There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 12th Grade
The Value of Values
There's all this talk about teaching "values" around sexuality: sharing family "values"; respecting that the "values" of others may be different; acting on one's personal "values."
Just what are these things called "values" anyway? Where do they come from? Do they change over time, and if so, does that mean they weren't really "values" in the first place?
Values are personal truths upon which we base our life decisions. We may not recall consciously choosing our values: they just seem to be there, influencing our attitudes and behaviors.
With such vagueness about values, we can have difficulty explaining them to children. Parents may have little experience defining or examining their values around sexuality, so attitudes and beliefs may be passed on without much active discussion.
It's important to revisit our core beliefs from time to time; to clarify, alter if necessary, and reaffirm what is true for us. This can be scary, since it forces us to examine what we say we value and what we truly value. It also makes us face how well our behaviors match our beliefs. This process of "e-value-ation" allows us to better guide our children in developing their own personal values about sexuality.
This process is healthy—and sometimes painful—as people examine long accepted codes. Families confront the possibility that the kids' values may not always line up with the folks. And it's incredibly enriching to discover there is common ground.
We teach children values around sexuality through words, but perhaps more importantly by modeling behaviors we see as right and just. Media and peers also promote values (or lack of) in the messages they deliver.
Moving toward independence, teens need opportunities to question, examine, and test values. Then they can freely and consciously form their personal value system. This allows them to truly "own" their values—to have the conviction to live by them.
It's a difficult balance for parents: striving to support sons and daughters in choosing their own values, while at the same time offering input and guidance. It requires trust that children are capable of choosing values that will work well for them in their lives. We can help our teens by communicating openly about issues such as love, relationships, premarital sex, birth control, sexual orientation, abortion, pregnancy, parenting, sexually transmitted infections, etc. Parents and teens need the freedom to express to one another what they know, feel, value and expect around each of these issues.
The following exercise can help in clarifying values around sexuality. Parents can do it alone or with their teens. For each statement, explain why you agree, feel neutral, or disagree:
- Premarital sex is wrong.
- Teens should have access to birth control without parental consent.
- Abortion should be legal.
- A career for married women is most acceptable after the children are older.
- If a 15-year-old becomes pregnant, she should place the baby for adoption.
- Gay and lesbian couples should have the freedom to adopt.
Your 12th grader's decisions around sexuality will be greatly affected by the ability to clarify, express, affirm and act on personal values. These are skills which improve with practice. If parents encourage such practice within the safety of the family, they better prepare their teen for life beyond high school.
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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