Monday, July 17, 2017

Birds and Bees by the Book

Birds and Bees by the Book, Patricia Weerakoon

How do you answer your children’s questions about sex, gender and why various families are different? Do you struggle to come up with a succinct, age-appropriate answer and find yourself going “uhhh, uuuum…”.

What about when your primary-schooler says: “My friend has two mummies” or “There was a boy at school, but now he has a girl’s name and uses the girls’ toilets”?

What about the more straightforward question: “How did the baby get there?” Or when your daughter asks, “Why does my brother have a penis, when do I grow one?”

Thankfully, there is a new resource available to help parents: Patricia Weerakoon’s series “Birds and Bees by the Book”. I spent a week with Miss 9 and Miss 12 reading these six, small, readable books aimed at 7-10 year olds, and have also gathered the opinions of a few friends. Here are some of our thoughts:

Me and my family. A lovely book describing families in all their variations. It starts with God’s design for marriage beginning with Adam and Eve, and while many families have a mum, dad and kids; many don’t, including step-families, adoption, fostering, extended and gay families. Each is simply explained with the overarching theme that God loves you and your family; and that if you love Jesus you’re also part of God’s family.

Me and my body. About our unique bodies, how they're all different and all made by God. Kids are encouraged to protect and care for their bodies because they’re special. This one jumps around a bit and the logic doesn’t seem as obvious, including comments about cyberbullying, being careful about wanting to look older than you are, and knowing the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad touch’. It’s got a slightly more negative, warning feel to it than the others, but the topics covered are helpful and needed.

Me and my brain. A helpful perspective and one often missing in sex education. By describing how a brain can be healthy or unhealthy because of what we feed it, she paves the way for children to desire healthy brains that grow strong. With an instructive explanation of how the brain works, including both thinking and feeling; and how they are still growing, my girls laughed in understanding that yes, their brains just want to have fun and not think about consequences!

Learning about sex. The message is that sex is good, for marriage and for when you’re older. Using the term ‘sexual activity’ draws the helpful distinction that sex is more than intercourse. Weerakoon highlights that only adults are ready for sexual love; but as a kid, you love lots of people with friendship or family love. I loved the explanation of how you need to change to be ready to be married: your body needs to develop, you brain needs to grow, and you need to be able to care for and look after another person. There are also instructive comments on what to do if someone touches you in a way that makes you feel bad, if you see pictures online, and if you like touching yourself.

On a minor note, I was surprised by the statement that that all children come out through their mother’s vagina. These days with so many born by caesarean, it seems odd not to include it as an option.

Learning about gender. Carefully and appropriately addresses gender issues, including how boys and girls are different; but they don’t have to act in stereotypical ways. Introducing both intersex and transgender concepts, overall there's a clear encouragement to be kind and love others, no matter who they are or how they feel about themselves.

Learning about pornography. Explains pornography as ‘pictures and videos that are bad for you and unhealthy for your brain’, expanding that to include people without clothes, hurting each other or having sexual activity. This is a slightly oversimplified description, but it probably works within the context and for the age group. Again, using the idea of the thinking brain and the feeling brain, kids are encouraged to use both when deciding what is healthy for them and what isn’t, and how to respond when they see pornography.

One of the great strengths of this whole series is that it's grounded in God's love for us. God has made us and we can be part of his family. There’s a strong message to follow Jesus’ example and love each other, never bullying or teasing, but always caring for others, even if they are different. These probably are the key messages for this age group (and all of us!)

I did have a few hesitations.
  1. Each book finished with a page saying “Feeling confused? Why not talk with the adult reading this book with you”. It’s a helpful way to flag the need to check with your child, but it's a bit patronising. It also reduces the power of the book’s message,  almost assuming kids will still be confused at the end. And what about for the child who is reading it on their own? It might have been preferable to suggest speaking to an adult if you have any questions without assuming someone was reading the book aloud.
  2. There seemed to be a slight disconnect between the language and illustrations (which are  younger), and the material and concepts presented (which are a bit older); especially the gender and pornography books, which I can imagine parents waiting for a while to read. The illustrations are lovely and cover a range of ethnic groups, but I did wonder if they would appeal more to younger readers.
Of course, this is not the only resource out there on the topic and hopefully by age 7, conversations have already begun about bodies and sex. If they haven’t, I highly recommend starting with God Made Your Body (age 2-4) and How God Makes Babies (age 6-9). After that, this series is a great option to fill in more details for the 7-10 age group. Note this series does not address the changes of puberty at all – for that you need to go to Growing Up by the Book or other material (eg. What’s the Big Deal?).

As with all Weerakoon’s books (eg. The Best Sex for Life, Growing Up By the Book, she doesn’t shy away from tricky topics, and provides up-to-date, age-appropriate information, while still bringing us back to the truths of God’s love and salvation in Christ. With her wealth of experience, you can be confident much thought and knowledge has gone into them. Overall, this is a series I would happily recommend to anyone with kids in aged 7-10 (and even a bit older, if it’s taken you a while to broach these topics!).

(Copies of books provided by Growing Faith)

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