Parenting often seems like one challenge after another, but there’s one particular milestone that has almost every parent cringing: The Talk. Those adorable toddlers clutching their toys and cardboard books will—despite out best efforts—careen right into puberty one day. Some parents answer questions about bodies and sexuality at any age the child begins to ask; others adroitly change the subject every time a plaintive voice pipes: “Where do babies really come from?”
Tampa Bay parents, relax. Help is at hand, and has been for years. For more than a decade, Deborah Sickmon, a pediatric wellness and safety expert at St Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, has hosted a series of “Teen Talk” classes for girls and boys. During these age-appropriate classes, Sickmon offers practical information that helps children understand their changing bodies.
“We don’t put a morals, ethics or religion into it,” she explains. “It’s strictly from a medical perspective about anatomy and physiology.”
Sickmon explains that the class (separated by gender) is medically oriented and divided into two parts. The first part is specific to the gender attending that session and explains the physical and emotional changes that a child going through puberty would undergo. Girls might get additional practical advice about subjects such as how to handle menstruation at school or during a sleepover, while the boys’ sessions might address issues such as spontaneous erections or nocturnal emissions. After a break the child and parent can opt to return for the second part of the session, which will talk about the opposite gender’s puberty process and delve into the reproductive system. If you feel like your child is too young, you can skip that part and attend it at a later date for $10. Both boys and girls sessions end with a video and talk about abstinence, and everyone gets a book to take home.
For parents who wonder what age is right for their kids to be exposed to this information, Sickmon suggests observing whether their child’s body is changing, and if they are expressing curiosity and asking questions. Each child is different. Some girls begin menstruation at age 9 and others at age 16. As a rule of thumb, Sickmon feels that by the time a child enters sixth grade, they should have a basic idea of how human reproduction works. If they don’t—someone will be sure to tell them, and that source (other kids or the Internet) is probably not going to be as accurate as the parent.
“Just as we teach our kids to brush their teeth and how to have good health habits, this is the next phase of getting a child safely through,” she says.
Sickmon says that the environment is so relaxed and comfortable in her classes that often, even parents who had planned on staying just for the first part end up returning for all of it. They thank her and tell her that it opens up a conversation with their children that otherwise may have stayed shut. Some kids come with a group of friends, which allows them to create a support system with each other and each other’s parents throughout their adolescence. Although generally, mothers come with daughters and fathers with sons, Sickmon says there is no rule about who accompanies the child other than it be their caregiver.
Sickmon also teaches a class for older teens called Teen Talk 2 on an as-needed basis. Parent don’t sit in on this one, and teens can ask candid questions and have myths debunked. They learn about relationships, impact of media and the long-term effects of sexual activity, and also get information about sexually transmitted diseases.
Still squeamish? Sickmon tells parents to think about it this way. When your child has a world history test coming up, you help them prepare with all the facts and knowledge they may need to ace that test. When it comes to matters of human sexuality, giving your child the correct answers from the get-go will allow them to make the right choices when the time comes, something they cannot do unless empowered with the right information.
At a Glance:
Teen Talk for Girls
This 4-hour class provides young girls (ages 9-13) and their caregiver a relaxed environment to learn about the physical and emotional changes of puberty, including an explanation of the menstrual cycle, how the female reproductive system works and ways to maintain a healthy body. The optional second half of the session contains an overview of the male’s changes during puberty and their reproductive system. Class ends with a video of students discussing the benefits of abstinence.
Teen Talk for Boys
This 21/2-hour class provides young boys (ages 10–13) and their caregiver a relaxed environment to learn about the physical and emotional changes of puberty, including an explanation of how the male reproductive system works and ways to maintain a healthy body. The optional second half of the session contains an overview of the female’s changes during puberty and their reproductive system. Class ends with a video of students discussing the benefits of abstinence.
Where: St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital, 4321 N. MacDill Ave., Tampa
When: Upcoming dates are: For boys, 2-4:30 p.m. April 30 and 6-8:30 p.m. June 16; For Girls, 1-5 p.m. March 5 and 1-5 p.m. May 7.
How Much: The cost is $35 per child/adult pair for the class and a book on puberty to take home. The second half of each class is optional and can be completed at a later time.
Register at: BayCareEvents.org or (813) 443-3074. Private classes for which content can be customized are available upon request also and classes can come to you. Prices vary.
For more information: (813) 615-0589 or click here