Carrie was better than any anti-drug or sex education program in the world. She was practical, matter-of-fact and spent way more time telling me what to do rather than what not to do.
As I mentioned previously, I believe that positive approaches of education are more efficacious than scare tactic, punitive, threatening, or negative approaches.
Science and research back me up on this.
Sexual abstinence messages carry even less benefit and even more risk than anti-drug abstinence messages. I think you'll see that when you examine facts and evidence rather than emotion or ideology, it doesn't matter whether you are focusing on drugs or sex: abstinence messages put the focus in the wrong place and aren't effective.
I have three not unique to me hypotheses about why this is. As it happens, they are very similar to my anti-drug program objections.
1. Mixed messages about group think
2. One size does not fit all
3. The irony in the negative
1. Mixed messages about group think
I've recently determined that I vehemently object to the barrage of morality public schools inflict on our children via brainwashing programs dictated by the current trendy political party's philosophical (read: religious) affiliation.
"Hats On Day!" screams today's flyer from the school. It is but one in a torrent of flyers telling me how the school is shaping my child's values.
Back up that truck, Buck.
That's my job.
Your job is to shape her for her tenure at Harvard, okay? She's going to get there on the strength of her academic accomplishments. She'll remain there on the strength of her character. The former is your job, the latter is mine.
On the surface, the school's "value and morality" programs look well-intended and just what the Kindness and Consideration Doctor ordered. Instead, I see the insidious Mr. PC Run Amuck at his group think horror work again.
My values happen to be to educate my child with facts and information, and then teach her how to make good choices for herself. I can't always be there overseeing her, and I can't demand that she live her life to my stipulation. I can do my best to guide her the direction I think leads towards happiness and health and then...it's in her hands.
As a frequent Rebel Without a Cause in my youth, the biggest regrets I have are the times I ignored my parents' edicts. I ignored them because I was a teen, and as we all know, the Teen Credo is: Nobody tells me what to do!
It's understandable that in the midst of this chaos, one might want to lower the boom with strong dictates of Right and Wrong, topped off with strict Don'ts.
So I grasp the motive. It's a good one: we want to keep our kids safe and healthy.
However, it's not working. And our government knows that; they funded the study that says so.
Sexual activity (the least of it), pregnancy, and STDs (including AIDs) are still just as prevalent. In fact, "The American Social Health Association estimates there are nearly 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States each year." (Source: ASHA and MSNBC)
We tell children to think for themselves and not be pressured into a decision by anyone and then...and then we tell them don't think for yourself! Do what I tell you to do! And that means no sex for you!
Has any "do as I say, not as I do" parenting actually ever worked?
Children need to learn how to weigh situations, think critically within them, and make smart and healthy choices. We can't predict every potential event they'll experience, and at the end of the day, we can't shut down their minds or their natural drive, no matter how hard we try.
In the end, they'll make their own decisions.
2. One size does not fit all
Young people will make their own choices because---and let me pause dramatically here for a moment---each person is unique. Each situation is unique and filled with a variety of factors.
When a person has a strong desire (and I mean this more broadly than your romantically-focused mind might be taking it just now), one has what you might term a heady case of the "where there's a will, there's a way" rationalizations.
But we love each other.
If loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right.
We pressure children into following one single mindset.
The school needs to point to parts, name them, and explain how they work together. Thanks to Babies: Special Delivery and Human Anatomy, my children are already extremely aware of these details. (God help us. I have a future astronaut who will dissect mice in space and a future OB/GYN...as the signs point now.)
I don't mind the school backing up my anatomy and physiology lessons. In fact, I expect it.
What I want to know is why the district's ethics get to dictate a morality lecture included in said sexual education.
Please, just the facts, jack. I'll tell my kid about the ivory tower her father and I will lock her in until she's 25. (Kidding, people.)
Kids aren't all the same, and neither are all families that send kids to school. There is clearly a majority opinion, or at least majority buy-in, but I don't think that in this case majority ought to rule. I think facts and information ought to rule, and individuals ought to be left to shape their own children's morals.
I aspire to shape my daughters so that they are able to---like me---make decisions that leave them with no regrets, fond memories, and happiness and health.
