Why Teach Puberty At All

Doesn’t teaching puberty invite promiscuous activity among kids? Why should my child be exposed to this?

Sexuality education, even puberty education, is sometimes viewed as a controversial, divisive topic because it can provoke strong, divergent opinions about the best way to teach the subject, or whether it should be taught at all. Educators may fear that conflict with parents or community groups might spread to other educational programs.

However, avoiding sexuality education altogether is likely to produce even more disastrous results. Although U.S. teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined since their peak in the early 1990s, they are still too high. Consider these facts from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:

  • Teen pregnancy and birth rates are higher in the United States than in any other developed nation, even though US rates have declined by half since 1990.[1]
  • One in four girls in the United States will become pregnant by age 20.[2]
  • Daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves than the daughters of mothers who have a child at age 20 or 21.[3]

It may be tempting to put off all sex education until high school, but that would be too late. According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) of high school students nationwide, ninth-graders face many sexual risks:[4]

  • Thirty percent have ever had sexual intercourse.
  • Twenty percent have had sexual intercourse in the previous three months.
  • Six percent said they had their first sexual intercourse prior to age 13.
  • Less than two-thirds used a condom during last sexual intercourse.
  • Six percent said they had been forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.
  • Eleven percent experienced sexual dating violence. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why Teach Puberty

Although schools could avoid potential controversy by leaving sexuality education entirely in the hands of families, not all parents feel comfortable with this role. In fact, thirty-three percent of Michigan ninth-graders said they have never talked with their parents or other adults in their family about what they expect them to do or not to do when it comes to sex.[5] Without getting reliable sex education, these students would be left to figure things out on their own.

Some girls begin puberty as young as eight or nine years of age, so puberty education is needed to prevent children from being frightened by unexplained changes in their bodies and emotions. Puberty, with the onset of sexual feelings, is beginning earlier, but marriage is being delayed until age 26 to 28. This combination of factors results in a long interval of time during which young people must manage their sexuality in healthy ways. In order to prepare young people to do so, we must begin before they are sexually active.

Avoiding the subject of sex does not prepare young people to make healthy choices, but providing research-based sex education can prevent risk behaviors and help young people develop into sexually healthy adults:

  • Research shows that providing accurate information does not increase sexual activity among youth, nor does it encourage early sexual activity.[6] Read more.
  • The teen birth rate among girls ages 15 to 19 has reduced by 57% since its peak in 1991.[7]

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References:

[1] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2014, http://thenationalcampaign.org/resource/fast-facts-how-does-united-states-compare

[2] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, August 2014, http://thenationalcampaign.org/resource/fast-facts-teen-pregnancy-united-states

[3] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, http://thenationalcampaign.org/why-it-matters

[4] Kann, L., Kinchen, S., Shanklin, S. et al. Youth Risk Behavior Survey–United States 2013. MMWR 2014;6,#4.

[5] Michigan Department of Education, 2014, 2013 Michigan youth risk behavior survey. Lansing, MI: Authors. www.michigan.gov/yrbs.

[6] Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. http://thenationalcampaign.org/resource/emerging-answers-2007%E2%80%94full-report

[7] National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2013, http://thenationalcampaign.org/data/landing

Photo credit: Brooke Collier Photography, www.brookecollierphoto.com