By Lisa Russ
Seems to me that simple, clear communication works best, even with young kids. When there is a threat or an opportunity I let my kids know in plain and simple terms. No running with scissors. Walk carefully near the edge of a pool. Put the matches down. So far this plain-talking strategy has kept ER visits to a minimum and led to a relatively peaceful life with 2 pre-schoolers.
Judging from the turbulence caused by a sex ed curriculum under consideration by the School Board in Helena, MT, there are people who disagree. According to Fox News, some local parents are in a tizzy about their kindergartners learning the actual words for their body parts, including those covered by their bathing suits. When we as parents want to, and need to, communicate important information to our kids (or hear important information from them), why wouldn’t we use the right words? Their objections to the curriculum go on from there, but it seems grounded in the same basic fear of information.
The data, as usual, supports a reasonable approach. Teens who have accurate information, resources and support around their bodies and sexuality are better armed to make the daily decisions that affect their well-being both now and into the future. According to recent research, the average age for first-time sex for white Evangelical Protestants is 16, among the earliest average age for any group. They are also the least likely of any group of teens to use contraception, and the most likely to have been given abstinence-only sex ed, which I guess avoids using actual names for body parts until pretty late in the game.
This from the Dallas Observer last year:
In "Just Say Don't Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools," researchers David Wiley and Kelly Wilson of Texas State University took a comprehensive look at how sexuality is taught in Texas public schools. The short answer: It isn't really. Kids are, however, being taught: A) sex will KILL YOU DEAD RIGHT NOW; B) only depressive, suicidal, loser slut bunnies ever have sex outside of marriage; and C) condoms kill more people than handguns.
Despite the fact that Texas ranks third in the rate of teen pregnancies and that its students are more sexually active and that they have more sex partners than the average U.S. student, sex ed here is nearly exclusively devoted to abstinence education, often with a religious bent. Information about contraception, disease prevention and STD testing is most often scarce or, worse, wildly inaccurate.
Like Texas, many of the same states that resist comprehensive sex ed are the same places that pride themselves on loose laws for gun ownership. Gun-rights advocates maintain that straight-forward education, not regulation and licensing, is the best way to keep kids safe.
The National Rifle Association leads the way: they have a cool program called Eddie Eagle, aimed at exactly the same age group those parents are up in arms about learning about their own bodies. According to the site, the curriculum is designed to be used in schools. Anyone can use it--you don’t need to be an NRA member or certified to teach anything at all. The curriculum is even available in Spanish.
According to the NRA, it doesn’t aim to teach kids that guns are either “good or bad”, but rather how to stay safe when you see one. “Like swimming pools, electrical outlets, matchbooks and household poison, they're treated simply as a fact of everyday life. With firearms found in about half of all American households, it's a stance that makes sense.”
I don’t have a gun in the house, but I can agree with that line of thinking. Like it or not, guns are around, so kids at an early age should learn how to be safe around them.
Now, genitals, at my last count, are in 100% of households. Why not use the same common sense approach that knowledge is power, and give our kids straight forward, age appropriate information?
That is exactly why a new toolkit launched by EMERJ called The New Sex Ed is so important. The New Sex Ed is full of useful community-created and tested strategies to help parents and educators implement useful and effective sex ed programs that are based in real people's experiences. Given the fight the Right has picked against teaching science, health, and touchy subjects like evolution and global warming, advocates for the truth need great resources like these to support parents, communities and school boards in making informed choices about educating their kids.
I also want to give parents in Texas and Montana credit. The Dallas Observer article also says that polls show that the overwhelming majority of Texans want teens to get accurate, useful information about sexual health, but until this report, "legislators and other policymakers had no idea what sexuality education looked like in the state and neither did parents."
I have a feeling that most parents in Montana want the same thing. Fox News’s distortions not withstanding, parenting young kids is good at teaching us all one thing: Facts Please.