There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 10th Grade (page 4)
Talkin to Teens
"I've never really talked much with my daughter about sex. But look she's in 10th grade … it's a little late now, don't you think? She'll learn what she needs to in health class."
Parents, it's never too late to talk with your child about sex. True, the ideal is to begin when they're small. Still, your input is valuable at all stages of your child's development. And while health class is an important source of factual information about sex, you are the source of family values.
Teens need to know more than just sexual facts. They want answers about the intangibles of sex. They're curious about the emotions, about values and morals; they want support with dating pressures and expectations; they're confused about sexual feelings and urges; they wonder about love.
Much of what they'd really like to know is highly personal … not health class material. Surveys show that teens wish they could ask mom and dad.
So what keeps teens from approaching parents with their concern? A major obstacle is fear of being judged:
- "If I asked my dad about sex, he'd think I was doing it!"
- "I'm still trying to figure out my own feelings about sex.. like when is the right time, who's the right person, and all that. My folks have pretty set ideas: you have sex if you're married. Period. I'm not sure if I agree with that, but I wouldn't try to talk to them about it. They'd just get mad."
- "I think my parents would really be hurt if I didn't agree with their views about sex. So I don't talk about it."
Other teens avoid the subject because they think parents won't take them seriously:
- "My folks still think I'm a little kid, and that little kids don't need to know this stuff."
- "If I even hint that I think some guy at school is cute, mom teases me. No way could I have a serious discussion with her about sex."
Might some of these concerns be getting in the way for your teen? Imagine sitting down with your 10th grader and saying something like this:
"I really do care how you feel about things, and I understand we won't always agree. That's ok. Just because we have different views doesn't mean our relationship is going to fall apart. I love you. I hope you can come to me with your questions, concerns, ideas—no matter what the subject: sex, drugs, relationships, school. I'll do my best to listen, to understand, and help if I can. I don't often talk to you about these sorts of things because I wouldn't want you to think I'm grilling you. But I am interested, and I'm here if you need me."Opening doors. No matter what your child's age, it's never too late to open doors. There may be disagreements on important issues. Can you accept that … and still keep the doors open? Seen through adult eyes of experience, your teenager's concerns may seem trivial. Can you accept that, and still treat those concerns seriously? While your input is wanted and needed, ultimately your teenager has to take charge, be allowed to grow, and trusted to make personal decisions. Can you accept that, knowing that in the process s/he may choose differently from you, or that s/he will make mistakes?
It takes effort to open doors and keep them open—extra effort if parents and kids have not talked much about these personal issues in the past. But do try now. Parents have so much to offer … and children are so eager to know.
What's a Parent to Do!?
This parenting business is an awesome task … awesome as in stressful, challenging, rewarding, scary, delightful, frustrating, powerful, and incredibly BIG … all at the same time.
Wanting the best for their children, parents struggle to find the right answers, deliver the appropriate guidance and create the deal experiences. And as parents face the awesomeness of parenthood, their kids face the awesomeness of "kidhood," which can be intense.
Specific to sexuality, the confusion and anxieties of both parents and teens reach new heights. No longer is it as simple as, "What about pregnancy?" Sexually transmitted infections, HIV/ AIDS, abortion … the stakes are high at a time when many young people are sexually active and sexually ignorant.
Gaining knowledge and skills to make responsible sexual decisions is one of the most important challenges facing teens. Parents cannot guarantee right answers, appropriate guidance, and ideal experiences. Even if they could, there are no guaranteed results. Parents can, however, build the odds in their children's favor:
1. Be a healthy, positive role model
Watching their own parents and other caring adults relate with one another, teens learn about love and intimacy. Through your behavior, you can teach your children how to create mature, loving relationships (and how to cope with difficult ones). Help them see that sex is wonderful, AND it has its place as part of the larger picture. Emphasize commitment, love and communication as some of the other critical pieces.
Married and single parents alike can model loving, honest relationships. The value of such example is clear. According to Dr. Sol Gordon, an expert in the field of sexuality education: "The quality of love and caring by parents or other important adults in a child's life is the single most significant component of a child's sex education. "
2. Remain connected
Parental expressions of love, attention and support do not lose their importance or appeal during the teen years. While they may not directly request—and may at times resist—signs of affection from mom and dad, teenagers need to hear and feel they are loved. Hugs, kisses, a squeeze of the hand, a pat on the back—whatever is agreed upon—please stay "in touch" with your teen. Experiencing family love and support builds a young person's sense of self worth and can reduce the need to seek love, touch and human connection in less healthy ways.
