It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
A Tale of Two Cities
Adolescence then, adolescence—today while much has remained the same, the uncertainty, the excitement, the fears, the joys have been intensified by the lengthening of this developmental stage. As evidenced by the following dialogue, the preadolescent of late has become increasingly similar in life style to that of the older boy and girl. Everything that is typical for middle, or even late, adolescence seems to be happening at a younger and younger age.
Jeff: I’m going to get my girl friend pregnant so that we can have a baby. I want me a boy so that I can teach him how to play basketball and ride a bike when he gets bigger.
Lisa: Jeff, why do you really want a baby?
Jeff: Because you and Debra and Gail have a baby and now James is getting ready to have one and me and Darryl is the only ones that don’t have any kids.
Lisa: Jeff, there is a lot to do to have a baby. Do you know what to do?
Lisa: Jeff, do you know what sex is?
Jeff: Yes. It’s doing p-u-s-s-y.
Lisa: (Then he started laugh.)
This dialogue between a seventeen year old student-mother and her eleven year old brother clearly demonstrates the necessity for providing family life education for eleven to thirteen year olds. The lack of information, the misinformation, the lack of awareness about and the inability to comprehend responsible sexuality and parenthood, the impact of the media and the immediate environment, and the possibility that adults (parents and teachers) may not see through the facade and pseudo-sophistication often evidenced by the language and the behavior of our children are all contributing factors to the dilemma of approaching sex education in early adolescence.
A fourteen year old student-mother to teacher:
I’m late again and my housemaster won’t give me a pass to homeroom. I need a note for yesterday for when I was the emergency room with Tyrese. They said nothing was wrong with him, but he was crying all night. Last night me and Darryl had a fight and I don’t want his mother to take care of the baby anymore. My aunt wasn’t home this morning when I left and she won’t sit unless I pay her. My cousin has the baby today and now I can’t get my lunch card ’cause I missed homeroom again.
Can successful family life education either prevent the early and inappropriate pregnancy or can it enhance the young person’s adolescence, her sexuality, and/or her role as a parent? It is my belief that a properly designed and implemented program can contribute to the adolescent’s optimal growth and development.
The purpose of this unit is to provide a cohesive framework for teachers of science to allow optimal presentation and processing of family life information to early adolescents, ages 11 through 13. The successful teaching of sex education requires that the teacher: understand the developmental period of Early Adolescence; know thoroughly the material to be presented (and has processed personal feelings, values, mores, etc.); is able to create and maintain an atmosphere of trust, confidence, and support; is prepared to provide children with a knowledge base to insure healthy decision making and is sensitive to the family life issues. A review of the developmental stage, Early Adolescence, requires a close examination of the following: physiological maturation, psychological functioning, and emotional tasks.
Physiological maturation or the onset of puberty
In this stage of growth we find that girls arrive first, on the average of about twelve years old, while boys reach the onset of puberty at about thirteen or fourteen years old on the average. The initial outward or external signs of puberty are breast development in girls and an increase in penis and teste size in boys. These changes are caused by the production of sex hormones in larger quantities, estrogen in females and testosterone in males. These hormones are produced in the gonads, male testes and female ovaries. Perhaps to both sexes the most significant events are the menarche (first menstruation) in girls and nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) in boys. The initial menstrual period is not usually accompanied by ovulation; ovulation occurs about a year or two later. It is not rare to witness the menarche in girls as young as nine years old; the average age for menarche is twelve years, four months. Similarly, boys’ first nocturnal emissions only contain seminal fluid and not mature sperm.
In young people of this age we witness the beginnings of their struggles with entering the first stages of adolescence (“Don’t call me kid”). Psychoanalytically, the stage is referred to as latency; the Oedipal complex is gradually resolved and they begin to identify with the parent of the same sex, their primary role model. One thing that must be kept in mind, however, is that not all children are from two parent families. The projection for 1981 is that 52% of all children in the United States will come from single parent homes. We also know that during this period of development, libidinal growth is stable and most energies are spent on the tasks outlined in Erikson’s model, the youngster is trying to become a good learner, worker and group member. Erikson labels this stage as “industry versus inferiority”. Children in this phase of development show us their orientation to cognitive tasks and peer activities, not only in the intensity of their work, but also quite dramatically in their play as their pattern gradually shifts from the personal fantasy to organized games.
The child during this stage deals with three sex specific tasks: learning to deal with their changing bodies (“Am I normal?”), coping with the opposite sex differently than before; and the establishment of a solid gender identification.
Other tasks have to do with making value decisions, morality, failure and disappointment, parental pressure to conform and achieve, developing a wholesome self image, becoming an individual (first steps towards independence), group membership and dealing with one’s own family.
You may find it helpful at this time to examine the chart depicting the stages in cognitive and personality development; the work of Piaget, Kohlberg, Havinghurst, Erikson and Freud are summarized.
It is apparent that with all of these events or tasks beginning to surface during a single growth stage, there may be internal conflict. Keeping in mind that an optimal environment can facilitate positive resolution of these dilemmas, we find that many of our children are in environments which compound the struggle. Adolescence does not have to be a period of turmoil and in fact the majority of youngsters emerge from this period healthily. So, you are probably asking, why is it necessary to go through a unit such as this, what goals and objectives can be set that the adolescent won’t attain on his/her own?
In justifying the institution of this unit, it is necessary to first define family life and sex education in the broadest sense. I believe that it should be a dialogue with youngsters about who they are and how they relate to others. Our objectives will be: to provide adolescents with knowledge of their own physical, mental and emotional maturational processes as they relate to their becoming a sexual being; to reduce fears and anxieties relative to one’s own development and adjustment; to develop objective and understanding attitudes toward sex in its many manifestations in the individual and in others; to assist youngsters in obtaining insights about their relationships to individuals of both sexes, and to help them understand their obligations and responsibilities to others; to give them an appreciation of the positive satisfaction that healthy human relationships can bring in both individuals and family living; to create an understanding of the need for moral values that are needed to provide rational bases for making decisions.
In a high school class that a colleague of mine taught, the students themselves set the objectives, and as you read through them you will notice that they are not so different as those set down by a more experienced adult. They are:
1. to provide whatever factual information the individual desires on all aspects of sex
2. to increase self-understanding so that individuals may become self-confident members of their own sex
3. to increase understanding of the opposite sex in order to promote positive relationships between the sexes
4. to understand better other patterns of sex behavior among peers, among the adult generation and other cultures, so as to prepare individuals to live with others who believe differently
5. to open up communication and promote understanding between adults and youth
6. to develop an appreciation of sex as an important part of life and see it in the perspective of ones whole life
7. to allow and enable each individual to develop a personal standard based on understanding of and concern for others
8. to see sex education as a continuous process to prepare individuals mentally and emotionally for their biological development through maturity