Middle Schoolers (even 5th graders) are Primed for Prevention Messages
Dr. Cydelle Berlin & Narda Skov, MPH
As the new school year has gotten underway and many have already had their first series of parent-teacher conferences, I wanted to take a moment to remind us that middle schoolers are more than ready to hear some important sexual and reproductive health messages! Particularly about prevention and making healthy decisions. In a recent article from two amazing pediatricians at Girlology, here are some great tips to start and keep the conversations going with your youth. Middle schoolers are listening - and now is time to impart your values and wisdom. In middle school, the changes that will occur, not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically will be remarkable. The transitions are natural, and how your middle schoolers traverse them will develop their resiliency and self-confidence. Although body changes may be in the forefront, there’s a new phase of brain growth that begins around age 12 for adolescents/tweens. It has huge implications. This phase of brain growth opens up an unparalleled opportunity for nailing down prevention messages. To keep it simple, there are FOUR major brain changes that make it the perfect time. I want to share them with you along with some ways you can use them to your benefit (and ultimately theirs).
They are developing new abilities in reasoning and understanding.
Include them in discussions of complex topics and alternate viewpoints.
They thrive when they take risks and experiences thrills.
Encourage healthy risk taking.
Their brain will live in “go” mode without any semblance of reliable “brakes.”
Present them with challenging situations and have them think through options and possible consequences.
The are purging brain “data” that hasn’t been used in a while, and laying down permanent circuits based on things they do, think and see over and over.
Encourage them to spend time developing skills they hope to have for life. And I’m just going to put it out there that the second they cross that middle school threshold, prevention messages can be about anything and everything. For instance, by middle school, your child knows something about sex whether you’ve discussed it with them or not. They know what a lot of those explicit song lyrics are referring to. They have seen or will see some adult content that her friends – real or virtual – are sharing. There’s so much. If this worries you, I encourage you to discuss some of our recent classes with them, or buy some books to further explain reproductive anatomy and all the great changes that happen to the body. It’s time to engage them in conversations about ALL of these things. Do not feel overwhelmed. Take it one chat at a time. But, be reassured you that they WANT to hear from you (whether they act like they are listening or not — the hear you), and now is a perfect time when their brain is primed for prevention messages and middle school culture is offering up lots of new ideas and information.