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2001: kids need parents as sexuality educators; we need parents as advocates.

For many years now, we have given lip service to the phrase "parents are their children's first sexuality educators." We have talked about their importance when, in fact, we know that many parents and caregivers are not talking to their children about sexuality-related issues. We hear that they often do not know when or how to start these conversations, that they feel ill-equipped to handle discussions, and that even those parents who are talking to their children about sexuality are not spending enough time on these issues.

Our Next Frontier

I am so pleased that we are devoting this entire issue of the SIECUS Report to "Parents and Caregivers as Sexuality Educators." I believe this is our next frontier in assuring that young people are well prepared to make decisions about their sexual health.

While we must continue to assure that our schools are providing high quality sexuality education, we must accept the fact that schools alone cannot meet the needs of our youth. Increasingly, schools are not offering comprehensive sexuality education and, even under the most ideal school conditions, teachers cannot replace parents when it comes to topics as value-laden as sexuality.

As part of our work, we must assure that parents and caregivers are involved in sexuality education in a meaningful way. We must help them obtain the information and skills to foster open and ongoing conversations with their kids starting at a very young age and continuing throughout the teen years. We must also help them understand that they need to talk not only about anatomy and reproduction but also about their own values and beliefs relating to sexuality and sexual behavior.

Kids Need Parents to Share

As I travel the country and talk with young people, one thing that they always tell me they want is to hear from their parents. This desire has been confirmed by the research. Kids report that they want to hear from their parents; and not just about "sex," but also about love, values and relationships.

Deborah Roffman, the author of the new book Sex & Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense about Sex, recently said in an interview that kids grow up healthier in families where sexuality is acknowledged and discussed. She added that kids need adults to:

* recognize and validate their particular stage of sexual development

* give them age-appropriate information about sexuality

* share their values in the context of competing values in the surrounding culture

* create a safe, healthy environment by stating and reinforcing age-appropriate rules

* teach them how to handle potentially harmful situations and make responsible and healthy choices of their own

In order to reach these goals, we need to start by relieving the anxiety and embarrassment parents often feel when talking about sexuality. We then need to help parents and caregivers know what to talk about and the age at which discussions on each topic are appropriate. As Ms. Roffman says, we must help parents understand that knowing doesn't equal doing. In fact, more than 30 studies tell us that giving young people accurate information about abstinence and contraception will not increase sexual behavior and can, in some instances, delay young people's involvement in sexual behavior.

We Need Parents as Advocates

Once parents are more comfortable with sexuality and see themselves as sexuality educators, they will be more likely to ask what is happening at their schools and throughout their communities. They will begin to inquire about the scope of sexuality education courses, the curricula and materials used, and the training and background of the teachers. In doing so, they will become advocates for comprehensive sexuality education.

Conclusion

As professionals, it is our responsibility to reach out to parents and caregivers, support them, and help them become comfortable with their role as sexuality educators. Our ultimate goal is to see parents and educators become partners, taking full advantage of their different roles as the shapers and influencers of how young people learn, think about, and manage their emerging sexuality.

Excerpted from SIECUS Report, Volume 29, Number 2, December 2000/January 2001.

Tamara Kreinin, M.H.S.A.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., Inc.
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Title Annotation:Forty Years of Encouragment SIECUS on Family Communication about Sexuality; Sex Information and Education Council of the United States
Author:Kreinin, Tamara
Publication:SIECUS Report
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:682
Previous Article:1994: forming a partnership between parents and sexuality educators reflections of a parent advocate.
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