Let’s face it: Children today are exposed to and have more access to adult sexual information and images than at any other time in history. Sex pervades contemporary culture, and is evident in everything from television commercials to the Internet.
Recent studies suggest that this generation of children is reaching puberty at a much earlier age than previous generations. Reports indicate that children as young as eight are displaying secondary sexual characteristics (that is, pubic hair and breast development).
What are the implications of early onset of puberty combined with early exposure to sexually stimulating themes in the media?
As a professional who works with children and families, I have observed some troubling behaviors exhibited by young teens due to their immaturity in the face of exposure to sexually explicit materials:
- A 6th-grader was selling pornographic pictures at school. He had downloaded these images from the Internet and printed them on a color printer. He reported making quite a profit before being caught.
- A 15-year-old girl revealed that she had 15 sexual partners in her young life.
- A 14-year-old girl explained that anal intercourse was a good way to prevent pregnancy.
- A 14-year-old boy tried to convince me that adults working in porno films were doing it because it was “fun.” He went on to say that he would do it for money.
- Several young teen boys racked up thousands of dollars in phone charges to 900 numbers.
Education Must Begin Sooner
Children are maturing much earlier physically than they are emotionally and cognitively. And yet, while children in the 2nd and 3rd grades are entering the initial stages of puberty, they may not receive the information they need to handle these changes in health class for another two years. This raises two important questions:
- What is the level of anxiety for these children who are experiencing such physical changes before they have been prepared for them?
- Are these children receiving the type of health care they need at this critical stage of development?
Many professionals now believe that there is a need for schools and parents to give children the information and education they need about the physical and emotional changes related to puberty at earlier ages.