I think the best way to do this is to arm them with knowledge (facts), share with them the different choices, openly discuss the pros and cons of decisions including how to be safe and okay depending upon what they decide, and keep the communication clear and nonjudgmental so I can be there when they need me.
As with the best anti-drug program, I think parents are the best anti-sex program, too.
Of course this requires the correct focus. Carrie knew the correct focus: guiding me to good choices with information and guidance, as well as positive distraction, rather than trying to terrify me about what might happen if I Don't Subscribe to her Morals and Group Think.
3. The irony of the negative
The irony of the negative is the same as with anti-drug: boomerang. The same psychology applies here: if you say, "Don't look down!" the immediate instinct and mind focus is on looking down.
Our brains search for guidance of what to do in situations. That's why we discard the "don't."
"Don't have sex" puts the emphasis on...have sex. We focus on the sex.
Here's the funky little twist: too much education and discussion about sex does the same thing.
We give parents grief about the quick, awkward One Time talk. But in a way, logic says that might have some merit.
I think there's a way to go to an extreme in either direction. The key, in my opinion, is balance. Provide information, but also provide good ideas of what to do during the teen years.
"To do" doesn't necessarily mean pulling out condoms and cucumbers for demonstrations at your child's Sweet Sixteen party.
It means providing your child good, positive, self-esteem building activities. It means helping your child keep a well-balanced life. It means giving your child the best tools possible to make the best choices available.
Does that strike you as vague and subjective? That's because it is.
Drugs are pretty hard and fast: they are controlled substances and are illegal. Alcohol is illegal for people under 21.
Sex, however, is a murky moral pool. Parents will have opinions, and I think it's important to share these with children.
Read that last sentence again. Notice I said parents? Not schools?
That's because in my opinion the murkier the moral, the less the school ought to guide to a single faith-based choice. That needs to be a one-on-one family discussion.
Sex education is a trigger point. How to educate kids about sex has been under debate heavily for my entire lifetime. If we present biological and factual information about sex in schools, people are going to want a moral message along with it.
This is due to the fear that any discussion about sex leads to sex.
However, as the government study shows, it's not discussion that leads to sex. It's a lot more basic than that.
Right now, I fear the debate is raging so fiercely about the morals that the facts have gotten swept under the rug and sex education is now a discussion of ethics.
I fear even more the fact that money for schools to educate children about sex is tied to the moral message they present.
As Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.---director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania---said in his article, "Blind faith on sex-ed approach puts kids at risk"
Actually, you cannot expect abstinence-only sex ed to be protective, effective or in any way useful at all. Ever. Period. Enough already. It's time to pull the plug on abstinence-only sex education. There are too many lives at stake to put up with a reproductive-health policy that is willing to kill and disable our kids out of an allegiance to a blind faith in something that does not work.
(And if you follow no other links from here, do follow that link and read that article.)
That opinion is predicated, as is my own, on this goal: protect kids from repercussions from unsafe sex.
That's what I believe the goal of the school's sexual education program should be. This is achieved through factual presentation of all sides of sexual education.
The other side of the debate has, I think, a different goal: to protect kids by preventing them from having sex. That's the baseline of abstinence only sexual education. That is clearly the goal.
And that's exactly why it fails. In fact, that is also the exact point of weakness in any study of the efficacy of abstinence only sex education: not all homes promote abstinence only. That's how, I think, you end up with a 50/50 ratio of sexual activity in teen years.
I don't mean to entirely undermine the studies' validity or their results. In fact, I think they are valid in the overriding conclusion that abstinence only education is ineffective because sexual activity has not altered as a result of that tactic. However, as best I can tell, they only measured the school's abstinence only program against sexual activity and onset of sexual activity.
To reiterate, that's a moral message. To have or not to have sex is a moral message. It needs to happen at home.
As one who frequently disagrees with the school's message and delivery, I can assure you: the school's program is not and will never be the only factor. The home either reinforces or is different from it.
So we're full circle now: Parents are the first and last defense.
Schools can't be the front line; they shouldn't be, not for this.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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