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What do Children Need to Know and When?

What do Children need to know, adapted from Planned Parenthood Federation and SEICUS Guidelines

Children need to know that:

  • love should make people feel good, safe, and wanted
  • people’s bodies are different sizes, shapes, and colors
  • their bodies belong to themselves
  • touching their sex organs for pleasure is normal
  • it takes a sperm and a egg to make a baby –what are all the ways to start a family
  • a woman does not have to have a baby unless she wants to

Children need to be able to:

  • talk privately with trusted adults about sexual issues, questions, and concerns
  • use correct terms for all sexual body parts, including the reproductive organs
  • talk about all of their body parts without feeling “naughty”
  • say “No” to unwanted touch
  • seek privacy when they want to touch their sex organs for pleasure
  • understand biological femaleness and maleness


Ages Five to Seven

In addition to earlier information and skills —

Children need to know:

  • that all creatures reproduce themselves
  • how plants and animals grow and reproduce, what they need, and how we care for them
  • that all people, including our parents and grandparents, live through a life cycle that has a beginning and an end and includes sexuality at all ages
  • that people experience sexual pleasure in a number of ways
  • that everyone has sexual thoughts and fantasies and that having them is normal
  • that there are different types of caring home backgrounds
  • about non-stereotyped gender roles
  • that sexual identity includes sexual orientation — lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual
  • the health care system is supportive of their health and well being
  • the basic facts about HIV/AIDS
  • about sexual abuse and its dangers — that sexual predators may seem kind, giving, and loving, and may be friends or family members
  • that a friend is someone who we enjoy being with and who shares, listens, encourages, and helps us think through problems

Children need to be able to:

  • identify family members’ roles and responsibilities
  • operate within non-stereotyped gender roles
  • take an active role in managing their body’s health and safety
  • recognize and protect themselves from potential sexual abuse and its dangers
  • develop, maintain, and end friendships


Ages Eight to Twelve

In addition to earlier information and skills about the changes in their bodies before puberty —

Preteens need to know:

  • the general stages of the body’s growth
  • the range of times at which normal developmental changes begin, including normal differences in the timing of these events for girls and boys
  • how female and male bodies grow and differ
  • about menstruation and wet dreams
  • that emotional changes are to be expected during this time
  • they need to be able to
  • be comfortable with their changing bodies and know that the differences between themselves and their peers are normal
  • take care of their personal hygiene during menstruation or after having wet dreams

Preteens need to know about sexual behavior:

  • that sex is pleasurable, not only a way to have a baby
  • that masturbation is very common and that it is normal to masturbate — but only in private
  • what rape is
  • about female and male sex work and its dangers
  • about sexually transmitted infections, including HIV — transmission, prevention, and treatment
  • they need to be able to
  • accept human sexuality as a natural part of life
  • recognize the legitimacy and normalcy of sexual feelings
  • feel that it is normal to masturbate
  • protect against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy

Preteens need to know about human reproduction:

  • the biology of the reproductive cycle
  • the probability of pregnancy with unprotected vaginal intercourse
  • about contraceptive methods
  • what abortion is
  • about assisted pregnancy — that a woman does not need to have sex to get pregnant
  • they need to be able to
  • describe the reproductive cycle
  • talk about how babies are made
  • talk about how pregnancy can be avoided

Preteens need to know about contraception:

  • that no one has to become a parent
  • that it is possible to plan parenthood
  • that having a child is a long-term responsibility, and every child deserves mature, responsible, loving parents
  • that contraceptive options are available including emergency contraception
  • how to get contraceptives

They need to be able to:

  • name a variety of contraceptives
  • discuss safer sex

Preteens need to know about relationships:

  • about family, community, and peer attitudes regarding dating
  • about the potential for being hurt in exploitative relationships
  • what are or should be appropriate roles for young women and men
  • about diverse family structures, the relationships among family members, and how families fit into society

They need to be able to:

  • make friends and end relationships without anger
  • recognize and protect themselves from abusive relationships


Ages Thirteen to Eighteen

In addition to earlier information and skills about human sexuality —

Teenagers need to know:

  • how different aspects of sexuality — biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. — form sexual identity
  • about the range of difference in sexual behaviors and relationships, including abstinence, marriage and domestic partnership, and different- and same-sex partnering

They need to be able to:

  • recognize sexuality as a positive aspect of one’s total personality
  • take responsibility for their choices and behaviors

Teenagers need to know about personal values and social pressures:

  • about the mixture of independence and responsibility needed at their age
  • about the impact of media presentations that depict sexual involvement
  • about the potentially harmful consequences of sexual relationships
  • that everyone has the right not to have sex

They need to be able to:

  • adapt to emotional and social needs and changes during adolescence
  • critically analyze how sexuality is presented in the media
  • acknowledge, recognize, and articulate their own experiences, attitudes, and feelings about relationships and sexual activity
  • understand the challenges of adolescent pregnancy
  • practice constructive decision-making and problem-solving techniques
  • increase and maintain self-esteem

Teenagers need to know about personal relationships and reproductive responsibility:

  • about the changing relationships in families over time
  • the advantages, disadvantages, facts, fallacies, and effective use of contraceptive methods

They need to be able to:

  • have expectations about long-term relationships, including marriage — emotional support, companionship, child rearing, etc.
  • avoid unwanted or inappropriate sexual experiences
  • understand sexual exploitation among adolescents
  • assert oneself when refusing to participate in sexual activities, or when insisting on the use of birth control and safer sex
  • communicate clearly, including being able to talk with one’s actual or potential partner about sexual behavior
  • recognize the probability of becoming or making someone pregnant as a result of unprotected vaginal intercourse
  • be comfortable in asking about and obtaining contraception

Teenagers need to know about education regarding parenthood:

  • the stages of pregnancy
  • the basics of child care and child development, including sexual development

They need to be able to:

  • recognize and talk about the responsibilities of parenthood
  • talk about how they believe children should be raised

Most parents want their children to grow up to have healthy sex lives. Providing children and adolescents with the information will help them grow up following these important guidelines for sex partners:

  • Have each other’s consent.
  • Never use pressure to get consent.
  • Be honest with each other.
  • Treat each other as equals.
  • Be attentive to each other’s pleasure.
  • Protect each other against physical and emotional harm.
  • Guard against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection.
  • Be clear with each other about what you want to do and don’t want to do.
  • Respect each other’s limits.
  • Accept responsibility for your actions.