3. Promote a sense of the future
Help your teenager plan and reach goals. Encourage dreams, ambitions and exploration of career opportunities (avoiding stereotyped male/female options). Vision and goals for a bright future will encourage responsible choices.
4. Pay attention to the process
Growing up is just that—a process. Great opportunities for learning and insight occur all along the way. They're easily missed if adolescence is viewed as a race or survival course, the sole purpose being to get to the end.
Help your teen take the process slowly, to remain attentive and to recognize that it's the experience of the process—appreciation of and learning from growth—which results in true knowledge, awareness and maturity.
The Art of Setting Limits
Young people need and want limits. Sure, they grumble, complain, and generally storm about the house insisting, "That's not fair! You're treating me like a baby! The other kids aren't treated like this." To which a typical (ineffective) parent response is often, "I don't care about the other kids. I care about you!"
Sound familiar? It could be an instant replay of your own teen years. Remember the lines you swore you'd never use if you became a parent? Like: "As long as you live in this house, you live by my rules." "So all the other kids stay out late. You're not the other kids." "I don't have to give you a reason. I said 'no.' That's all there is to it!"
Groan. More and more you use those very words you found frustrating as a teenager. You're not trying to be unreasonable. It's just that you're a parent, with years of life experience, 20-20 hindsight, and memories of being in 10th grade. You want to protect your child. And if you're totally honest, you might admit that you fear losing whatever control you may have left over this "soon-to-be-young-adult."
You know all about teen pregnancies, children having children, sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS. You feel somewhat justified retreating to the tactics your own folks used with you—the absolute rules enforced for your own good.
Yet you know strict prohibitions can backfire. Rigid dictates with no room for negotiation often create rebellion in teens. Parents can't realistically lock them up. Sure, you can try to keep them from experimenting with sex by refusing to allow dating or by imposing strict curfews. Though well-intentioned, such attempts are frequently misguided and futile.
Consider this: Research shows that teenagers typically have sex at home, after school, before mom and/or dad get home from work. It would seem more useful to agree on expectations for after-school activities: a routine of homework, chores, organized programs, sports, etc.
You could insist that no friends be in the house without an adult … at which your child may squawk "I can't believe this! Don't you trust me?" And you might say, "This isn't about trust. It's about helping you avoid difficult situations that you may not know how to handle."
Be up front about your concerns and the basis for your decisions. "Because I'm your parent, that's why!" is ineffective and cultivates resentment and anger. Try this: "I know sexual urges and feelings can be so powerful. It's important we agree on some limits which will help you stay in control of your decisions."
Help your 10th grader set reasonable limits for socializing with friends. Suggest ways to reduce the potential for problems: parties must be chaperoned, no alcohol or drugs, dating in groups, etc. Remember, when kids help create the rules they're more likely to comply. AND, they learn from the process.
Parents want to minimize the chances of kids getting into situations they're not ready to handle. Young people want to avoid that risk too. Yet they may not have developed skills to anticipate or negotiate those situations. So they're relieved to have the limits, and grateful to use mom and dad as an excuse when they need one. Of course, they won't admit to appreciating the boundaries, but that too is part of being a teenager … remember?
Why Should the School Take a Parent's Place as Sex Educator?
It shouldn't! In an ideal world, parents and kids would talk together about sexual issues with ease, grace and comfort. Conversations would be open; accurate information would be presented, values shared, and positive, healthy attitudes toward sexuality promoted. In an ideal world.
The reality is, both parents and kids are looking for assistance with this sex education business. More so than ever before, parents recognize the importance of providing children with the information and skills they need to understand and appreciate sexuality. During the teenage years, certain issues become even more pertinent: peer pressure, dating, sexual decision-making, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, HIV …
In the past, "just say 'no'" might have been enough. It's certainly easier when they're 10. You simply say, "You're not ready for sex. Period." But what do you say when they're 17 or 18?
