There is often much debate between parents and educators as to whose job it is to give kids the fundamentals of sex education. Each side delegates the responsibility to some degree to the other camp. Parents hope to avoid those awkward initial conversations with the hope that their child’s educators will provide them with a basic sex ed 101. All the while teachers seem to hope the kids already come in with the basics so that the brunt of sexual education does not fall on their shoulders. But who’s job is it really? The answer may be both.
Sex education can be a controversial and tricky subject. It blurs many lines of personal belief, religious affiliation and moral and ethical values. Beyond the basic biological sexual functioning that can be taught in a “just the facts” approach, human sexuality is a much more diverse, complicated and nuanced subject. Understanding the complexity of human emotions and varying belief systems, sex education, if taught appropriately needs to go beyond just the birds and the bees. This is where it gets blurry for both the parents and the teachers.
Ideally, sex education is about learning practical life skills so teeanagers make safer and better informed choices for the prevention of unwanted pregnancy and the avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases. While an educational environment providing the basic facts is very helpful, ultimately the home environment should be the place where there is conversation and dialogue for their sexual and emotional well being.
When only 13 states in the nation require that sex education be medically accurate as there is a lot left up to interpretation in teenage health literature. It begs the question, if not from an educational environment, where do kids get the cold hard facts? We as parents need to step in with literature, websites and support to answer questions and help kids navigate sometimes confusing and scary misinformation that may filter through other kids.
Dialogue needs to happen about boundaries and consent as this is an issue on the forefront of the collective consciousness. Kids need to learn how to respect their own bodies and respect the boundaries and limits of others. This is a legal as well as an ethical issue.
Parents need to talk with their kids about their own values. How do you feel about birth control? What would you do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy? Is your teenager having sexual identity questions? Where does love and romance fit into it all? Without practical and open dialogue, too many of these issues get swept under the rug only to cause more pain, mistakes and confusion down the line.
In the end, we need to work collectively with our educational systems that should provide basic facts, and step up to be the teacher from home for our child’s whole life helping them navigate through the tough questions and issues.