California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Sexuality and family-life education

In the middle grades, students typically develop an increased interest in sex and relationships as hormones cause changes in their physical bodies and emotions. As a result, it is important for teachers and counselors to offer sex- and family-life education for both the students and their parent/guardians. Recognizing the importance of sex and family-life education, Education Code Section (EC) 51220.5 requires that schools serving students in grade seven or eight “shall include the equivalent to a one-semester course in parenting education and skills so that students will acquire basic knowledge of parenting.” In addition, EC Section 51934 requires students in grades seven to twelve to receive AIDS prevention instruction once during middle school and once during high school. According to the Health Framework for California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve (2003) (PDF; 2MB; 264pp.), “A note of caution is in order here. Because parental notification is legally mandated (EC 51555) before a discussion of human reproductive organs may occur, schools may wish to limit the integration of sex education with other topics.”1

Although curiosity about sexuality is common in the middle grades, many young adolescents are shy about their changing bodies and wonder whether what they are experiencing is normal. As a result, many students are not likely to seek guidance from an adult (teacher or counselor) if a preexisting trust relationship does not exist. Ongoing staff development will help teachers build small learning communities and relationships (refer to Recommendation 5, Relationships) so that all students have an adult mentor in whom to confide.

Small learning communities provide students with adult guidance that may be missing in their home lives. The adults at home may not possess the knowledge, habits, and skills to model and discuss healthy and safe choices with their child. Adolescents without significant adults often pattern their behaviors (good and bad) from their peers, television, music, video games, the Internet, and unqualified external sources.

Counselors and other health professionals can help school staff members deal with issues by discussing the following questions:

  • How does the school staff educate students about responsible sexuality and the consequences of sexual activity?
  • How can teachers, counselors, and mentors discuss the often common practice of high-risk sexual behavior among young adolescents who have misinformation and misconceptions about sexual behavior and its consequences?
  • What dialogues help young adolescents to develop the confidence to say no to peer pressure?
  • What information can staff members share about the damage to self-image and respect when students submit to sexual acts outside of caring relationships?

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Footnote
1 The Health Framework for California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve (PDF; 2MB; 264pp.). Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2003, 35.

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