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Sexual Health

Parents can support the healthy sexual development of their children by being knowledgeable about age-appropriate educational materials. Educating your child about sexual health will be easier with the help of these online resources.

Puberty usually begins at around age 10 for girls when breasts begin to form. Following the development of breasts, you can expect your daughter to go through a growth spurt, pubic hair growth and underarm hair growth.

Menarche is the first period or menstruation a girl will have. For Canadians, this usually occurs between ages 12 and 13 though many girls experience this at an earlier age. Many girls are aware of menstruation before they have a first period and they usually have mixed feelings about this event. Talking to your child before her first menstruation is important. She will have some sexual health education if she attends a public school in Manitoba, but having parents talk about menstruation lets her know she can ask questions and discuss her changing body with you if she wants to. If you talk about menstruation as a normal life event it may reduce any shame or embarrassment your child may feel.

Boys usually begin puberty around 11, when testes begin to enlarge and the skin covering the testicles (the scrotum) changes in colour and texture. Shortly afterwards, pubic hair will begin to grow and the penis will enlarge. Around age 13, your teen will begin his growth spurt and his voice will deepen. Around 14, his penis and testes will have finished growing and a year later his pubic hair growth will also be completed.

At around age 13, your son will have his first ejaculation. Boys are less likely to speak to friends or family about puberty than girls, so it is a good idea to speak to him before it happens. It?s also a good idea to talk to your son about nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams. Wet dreams are when a boy ejaculates in his sleep. Many boys know about ejaculation and erections, but they don?t often talk about it in a way that gives them positive or accurate information.

When you talk to your child about puberty and sex, you can let your child know that sexuality is a normal and private part of life and that she can always talk to you about her questions and concerns. To ensure your child understands how to care for all parts of her body without being embarrassed or ashamed, it's best to provide positive and accurate information.

It's important that parents talk to their children in a non-judgmental way. Many families find it easier for one parent to discuss puberty and sex, but it is often better for your child if all parents are able to talk about it. It is also best to talk to your child about sexuality and sexual health in multiple, shorter conversations throughout her childhood and teen years as this will let her know that you are always around to listen, talk and provide answers.

For many children and teens, the beginning of puberty and the next few years can be very difficult because their bodies are adult-like but their minds are still developing. Often the quick physical changes do not give them much time to adjust to their bodies and hormones. Many children and teens are also confused about the different messages they receive from family, friends and media about sexuality, independence and the tween years.

Here are some resources for talking with your child about sexuality:

Dating

It may seem early to you but in a few years, your middle years child may start to express interest in dating. For some older middle years children, dating means hanging out in a group of boys and girls. They may want to go to the mall or movies, somewhere that they can interact without pressure to be alone or be seen as doing something different that they wouldn't normally do with friends.

Many middle years children are interested in dating but still feel very awkward or uncomfortable talking about dating. Letting your child know that it is normal to have mixed feelings may ease their embarrassment, though it might not make them more comfortable talking to you about it. You might still hear, "MOM! I can't believe you asked me that!" or he might just shrug his shoulders and walk away. However your child reacts, you'll still send the message that you are there to talk when he is ready.

Whether or not your child is able to date at a particular age like 12 or 14 will be up to you. However, it is a good idea to speak to your child about dating. You might want to ask him what dating means to him, where he would want to go, who else will be going, and who the person is that he would like to date. Setting rules and expectations are a good way to ensure that both you and your child know what is happening and what acceptable dating behaviour is.

This is also a good time to talk about healthy, respectful relationships. You can talk to your child about respecting her date's boundaries and values and being in touch with his or her own.  

If your child believes she is gay, lesbian, bisexual or if she is questioning his or her sexual orientation, be supportive by listening to his or her thoughts and questions. Let her know that you support her decisions and will be there to help her find her way. There are many great resources in Manitoba for children, parents and family members. If your child tells you she thinks she is a lesbian, be honoured that she felt comfortable and safe to share her news with you. Some children have a difficult time ?coming out? or sharing their sexual orientation to their parents. Just by telling you, she is showing you that she knows you love her unconditionally and will always be there for her. For some children, coming out is a joyous, celebratory occasion. For others, it is bitter-sweet as they may not know how family and friends will treat them. Tell your child that you are there for her ? no matter what others may think or say.

Dating for gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning youth can be more challenging as partners may not have come out yet or they may be worried about being bullied or being discriminated against. Finding support groups and gay-positive organizations with your child may increase her positive relationship experiences.

If you think your child might be gay but he hasn't said anything to you about his sexuality, be patient. He will tell you, if there is anything to tell, when he is ready. If you are having a hard time with your child's coming out, it's okay. Sometimes when we have children we imagine how their lives will be when they are older and when things turn out differently we can have a difficult time adjusting. Know that the adjustment period may take some time, as you have to let go of the image you had in mind for your child. Remember that your child needs to know you love him, always.

Parents can support the healthy sexual development of their children by being knowledgeable about age-appropriate educational materials. Educating your child about relationships and sexual health will be easier with the help of the online resources above.  

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