Discussing sex and puberty with kids is difficult. Extreme awkwardness aside, parents often hold outdated ideas about the birds-and-the-bees talk since they had theirs decades ago. Just trying to determine exactly when your son is ready for “the talk” or navigating your preteen daughter’s wild, tearful mood swings is tough.
That’s why Jodi Kaye, a registered nurse and mother of three, opened The Rites of Passage in January 2016. Her company specializes in parent-child classes that address puberty, menstruation and much more — all in an open and welcoming environment.
“I’ve been a nurse for 17 years, and I’ve always enjoyed the teaching aspect of my job,” Kaye says. “But my main motivation for starting The Rites of Passage came from a more personal place. I have three daughters, and I knew that I was going to need help with getting through some of these conversations myself, and would need help with walking my daughters through this whole process of growing up.”
Each class Kaye offers examines specific topics by age and gender. She teaches six parent-child and parent-only courses, including Changing U for mothers and daughters, Boys 2 Men for fathers and sons, and Speaking the Unspeakable just for parents; it’s about tackling tough issues like sexuality in today’s world and how to stress family values. There’s also a class just for dads of daughters to better understand exactly what their growing girls are going through.
“I started teaching these types of classes through a different company I was working with,” Kaye says. “There was just such a strong need here in Arizona for these types of classes that I decided that I would make it official by writing my own curriculum and developing my own program — and it’s been great.”
Sean Alfonso, father of 11-year-old Isabella and 8-year-old Ava, took the Puberty Boot Camp for Dads class, not only so that he could be well-prepared for the inevitable, but also to lay the groundwork for opening lines of communication with his daughters.
“As a single dad who has his daughters more than 50 percent of the time, I knew that (one of them) starting menstruation would more than likely happen on my watch,” Alfonso says.
“That was a big part of why I took the class, but there was more to it. When I went through puberty, I remember what emotions I felt and how I acted and how things changed. But as a man, I couldn’t tell you what’s going through a grown woman’s mind, let alone my little girl’s mind as prepubescent teen. As a parent, I wanted to build this environment that my children can feel comfortable in and build that trust that they can talk to me about anything.”
Parents can sign up for public monthly classes in schools and medical offices, or host small, in-home classes for friends and family members. Classes — taught by Kaye and another educator — are 1½ to 2½ hours, and some end with bonus activities, such as cupcake decorating. Hosts get a 25 percent discount on tuition with 10 parent-child attendees (20 students total). Kaye has combined small groups or invited a single parent-child couple to meet minimum attendee requirements.
Karen Snyder, mom of 9-year-old daughter Camille, attended the Changing U class with friends and strangers.
“We were interacting with a group of about 50 percent friends and 50 percent people that I didn’t know,” Snyder says. “But (the instructor) was able to get us all to bridge the gap between people we had just met and made us feel comfortable enough to speak frankly and openly about our own transitions into womanhood.”
For Kaye, helping parents to educate their preteens on sensitive subjects, such as proper self-care or the benefits of comprehensive sexual education versus abstinence-only programs, has been an exercise in teaching parents about topics that their mothers and fathers never discussed adequately — if at all.
“I hear from so many parents who say from their own experiences that they were just given a big book with no explanation, or that their mom said something very quick and indirect and having nothing to do with puberty or menstruation,” Kaye says. “There’s this huge stigma out there associated with talking about these subjects to begin with, and a lot of parents don’t even have a blueprint of how to have these talks.”
With organizations like The Rites of Passage, grown-ups have a real shot at changing the communicative landscape with their growing-up kids for the better.
Rites of Passage classes
• Speaking the Unspeakable. Parents will gain an in-depth understanding of the realities and risks facing adolescents. The class features an honest look at sexuality today and offers ways parents can talk to their children about difficult topics.
• Changing U. This mother/daughter puberty communication class, is geared toward girls ages 8 to 10. It covers the basics of self-care and menstruation while promoting the special bond between mothers and daughters.