Texas Tech University

Expert: Age-Appropriate Sex Education Helps Teens Cope with Puberty

Heidi Toth

March 29, 2016

Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo created a sexual development curriculum for sixth-graders intended to explain all the changes that go along with puberty.


Talking about sex with children has never made any parent or teacher overly comfortable, which may result in children hitting puberty with little understanding of why their bodies are changing, what it means and how to handle changing relationships with their peers.

Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo, an associate professor of human development and family studies at Texas Tech University, created a sexual development curriculum for sixth-graders intended to explain all the changes that go along with puberty, including emotional, cognitive and relationship development. In four years, she and a graduate student have taught more than 1,000 sixth-graders the Normalized Sexual Development curriculum, which now is mandatory for that age group in the Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District.

Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo
Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo

As an adolescent and human development researcher, Trejos-Castillo focuses her research on the importance of individual characteristics and contextual factors that contribute to risk-taking behaviors and deviance in youth, with a particular focus on ethnic minorities and at-risk groups. She is an international adjunct professor at the Universidad CES in Medellin, Colombia.

She also is a leader in the Teen Straight Talk program in Lubbock and was associate editor of The Journal of Early Adolescence for seven years. Trejos-Castillo has worked with teenagers for almost two decades.


Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo, associate professor of human development and family studies, (806) 834-6080 or elizabeth.trejos@ttu.edu

Talking points

  • Sixth-graders, most of whom are not yet in puberty, confused the onset of puberty with the need to have relationships, kiss or have sex. Previous curricula also didn't explain why their bodies were changing or the mental and emotional aspects of human development.
  • When students are given the opportunity to ask questions, write their thoughts down and use their own voices when discussing these sensitive subjects, they are better able to understand and retain the information. The research shows students know more about human development and have better self-esteem at the end of this curriculum than at the beginning.
  • Emphasizing the normalcy of sexual development helps children and teenagers, as well as parents and educators, talk about these issues.


  • The idea of normalized sexual development is exactly that – this is normal, this has to happen. We can't stop it, so we better empower the teenagers to know what's going on with their bodies.”
  • “Their questions are more related to biology – how and why is my body changing? Is this gross? Is this normal? They don't ask anything about being intimate with anybody or having these sexual relationships with anybody.”
  • “Information is power, and I wish more teenagers would be empowered by getting the right information on time. You realize you have to develop something that's just appropriate for them.”

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