. Her articles have appeared in countless major journals and newspapers, and she makes regular television appearances to spread the word about how to guide kids through healthy sexual development. My dream, she said, “is that one day in the United States, families and schools will be kids’ primary reference point for sex, gender, and reproduction so that everything they hear subsequently will be filtered through our lens and our voice.”

Her talk at TNCS focused on Talk to Me First. TNCS mom Amy Menzer was on hand and found the presentation “refreshing and very helpful.”

As the parent of an almost 6-year-old, I have been worried about what to say when my daughter asks about whether she and her best friend can have babies, or about what is sex (hasn’t come up yet!). I’ve wondered about what’s developmentally appropriate, and how do I respond in a sex-positive way that is factual, doesn’t convey that this is something shameful, but that also avoids prematurely encouraging her sexualization any sooner than our culture will allow.

Ms. Roffman began by pointing out that our broader culture pressures us to “say nothing,” because we fear something bad will happen, an attitude about sexuality that dates back to the Puritans. But nothing bad is going to happen because we talked about sex and sexuality! In fact, talking about it and being open and honest will encourage your child to see you as a go-to person on these issues as their interests and concerns evolve. Most refreshing I think was her point that we have the opportunity to shape our children’s attitudes about their sexuality and intimate relationships and convey our values. So rather than dreading “the talk,” or fearing that we may say something damaging or that our kids’ friends’ parents will be upset with us, we should see this as part of an ongoing conversation over the years in which different information will need to be discussed at different ages. The danger of avoiding the subject is that our children will learn from popular culture and the playground alone. She brought up some euphemisms many of us may have learned while growing up including “first base, second base….” as an example of how the “knowledge” kids gather from their peers may NOT be how we’d like them to be thinking about gender roles, their bodies, their sexuality, or their relationships with others.

Amy Menzer, TNCS mom

For those of you who were not able to attend the presentation at TNCS, Ms. Roffman’s website SexandSensibility.net (which name says it all) offers an abundance of resources to help you get your conversation started as well as links to order your own copy of Talk to Me First. “I am reading her book Talk to Me First now, and am so grateful to have had this introduction,” said Ms. Menzer.

Thank you, Ms. Menzer, for sharing your invaluable firsthand perspective with Immersed, and thanks also to TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali for continuing to bring thoughtful, insightful speakers to enrich our community.

One thought on “Right From The Start: Talking with Elementary Age Children about Sexuality

  1. Pingback: TNCS Head of School Attends NAIS Conference! – Immersed

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