Pubertal Vs Sex Education…..Whose Role is it?

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girly stuff

Girly Talk-time……As a mother of 3 out of four being girls, I always knew the time would come when my babies’ hormones would go into over-drive at that all powerful and sensitive stage of life called PUBERTY. Being a female myself, I had gone through it โ€“ (wellโ€ฆI’d give myself an โ€˜Aโ€™ with some bumps here and there) – and I knew the many pressures, pleasures and pains one could go through. So I sort of dreaded when my first girl would reach it.

In my time (the early 90โ€™s), the world was still sane and good to a very large extent. We didnโ€™t have everything blatantly thrown at us, though some of my mates did do a lot of stuff and actually went overboard. We had culture, morals and values imbibed in us by our dear parents, no matter how busy they were. And majority of us didnโ€™t develop as fast as the kids of now, breast buds usually didnโ€™t appear until we were about 12 โ€“ I said majority! These are truly fast food children!

I remember secondary school days, we were taught to remember our African origins โ€“ i.e. the house we were coming from and not to spoil the family name. Boarding house was safe and trusted to a large extent. Now everybody I ask says they canโ€™t even think about sending their children to boarding school. Teenage girls getting pregnant before marriage was a taboo, and even when it did happen, it was guarded with a lot of secrecy so others wonโ€™t hear about it.

So I guess you have an idea about how paranoid I am considering what the world has turned into โ€“ yet I believe โ€“ strongly believe that all hope is not lost.

So there I was wondering if itโ€™s time to call my then 10 now 11yr old lady, and thinking of how I wouldย start the topic with her. You seeโ€ฆ.my dilemma is not that I canโ€™t or I donโ€™t believe she should start having pubertal education (I hate to use the common term โ€“ sex education), itโ€™s much deeper than that.

You see….my children don’t have free access to a lot of things. Let me explain.

I removed my children from mainstream education to private/homeschool sort of education quite early (when my 1st child was about 8yrs). I wanted them to strive not only to be doctors, architects, engineers, etc; I also wanted them to be ethically, morally, psychologically sound doctors, architects, engineers, etc. I wanted them to think about decisions from both a secular and spiritual angle before acting. I was also worried about some of the things my daughter had been exposed to via โ€˜friendsโ€™ whose parents were just too busy to be there for them. Doing this gave me a leverage โ€“ I could control the type of people, she and her siblings were exposed too, took TV out of the equation except what was DVD approved by me, only bought them appropriate novels and games that had been tested by me, mobile phones were certainly not in the pictureโ€ฆ.if I had to leave them for long, I had an old fashioned mobile phone without internet access and just a few numbers stored on it, to leave in case of emergency. Internet use for school projects was under my supervision – that way, i could assist from the word go.. I had already quit my job so I was, most of the time, with them. We always did everything together โ€“ fun, trips, school, etc. Donโ€™t get me wrong, I am not being over-protective, ย they still leave the house to go to their structured school, and they still have the right degree of freedom โ€“ think of it from either the Montessori or religious view โ€“ FREEDOM WITHIN LIMITS!

Then my thoughts go to โ€˜sex educationโ€™ as taught by both private and public institutions. I am of the view that what is being taught is a CORRECTIVE angle of sex education, as opposed to a PREVENTIVE angle. Put aside the ‘be safe, use a condom*:-O surpriseย advice, it’s not African neither is it religious-wise and so not an option!

Yes, the poor girls that have been exposed to the brutal life of sexual abuse is sad, and they need all the physical, emotional and psychological support they can get. The main method set up for them is good and usually helps them get over the incident. Itโ€™s aimed at counselling and assisting those that have been exposed to different degrees of abuse or injustice.

But it doesn’t ย mean that the โ€˜smallโ€™ percentage of girls that have had no exposure whatsoever to indecent materials, havenโ€™t looked at what they are not supposed to, or been in contact with people who might otherwise cause them harm should be allowed to use materials that might, otherwise, cause an interest in sexual activities. The little part of the โ€˜sex educationโ€™ package that aims to teach kids about what to look out for is too vivid for the mental ages of the children, and can actually make them want to explore instead of curbing it. My sister-inlaw in the US told me itโ€™s actually an optional thing for parents in her childrenโ€™s school, and though she didnโ€™t opt for it, parent who did regretted their decisions.

There are girls with parents who have time for them and who try their best not to be careless with issues regarding their children. I always wondered why my dad never allowed me to stay over at an uncleโ€™s house for the holidays โ€“ afterall he is family! These girls also have the right to learn about what is going on with their bodies as they transform into young women. They have the right to learn about menstruation with its highs and lows. They have the right to learn how to take care of the bodies and keep it beautiful for their future husbands. They need to know that menstruation and pregnancy is not a curse but a blessing. These must be taught over a period of time, not at once; only when the time is right. Girls are better than pearls and diamonds, so they must see themselves as being so.

The first person with the right to this Pubertal Education is the mother, if she is not available, the nearest female kin to the child is next.

If there are no femalesย  available (just saying), the best option would be a morally upright and preferably religious oriented female in form of the girl childโ€™s female teacher in normal school or religious school โ€“ trusted and approved by the family of the girl child. She would know the mental age of the child and work with that to the best of her ability. Why I hamper on religiosity is because I believe they would not be as blatant and vivid as the government institution that have been given a curriculum by a set of โ€˜expertโ€™ Drs and Profs who spend more time in their offices than not.

There must also be a level of privacy. The genders should be separated when discussing sensitive issues, we don’t want to have the boys smirking or making faces as you talk about the female reproductive system and how menstruation occurs, while the girls are trying to keep a straight face. If you are catering for girls whose mothers don’t have time, I suggest taking a maximum of 5 girls at a time so that they can be straight forward with you, and ask you questions from their hearts. Be careful though, it’s not all the questions they ask that should be given answers when the timing is not right.

I also think the boys should not be left out, the father or closest male kin takes the job of talking about what is happening with their own bodies too, yes – they don’t menstruate but they also have hormones dramatically doing highs and lows, and if they aren’t guided and aided, they might just rebel.

So here is what I did:ย 

I volunteered to take my daughter and her classmates (as part of their home economics class – the textbook was not to my liking) in pubertal education. I prepared a powerpoint presentation, thanks to a sister (Hena Zuberi) who also wrote about the issue on her blog, and also published here. I did further elimination, addition and substitution to both her article and her handouts, and we spent about 3 weeks, 1hr a week to talk about puberty – mainly from the religious view point. It’s an experience I would keep volunteering for as long as there are girls out there to give that caring shoulder and listening ear.

If you are a muslimah looking for tips on this topic, just post your email in the comments box below, I’ll send you an email link forย my online ‘How to teach your adolescent daughter Pubertal education – the Islamic way‘ class free (class will, in sha, Allaah, come up in March) and you get a handout to give her. You would need a WizIQ account, get one here.

Umm Maryam is a mother of four, a teacher, and homeschooler who resides in Nigeria.

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