As a middle school health teacher I’ve had the pleasure of learning how to teach about reproductive health. I truly LOVE it! It has opened my eyes to the challenges that many young teens face when it comes to understanding their body.
Most teens want to to be educated, even though they seem shy or uncomfortable. They want to know but are afraid to ask. As parents, it is our job to open up that communication so our child(ren) feel safe and comfortable to ask us. It starts with us! We need to put our own fears of talking about it to the side and put them first.
This does not mean we need to overshare or give every detail. We can build up to things over time. We can introduce age-appropriate topics from the time our child is a toddler or meet them wherever they are at right now.
Let’s dive into why it is important to talk to your child(ren) about reproductive health.
Reason One – Helps them understand their body.
I know it may seem so far away but teaching about reproductive health will teach your children how the human bodies work and how to properly care for themselves. As they go through puberty they will be able to recognize what is normal and what might be something to ask you or their doctor about. It helps them learn the biology of conception and pregnancy. Long term this increases the likelihood of them becoming pregnant if and when they want to while also educating them on how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
Reason Two – Provides the correct vocabulary
We want to raise kids who can advocate for their own health. Part of this is giving them the correct vocabulary to do so. There is a rule in my classroom that students must ask questions using the correct terms. We do not say “balls”, we say “testicles”. I do not tell my sons that they have a “pee pee”. It is a penis and we call it a penis. Can it seem awkward at first? Sometimes. But that is only if students have grown up calling things something else. If you are the parent to a young child, you can avoid that awkwardness by calling the anatomical parts the correct terms from the time they are toddlers. If you are a parent to a teen, you can start now too. When they know their parts, they can more easily advocate for themselves. They have the correct vocabulary to talk to you, the parent, or their doctors someday if needed.
Reason Three – It takes the fear out of things.
I’m going to provide an example here. Many young females are so fearful of their periods. They are concerned about what is going to happen and how they can bleed for multiple days without dying! Its a very real and scary experience for them. During my classes I explain, in detail WHY they get their period.
Let me share a brief overview of how I explain periods. The lining of the uterus (endometrium) is building a safe and healthy home for pregnancy to occur. It supplies blood and oxygen to a baby immediately once those cells attach to the uterus. If pregnancy does not occur during that month, the body gets rid of the lining because it is not needed. This repeats each month so that when and if a female gets pregnancy, her body is ready to create this new human life. I explain that about 3 tablespoons of blood comes out through the vagina over about 3-5 days. I hold up a tablespoon to show a visual of how much liquid that really is.
Once I explain that it happens so that we can someday have children and what to expect you can see the fear melt from their face. It also normalizes this bodily function so the males in the room can understand that it is not gross or weird, just another natural function of the female body.
Another example, male nocturnal emissions. More often referred to as “wet dreams”. I explain that this can happen to some males and not others. As males go through puberty this can happen and that there is nothing wrong with them. Like many other bodily functions it is involuntary and that most males with simply outgrow this.
All in all, I do not want my own children or my students to fear their body. I want them to embrace all the things it does for them so that they will appreciate it and take good care of it.
Reason Four – It Protects Them
When we name the parts for what they are it helps protect our kids. It removes shame so that if there is ever anything wrong, or heaven forbid, they are ever assaulted, they will talk about what happened and report it. Our kids will know that their reproductive anatomy is for them. No one else. Even when they are ready to share it with someone else, they are still in control of what happens to it.
Reason Five – Opens up the line of communication.
When we begin the discussion, our children will come to us with questions, rather than the internet. With answers at their fingertips, it is easy for kids, especially teens, to grab their phone to look up the answers to their questions. They are being incredibly resourceful. However, they aren’t logical thinkers yet. That part of their brain doesn’t develop until their late teens and early 20’s. Whether they like it or not, they need an adult to help them navigate what to believe and what not to believe. They simply can’t differentiate that yet. Talking to your kids about this might be scary at first however, when you create that norm from childhood, they will feel comfortable as they hit puberty and beyond.
Part Two of this series will come which is all about HOW to talk to your toddler and teens about reproductive health.