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Changes in Puberty Lessons Urged

June 24, 1999

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Girls who mature early should be given the option of learning about puberty and menstruation in the fourth grade, a year before most other girls, a national group of school nurses proposed Thursday.

The earlier starting date is necessary in part because many girls are exposed to issues of sexuality at a younger age, said Judy Robinson, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses.

``You’d be amazed at what kids are asking these days,″ she said. ``They want to know about (sexual) positions.″

Generally, children in the United States receive sex education in the fifth grade.

For the past three decades, the accepted belief was that puberty started between ages 10 and 12. But a 1997 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that puberty for girls can begin as early as 8.

Girls who have developed early, or are observed by teachers to be using more sexual language or behaving in sexual ways, could be selected to take the fourth-grade classes, Robinson said.

Under the plan approved by the nurses association, parents could choose to exclude their children from the fourth-grade class.

Sandy Gadsden, a board member of the school nurses group, said there is another reason for teaching girls about puberty at a younger age: the proliferation of sexual images and messages on television and elsewhere.

``Children are surrounded by sexual messages, and not all of them are healthy,″ Gadsden said. ``It’s important to establish a baseline of information so girls can evaluate all the messages.″

In addition, Gadsden said, an early education about puberty can help reassure girls who are harassed because they have developed earlier than their peers.

``Young girls need to be armed with understanding and knowledge to be assertive that their body is their own,″ Gadsden said.

Some parents and educators questioned whether a little girl has the emotional maturity to deal with these issues.

Marsha Campbell, a health education specialist at the state Department of Education, said: ``It would be foolish and misleading to say they are all ready or they all aren’t. Everyone’s different. You have to know you’re community and you have to know who you’re teaching.″

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