Ask Valentine: Kids & Sex Part II– 6-12 Year-Olds
This is the second article in a 5 part series on Kids & Sex. I wrote this with Pascal Mwita, a psychologist and father of 4, so that we can figure out what our children are going through and what they need from us.
If there are tools that have worked for you as you educate your kids, or perhaps a way that you were spoken to you as a child that really resonates with you, then please share. Part one covered the 0 to 5 age group, and now we look at the 6 to 12 gap, when children firm up their values and peer pressure comes into play.
What’s going on?
Children from age 6 through 12 go through incredible changes. They are moving from a time of almost complete dependence to a time of increasing independence. At this age they are becoming individuals with likes and dislikes. Also they are developing friendships and beginning to move out into the world and are beginning to develop an identity different from their parents. During this timeframe, they are learning how to manage themselves in the world and this experience lays the groundwork for how they will manage themselves throughout their lives.
Children from 5 to 8 have strong same gender friendships. This is the time that the boys tend to group together and the girls do the same. They are getting information about what it means to be a boy or girl from their peers, independent of their parents. They are also beginning to learn how to manage friendships. This can be a bumpy time as children learn about loyalty and fitting in. Remember, how it felt when you were part of a group and accepted and how it felt when you were left out of the group and felt rejected? Children often rotate friendships on a daily or hourly basis all in an attempt to manage themselves as independent and social beings.
Before age 5, the child’s parents are the centre of the universe but after age 5 other influences begin to become important as children begin to go to school and move outside of the protected security of the family. Peer influences come into play and children begin to conform to peer group style of dress and speech that is different from their parents.
This process culminates in adolescence when the child is beginning to move to adulthood. So although parents still maintain a huge influence over their children during this timeframe they must learn to share that stage with other outside influences.
From 9 to 12 years of age, children experience emotional ups and downs. There is an expressed need for privacy that often results in locked bathroom and bedroom doors. They begin to develop romantic crushes possibly on a teacher or other young adult in their social circle. Sometimes they are strongly influenced by peer group pressure.
Others have sexual or romantic fantasies and they are beginning to face decision-making about becoming sexually active. This doesn’t mean that they are having sex or even consciously deciding about becoming sexually active, but it does mean that they are getting a lot of information that they will use later on when they are faced with a decision about sex.
Research shows that if you are interested in making adolescents more responsible when it comes to sexual activity, then this is the age group you should be targeting with information. These children are learning how they will go about controlling their lives.
How Can Parents Help using “Teachable Moments”
Parents at this point are becoming ‘influencers on’ and not ‘dictators’ to their children. You want to encourage dialogue and discussion and ‘teachable moments’ are a great time to do that. These opportunities happen when you are stuck in traffic, watching TV etc. This may be as simple as watching a television show with your child and instead of both watching it passively, ask your child about what they saw on the screen.
TV has a lot of sexual content and this is an opportunity to ask your child what they feel about what they are watching. You can also make sure they understood what they were watching. Then you can ask them if they agreed with what they saw or, if given the same situation what would they have done differently. A lot of information can be passed between parent and child without lecturing. Not only will you be informing your child, but you will be communicating that you are interested in your child and you value their opinion. It is also a great way to get to know this amazing person you brought into the world.
What a Child Needs to Know
By six or seven, children should have full use of acceptable vocabulary for communicating about all the body parts of both sexes. They will need that vocabulary so that they can begin to manage and protect their own bodies independently of their parents. Later on they will use and build on that vocabulary as they learn about the process of reproduction.
By age 12 some girls have started their period. In part 3 we celebrate this turning point in a young woman’s life. We will also cover wet dreams. All your questions are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org