Puberty is a time of physical and social transition. Children’s capacity for critical thinking is evolving quickly as they approach adolescence, opening up possibilities for meaningful reflection and self-awareness. At the same time, they are facing rapid changes in their social worlds. For example, pressures to conform to gender norms intensify, with girls often becoming more submissive, while boys absorb pressures to be tough. Some young people question their sexual orientation or their gender identity. All of these changes affect young people’s self-confidence, school connectedness, and the classroom culture.
The attitudes children develop about gender and relationships affect their well-being over the long term. For example, evidence shows that young people who have more egalitarian attitudes about gender or are in more equal romantic relationships, have lower rates of intimate partner violence, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections. Gender-variant children who are in supportive environments are less vulnerable to serious depression. And children who bully in sixth grade are more likely to be physically abusive in dating relationships. Studies demonstrate that effective curricula can promote young people’s sense of tolerance and respect, their communication and relationships skills, their knowledge of their own bodies, and their ability to keep safe.
The Population Council created iMatter, an integrated approach to teaching younger adolescents about gender, puberty, and rights. It aims to foster students’ social and emotional learning and to promote their connectedness to school. iMatter includes a curriculum, puberty booklets, and a web-based application for grades 4–6. After a highly successful pilot phase, iMatter has been introduced across urban school districts and community-based organizations reaching younger adolescents.
The curriculum includes eight 60-minute lessons, aligned to US Common Core learning standards that focus on:
- Becoming an adolescent
- Body image
- Fairness and respect
- Harassment and bullying
- Communication skills and resolving conflicts
The web-based application includes 32 activities that engage young people in personal reflection, creativity, or critical thinking, such as by viewing a video clip and writing a poem, essay, or story in response; writing and recording a hip-hop song using background beats in the app; or completing a crossword puzzle or true/false quiz. Students submit completed missions to a teacher or group facilitator, who can comment, grade the submission, or in some cases share submissions with other students.
For more information about introducing iMatter to your school system or organization, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.