Promoting Healthy Childhood Sexual Development

These charts describe some typical childhood behaviors. They also describe how adults can help in promoting children’s healthy sexual development.

What Is Natural and Healthy?

Children gather information about everything as they move through childhood; this includes natural and healthy sexual exploration. Children are learning about bodies, gender roles and behaviors, and relationships. Thus, between 40 and 85% of children will engage in some form of sexual behavior by age 13. Childhood curiosity that results in voluntary sexual exploration between children of similar age, size, and development is normal. Games like “playing doctor,” “playing house,” and “spin the bottle” are ways for children to learn about themselves and others. This is part of typical childhood sexual development.

This can make adults uncomfortable if they aren’t expecting this as a normal part of childhood. It can also make adults afraid that children have been sexually abused if they are not alert to the difference between natural, typical behaviors and problematic behaviors that might be warning signs of trauma. It is important for adults to respond calmly and avoid shaming children when they are discovered in sexual exploration.

Since most adults want to believe that children are asexual and innocent, it has been difficult for researchers to study healthy childhood sexual development. Therefore, most of the research on childhood sexuality is based on children who have experienced child abuse.

Puberty: The Wonder Years Promotes Healthy Sexual Development

Benefits for Administrators:

  • Puberty: The Wonder Years is aligned to English Language Arts Standards and Health Education Standards.
  • Teachers receive easy-to-use lessons that can be consistently implemented in all classrooms.
  • Family engagement strategies build trust and support for teaching puberty education.

Benefits for Teachers:

  • Puberty: The Wonder Years is teacher-friendly, easy to use, and reduces prep time.
  • Lessons teach skill development using interactive strategies to keep students engaged in their learning.
  • Curriculum builds student knowledge and skills across three years.
  • Lessons are aligned to English Language Arts Standards and Health Education Standards.

Benefits for Parents and Other Trusted Adults:

  • Puberty: The Wonder Years provides a way for teachers and parents to work together to teach about puberty.
  • Family Partnership Flyers equip adults with tools and information to feel more comfortable talking with their children about puberty and sexual development.
  • Family Activities promote adult-child communication and ensure opportunities to discuss family values.


Ways to Promote Healthy Sexual Development

The chart below describes some typical childhood behaviors. Some children exhibit some of these typical behaviors and some do not. The chart also describes how Puberty: The Wonder Years can help adults in promoting children’s healthy sexual development.

Typical Behaviors

Needed Supports for Healthy Development

How Puberty: The Wonder Years Helps

  • Express an increased need for privacy and independence as puberty begins
  • Provide ongoing information about the physical aspects of puberty and changes in their body
  • Reassure that it is normal for everyone to be unique, but that everyone eventually gets through puberty
  • Teaches that everyone experiences puberty in their own timing
  • Describes the physical, social, and emotional changes of puberty
  • Provides Family Partnership Flyers to give parents and other trusted adults ways to talk with children about puberty
  • Show interest in relationships, Want to have a girlfriend or boyfriend
  • Encourage characteristics of healthy friendships and relationships
  • Help to normalize the new emotions and needs that they may be experiencing
  • Remind children that it is okay to fit in with their peers, but not to stop thinking for themselves or get carried away by the crowd
  • Teaches how to develop healthy relationships and what to do in unhealthy relationships
  • Teaches the social and emotional changes of puberty
  • Provides Family Activity assignments for students to talk with parents and other trusted adults about puberty
  • Begin to be sexually attracted to their peers, Play games involving sexual behavior such as “Truth or Dare” or “Spin the Bottle”
  • Support children in understanding they have both rights and responsibilities in their friendships and relationships
  • Provide age-appropriate sexuality information and basic information about sexual behaviors and sexually transmitted infections, etc.
  • Teaches respectful relationship skills
  • Conducts role plays to practice showing respectful communication
  • Explains the possible negative outcomes from risky sexual situations
  • Discusses the benefits of postponing parenthood and sexual activity until adulthood
  • Use the Internet to chat online
  • Educate children on the social and emotional aspects of puberty.
  • Teaches the social and emotional changes in puberty
  • Includes role plays that explore the dangers of sexting or meeting people online
  • Begin to have a sexual orientation
  • Explain that there are various sexual orientations such as straight, gay, and bisexual.
  • Support children of any orientation.
  • Defines sexual orientation and gender identity and promotes respect for all individuals
  • Promotes conversations with parents and other trusted adults to build a support system
  • Express curiosity about adult bodies, Try to see people naked or undressing, Look at pictures of people who are naked or partially clothed
  • Provide age-appropriate information about puberty and sexual development.
  • Teach about privacy and consent.
  • Teaches the proper terms for body parts
  • Explains the functions of the reproductive system
  • Teaches about consent and how to respect personal body space
  • Guides teachers in answering student questions about puberty and sexual development
  • Watch or listen to media with sexual content such as TV, movies, music, websites, video games
  • Encourage critical thinking and skills to differentiate fact from fiction in media images of sexuality.
  • Provide accurate and reliable sources of information.
  • Teaches media literacy
  • Provides information about puberty and sexual development from accurate and reliable sources
  • Masturbate in private as social norms become clearer
  • Explain that masturbation is a personal choice and it’s okay to do it or not to do it.
  • Suggests model answers to provide when children ask about masturbation

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