A person never forgets their first date; usually, because it’s awkward—and never anything like the teen movie rendition floating around in one’s head.
Mine was no exception—largely because it didn’t occur to the high school senior who asked me (a sophomore at the time) out that I wasn’t old enough to go see an R-rated movie with him; something that dawned on the little genius as we arrived at the theater.
Needless to say he was annoyed. And that was the last of that.
No—this week’s piece isn’t to rehash the misadventures of my high school years. We’re going somewhere with this, but I wanted to get you thinking about limitations we place on activities based on age.
Why exactly do we rate movies?
Image Credit: Anne Seubert / EyeEm / Getty Images
Because we recognize that there are just some things that, to quote the ratings label, “may not be suitable” for a particular age group. Whether it’s movies, music, video games, etc., we widely recognize that there are concepts certain age groups shouldn’t be exposed to.
So why should sex education, and exposure to things of a sexual nature, be any different?
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Would say, kindergarten be too early to begin sex education?
PBS producer Saskia de Melker certainly doesn’t think so, as she recently outlined and advocated for a Dutch system that begins sex education as young as four.
Here’s another conundrum: How early is too early to take a child to an “adult novelty store”?
Minneapolis Gaia Democratic School director Starri Hedges believes as young as 11 years old is acceptable—and on a school field trip that wasn’t fully disclosed to parents, no less.
(By the way, that’s a trick question—no child belongs in an adult novelty store.)
That’s right—the Gaia Democratic School took a field trip to Minneapolis’ Smitten Kitten where the kids could “talk to these sex educators without any shame, without any fear.”
When shooter Adam Lanza attacked Sandy Hook Elementary school, we spent copious hours analyzing how— among many other things—the violent video games with which he was obsessed played a role in his monstrous acts; that they played a role in desensitizing him (and even leading him) to violence.
Oddly enough, while we as a society worry about violent video game content desensitizing a young person to violence itself, we don’t seem as eager to worry about desensitizing our children to sex by overexposing them to it at inappropriate ages. Whether it’s the consensual sort, or the stuff of abuse—it’s a BIG deal, and there’s a right time and place to start talking about it seriously.
It’s not just a question of “becoming who you are” or being able to have “honest conversations about love and relationships.” Sex is so much more complex than that.
As much as people like the aformentioned PBS producer Saskia de Melker and Minneapolis educator Starri Hedges choose to believe otherwise, the young mind simply isn’t wired to properly absorb and understand some of these concepts.
Children aren’t miniature adults. Period.
In fact, as Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget outlined in his widely taught Theory on the Stages of Cognitive Development (something every educator learns), “children think in considerably different ways than adults do.” Further, each child passes through very defined stages of development, each with an increasing level of cognition than the last:
- Sensory-Motor (Ages Birth Through 2)
- Preoperational (Ages 2 Through 7)
- Concrete Operations (Ages 7 Through 11)
- Formal Operations (Ages 11 Through 16)
Importantly, “…the sequence of stages is fixed and unchangeable and children cannot skip a stage. They all proceed through the stages in the same order, even though they may progress through them at different rates.”
Imposing “sex education” in kindergarten, and exposing middle school children to things like Minneapolis’ Smitten Kitten adult novelty store forces these children to skip stages and explore concepts that they’re simply not ready—cognitively— to explore.
While Piaget believed that children learn by doing (and they do), it’s only affective when you consider the stage the child is in.
Children, in particular those in the earliest stages of development (kindergarten, for example) are egocentric and can usually only grasp what makes sense within their limited little bubble. And that’s not close-mindedness; that’s the reality of the phase that child is in. You cannot force a mind that is wired to think in concrete fashion to suddenly grasp and process abstract concepts like sex and sexuality. And doing so opens the door for confusion and frustration that will adversely affect the child’s development.
Even the older set (like the ones taken to the adult novelty store) has its limitations as to what it can absorb. For some, they’re just entering a time in which they understand that there are differences between their world and that of others; but they’re not necessarily all ready to understand what those differences really mean. This is why parental determination (and not a school system’s) as to when a child is or isn’t ready, is critical.
And furthermore—at the end of stage three and the onset of stage four would be when a child/young person could merely begin to truly understand the basics; let alone a shock-factor like the adult novelty store. And yes, I realize there are plenty of middle school students engaging in sex and even getting pregnant--but that doesn't mean they were "ready" for that, or that it's healthy.
(For the record, the City of Minneapolis seems to agree with this analysis, as it cited Smitten Kitten for having “sexually explicit materials within view of minors.”)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we say babies come from storks, or that we don’t need to ensure that our children are able to vocalize when something’s not right (i.e. inappropriate touching.)
That’s one thing.
It’s entirely another thing to expose elementary age children (as the Dutch sex education model suggests) to “sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness,” or encourage them to engage in activities like telling stories “about friends taking a bath together, and discuss who likes doing that and who doesn’t.”
And to be fair, the Dutch model that PBS’ Saskia de Melker is advocating includes “learning how to communicate when they don’t want to be touched.”
But that’s not the entire story—and that’s the problem. The Dutch premise continues:
“Of course we want kids to be safe and to understand the risks involved with sex, but we also want them to know about the positive and fun side of caring for someone and being in a healthy relationship.”
So, they must learn about loving healthy relationships in grade school by exploring sexual activity and sexuality? There’s absolutely no other human interaction that can illustrate this point? Do we have to expose our children to topics far beyond what’s appropriate in order to teach them about love, respect and understanding?
And as we think about both of these scenarios, I ask you to consider: when does protecting a child’s innocence come into play?
After all, we live in an incredible volatile, violent, upsetting world—full of struggles and problems that our children will battle with soon enough.
At what point do we give them a fighting chance to make it through the proper stages of cognitive development before forcing them to become adults long before their time?
As much as proponents of exposing child to sex early and often believe they’re doing society a service by “properly” preparing children—they’re doing far more harm than good.
And at what point does that begin to matter?
Mary Ramirez is a full-time writer, creator of www.afuturefree.com (a political commentary blog), and contributor to The Chris Salcedo Show (TheBlaze Radio Network, Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m. ET). She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree
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