Sex Education

Parent Q&A

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  • Puberty class impacting my 4th grader?

    (6 replies)

    I am wondering about my very transparent 4th grader who suddenly decided that she did not want to talk about her school's puberty classes after the second of five lessons total.  The lessons were one hour each, spread over a five day period.  After the first lesson, she eagerly shared with me some of the new names for hormones that she was trying to master.  After the second day, she stopped sharing.  The topic is now, for lack of a better description, taboo.  She playfully ran away after the third day.  I let it go for a bit, but it has been a few weeks, the school has been unable or unwilling to share the day to day discussion topics, and the outline provided before the lessons has proven to be measurably incomplete with what little I was able to learn from my kid.  Now that the clock has run out on the school year, the school says they will try to get a more accurate outline next year, and perhaps take notes during the lessons to share with parents.  In one possible scenario, the teachers, who I do respect, weren't paying that much attention to the lesson details being conducted by a 3rd party via zoom, didn't review the outline that carefully, and didn't encourage the kids to treat the subject respectfully and academically.  I have an older child who went through two puberty programs at different schools, during grades 5 and 7 perhaps, who has a very open and factual approach towards sexuality so I was completely taken off guard.  This isn't even about controversial teachings.  This is about a school program that is supposed to direct kids towards reliable sources of information such as their parents but which has effectively shutdown the discussion with my kid.  How do I undo the harm?  We have books, she has an older sibling who she is close to, and we still talk about everything under the sun and beyond our solar system.  Do we wait for her to change her mind?  Do we leave it to chance that she'll find some random person in the future to guide her for better or for worse?  Are there better puberty professionals out there that can be referred to our school?

    I would have been mortified to discuss anything puberty-related with my parents in 4th grade (although it sounds like you have a more open and healthy relationship with your kids). Maybe she's just embarrassed? If it were me, I wouldn't push it (which might just make her more self-conscious and make it seem like a bigger deal), and my bet is she'll circle back with questions later when she's ready. It might not have anything specific to do with the topics covered or the way they were taught, and just be a factor of her maturity/comfort level with the topic. My kids also had puberty ed in 5th grade and 7th grade, and when my then-4th grader found his older brother's workbook he was all immature giggles - I think the difference in readiness to discuss puberty stuff between 4th and 5th grade might make a difference.

    Clearly, they hit on something sensitive that she is not ready to talk about. Maybe she thinks she is a lesbian. Maybe she thinks her breast buds are actually breast cancer. Worst case senario, maybe she was abused by someone close to you and isn't ready to talk to you about it. I suggest that you find a quiet moment when the two of you are alone, tell her that you understand that she is not ready to talk about what she learned in that class, and that you are willing to listen whenever she is ready. Then, if when she does tell you, thank her, tell her you love her, and that you will figure it out together. You have to accept that she may never be ready to tell you. She is a separate person and will always make her own decisions about what she will and not say. You may want to find a therapist so she has someone to talk to about her concerns. 

    I would give her some time. Perhaps she just needs to marinate on this new info for a bit. Perhaps she doesn’t want to talk about it with you - it doesn’t mean she’s traumatized. I never talked to my mom about puberty, but got all the info I needed from friends, older sister, teachers, doctor… and I turned out just fine :) In my experiences with my own kids, the more I push to talk about something the more it shuts them down. If I back off they’ll come around when the need arises. 

    Your child’s pediatrician is hopefully a wealth of information. At my daughter’s 11 yo annual checkup, our pediatrician asked my daughter a bunch of questions that I wasn’t quite prepared for, in a matter of fact way, and answered all of her questions. I just sat and watched the exchange, grateful and better informed. I was told that at the next annual checkup and all the future ones, the checkups would be between pediatrician and my daughter only - no parents allowed so they could have a confidential conversation. I’m all for that.

    I think keeping the line of communication open with your daughter about puberty and sexuality is important (yet not forcing her to talk about it unless she initiates), but having an experienced medical professional talk to your daughter would be great as well. I think my daughter gained more out of talking to her pediatrician and us than what she learned from her school’s puberty class. Good luck.

    As a middle school health teacher, I'm so sorry to hear this. I mention talking to a trusted adult almost every day in our 12 week class. I don't bring in outside providers though under CA law, you should have been notified at least 14 days in advance of the lessons and who the outside providers are. Maybe you can contact the outside providers to find out the day's topics so you can figure what topic made your kid uncomfortable?

    I would not let this go. Something made your kid uncomfortable and you want to let her know through your actions and words that you love and support her and won't be mad at her about anything she asks about and that she didn't do anything wrong.

    You can look through your book collection and see if any topics can be added to it: is my go-to for finding books about a variety of topics. The founder (a black/Latinx mom) also leads virtual workshops ( to help families raise sexually healthy children using a shame-free, comprehensive, and pleasure-positive approach. I would maybe consider signing up your family up for it. They also have a strong social media presence too!

    Here's SFUSD's health education page when you can find better resources for your school (under growth/development as that's what puberty is listed under in the state standards):

    OP here, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, experience, and knowledge.  We were on vacation this past week, as soon as school let out, as a family sharing a hotel room.  Although we've done this many times before, more recently in something as small as a 4 person tent, things were definitely a bit weirder on day 1 this time.  The good news is that by the end of the trip, our rising 5th grader was running around naked out of convenience after a quick shower, no longer embarrassed/fixated/concerned about her body or modesty among our nuclear family.  It was actually quite hilarious as she still had her face mask on for some reason that I can't recall any more.  Innocence reclaimed?  Yesterday we were outside in the cold windy air and I mentioned that she was budding.  Apparently she hadn't even noticed.  I'd like to think that she can be more mature than some of her same-aged peers but I also understand that sometimes it feels better to simply fall in line and to fit in with the group.  At that age, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between my own thoughts and those that I adopted from others.  We'll see what this break from school further yields I guess.  She attends a very small private school and my reading of the California Education Codes is that the rules governing notice and the sharing of teaching materials probably do not strictly apply in our case.  That said, I expressed surprise that the outside provider would not be prepared to do so given the likelihood that she services public school districts as well.  I think the Head of School agreed to some extent and encouraged me to reach out to the instructor directly.  On a side note, our pediatrician has not yet suggested one-on-one meetings even with our teen but that sounds like an interesting option too.  In any case, I'd be surprised if anything is truly off the table for discussion since her big sis has already claimed to be transexual, while her aunt is a choice-mom and her uncles are gay.  We all vacation together.  This is my first query on BPN and it has been such a relief to get helpful feedback.  Thank you all!

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Nov 1999

I agree with Louise on sex education: after a year of it in 5th grade and another year at Willard, sex education again at BHS is more a target for jokes than a way to get them some useful info. I really like Louise's idea of instead teaching personal finance for the Social Living requirement and would like to also suggest a quick week or 2 of Survival Cooking and maybe Survival Housekeeping. I know we should all be teaching these things at home (that goes for finance and sex too) but in just a couple of years our children will be expected to feed, clothe, and house themselves, and I am not so sure they have the basic skills.

I would like to second the opinion that students should be taught in a structured way about handling personal finances. I think the topic should be introduced in Jr. High, and then really hammered home sometime during Jr. or Sr. year in high school. One cannot count on parents doing the job.

For example, how many students graduating from high school recognize the value of buying a home? How many know how to finance a home, and what the tax benefits are? My parents were always renters, and I was 32 years old and training to become a real estate agent before I found out why it's a good idea to aim toward home ownership!

There should be a course, Life 101, to teach these essentials.