Parents realize that, given the times we live in, "just say 'no'" is no longer enough to offer our teens. Parents realize that part of their job is to teach adolescents about handling challenges when mom and dad aren't around. Parents are wanting help with this, and increasingly, they seek that help from the schools.
Studies show that nearly 90% of parents favor sex education in the schools. Yet ironically, fewer than 10% of students nationwide receive comprehensive sexuality education programs. What classes are offered are usually far too little, far too late.
Long overdue is the creation of a family-school partnership which actively supports and promotes sexuality education. Serving in advocacy and advisory positions, parents can assist schools in providing quality programs for youth. But the school needs to hear from mom and dad if this is ever to work.
So much energy has been put into painting sex education as a controversial subject, that many school administrators and teachers have come to believe this is so. If you are a parent in support of such education, you deserve to be heard … and your school deserves to hear from you.
Active parent involvement in the curriculum process is an education and an opportunity. It allows for the building of agreement and trust with regard to both the content and quality of the program.
And the outcome? Research shows that school-based sexuality education can make a difference. It can:
- increase knowledge
- reach young people before they are faced with sexual decisions
- increase parent/child communication
- increase decision-making skills
- increase young people's self-esteem
- help teenagers resist premature or exploitive sexual experiences
- give sexually active teens the information and confidence to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Noble achievements. As parents and schools work in partnership for the sexuality education of youth, our children reap the benefits. They emerge the winners. So does the family … and society as a whole.
The program was entitled "Let's Talk About Sex." The purpose was to bring parents and teens together and help them find ways to discuss sexual issues with each other more comfortably, honestly and thoughtfully.
What an eye opener!
The group began by sharing why sex is hard to talk about. They described embarrassment, uncertainty and ignorance around the topic. Parents worried that giving too much information could encourage sexual activity.
"My folks never talked to me about sex. I turned out ok, "one dad offered. "But it's different today," said another. "Teens have sex at younger ages, become pregnant, get abortions, have babies … they need information! I'm just not sure how to give it."
The teenagers feared parental judgment. "I'm not having sex, but if I start asking a lot of questions, my parents might think I am." "Most kids who are having sex know their parents would be furious if they knew. They're not going to talk about it!" One young man added, "Adults get kind of preachy about what they think is right for their kids. Nobody likes getting preached at. Anyway, it doesn't work."
Interestingly enough, when asked how well their own families communicate about sex, parents and teens had very different opinions. Parents saw themselves as more open and willing to discuss sexual issues than their kids did. The teenagers assumed mom and dad wouldn't want to talk about it, so they didn't bother to ask. Many agreed that parents covered the basics of sex … "the plumbing:" menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, etc. But they wanted to know so much more!
"Like what?" the teens were asked. "What else do you wish you could discuss with your parents?" They wrote feverishly (and anonymously) on cards that were then read to the group.
What an eye opener! Here's what these young people wrote:
- What's wrong with teens, say, 17 or 18—having sex if they really care about each other and if they use protection?
- How does a person know if s/he's gay? Can s/he change?
- How do you know what to do when you have sex?
- My best friend's getting an abortion. Nobody else knows. What do I say to her?
- I know a girl whose boyfriend forced her to have sex with him. He said she lead him on. Is that rape?
Parents were amazed at the depth and complexity of the issues. It hadn't occurred to them that 15-year-olds wondered about some of this stuff. "I'm not sure what to say," one mother exclaimed. She was not alone.
The following resources were suggested for great information and the practical "how-to's" of talking about sex.
Talking With Your Teenager
Ruth Bell & Leni Zeiger Wildflower
Random House Trade Paperbacks, 1984
Click Here to Purchase This Book
Two Teenagers in Twenty: Writings by Gay and Lesbian Youth
Ann Heron (Editor)
Alyson Publications, 1995, reprint edition
Click Here to Purchase This Book
Straight from the Heart: How to Talk to Your Teenagers About Love and Sex
Click Here to Purchase This Book
Talk About Sex, SIECUS, 1992
It was useful for parents and teens to hear from each other about the anxieties and discomforts that might get in the way of talking together about sexuality. To parents, teens suggest:
"Listen, as well as talk; please respect our differences; discuss, don't preach; don't wait for us to ask." And the parents advised teenagers: "Listen, as well as talk; please respect our differences; discuss, don't argue; Don't wait for us … ASK!
What an eye opener!
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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