There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 12th Grade (page 2)
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.
What to Do?!
Teens may think the only choice to be made about sex is: "Should I or shouldn't I" The reality is, sexual decision making involves a lot more than merely deciding whether to have sex, and if so, when and with whom.
Life after high school brings increasing opportunities to decide about sex. If your family hasn't addressed this issue thoroughly, NOW IS THE TIME! Avoiding open discussion about sexual decisions only serves to leave young people unprepared.
For teens, it can be incredibly complicated … so many conflicting messages from "Just say 'no'" to "Go for it!" No wonder they're confused.
In fact, that's a good place to begin a conversation with your teen about this whole business of sexual decision making. Consider using the following exercise.
You and your teen complete and discuss these statements:
About sexual intercourse,
my parents tell me _______________ .
my friends tell me _______________ .
my religion tells me _______________ .
the media tells me _______________ .
I believe _______________ .
How do the messages differ? What conflict can this cause? How might the conflict be resolved? Who can assist? Repeat the process for several topics, including dating and relationships, pregnancy, birth control, abortion, living together outside of marriage, etc.
This isn't about who's right or wrong; it's about identifying and evaluating the range of sexual messages out there. Ultimately your teen must clarify what s/he truly believes. Only then can there be informed and thoughtful decision making.
This exercise requires safety to address such personal issues. To create that safety, establish some agreements, for example:
- Discussion is confidential.
- You can speak honestly, without fear of consequence.
- You have the right to speak without interruption.
- You may pass any time.
(NOTE: Establish only those agreements which you and your teen will honor and follow. If you have difficulty with agreements, consider asking for assistance from a third party, for example, a family friend, counselor, etc.)
Remind your teen that "Your body belongs to you. You decide how to express yourself, sexually and otherwise."
"Right now, you have the ability to say 'yes' or 'no' to sexual activity, regardless of pressure you may feel from your peers, your parents—whoever—to make the decision they want you to make. Ultimately it's up to you. Whatever you decide, choose thoughtfully."
"Consider how you make your decisions. If it's by impulse, have you truly thought things through? If your judgment is clouded (by drugs, alcohol, stress, etc.), how might this affect your decisions? If you let someone else decide for you, do you risk going against what you really believe and feel? If you don't make and clearly express a decision, might this encourage someone else to step in and decide for you? If you evaluate options and then decide, how might that increase your power to make choices that are consistent with your personal values?"
Important decisions in life deserve thought, evaluation, and careful consideration. Help your teen appreciate that personal power, freedom and self-respect come from taking charge of one's life choices.
Sexual decision making is a very big deal for teenagers today. What's sad is that most are totally unprepared for the challenge.
Your teen needn't be one of them.
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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