I am a nurse educator for a non-profit that provides free childbirth education classes and case management for pregnant teenagers and their partners. My classes are almost always riddled with at least one or two teen parents who think that any/all body parts are super “gross.”
In fact, I just taught the breastfeeding class — my very favorite — last night. I had a teen dad tossing around my breast model and making jokes before I even got a chance to start.
How do I deal with teens who think body parts are gross?
1. I always reinforce anatomical terms
It is an expectation of our classes that all our teens and their guests use appropriate language, including the correct names for various body parts and activities one can do with said body parts. I think it helps to de-sexualize them a bit and make them like any other body part on our incredibly awesome bodies (arm, leg, breast).
2. Respect their comfort levels
Not only is it normal for teens and pre-teens to have those types of feelings about their changing bodies, but often times “gross” is just teen-speak for “embarrassed.”
I am also constantly working to remember (because I work with groups of girls and boys) that some of them have very negative associations with their “private parts.” This may not apply to all teens, but many of our clients have experienced molestation (often times by a relative or family friend) and rape. Breasts have an entirely different meaning and feeling for those girls. And pushing that positivity towards breasts on them might be damaging.
3. If they’re interested or a good opportunity presents itself, teach a little about the human body
While the breastfeeding class always starts with giggles and groans, by the time we’re 15 minutes in, everyone is riveted. The teens (boys and girls alike) are always amazed at what the breast can do and how it is designed to work. By the end of class, I have 15- and 16-year-old dads raising their hands to tell me how much areola should be showing above and below baby’s mouth to indicate a good latch. They begin to use the terms themselves and (I’d like to think) walk away with a better understanding and respect for the human body and for breasts themselves.
A great way to do this (in a non-breastfeeding class context) would be through books. Knowledge is power, especially if you have a reader on your hands. Check these out:
- It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris
- What’s Happening to My Body, book for girls and boys
- What’s Happening to Me? by Susan Meredith
- And let’s not forget good ole’ Judy Blum, Dear God, are you there, its Me Margaret
I am really passionate about teaching young people about their amazing bodies (pregnant bodies in particular) and, as the big sister to a 15-year-old brother, it matters to me how he grows up viewing his body and the bodies of others. The best thing of all is to make yourself available and trustworthy, so your teen knows that they can share their feelings about breasts, puberty, and anything else with you!
What are some of the ways that you’re teaching teens about bodies?