Nothing irks parents and teachers more than when government bureaucrats and outside agencies step in and dictate exactly what, when and how children should be taught. The introduction of a new sex-education curriculum is likely to cause more agitation than any other subject.
Opponents of sex-ed curriculums argue that when children are given too much information, too soon it grooms children toward deviant sexual behaviour. On the other hand, supporters insist that public schools have an ethical responsibility to educate children with accurate and up-to-date information in all aspects of their health.
The purpose of this article is not to promote or protest any one particular curriculum. However, my thoughts are offered in response to the revised Health and Physical Health Curriculum in Ontario for grades 1-8. Certainly, vastly different approaches to sex-education exist across the globe. Above all else, good personal judgement is required to know how best to respond to each unique situation.
Here are five strategies to help you formulate a response best suited to your family:
1. Realize that a school curriculum does not supersede the role of parents to educate their children.
Formal schooling is just one aspect of a well-rounded education. Call me radical, but I am going to suggest that the environment we create for children before and after school hours is actually more impactful to their overall edification than what they experience in the classroom.
For example, as a nutritionist my sister often bemoans the fact that energy spent teaching food and nutrition at school is largely wasted on young students. She argues that learning how to read nutrition labels has little impact on eating habits, unless parents are setting the example by providing well-balanced meals and healthy snacks at home.
Likewise, home is the most important place to learn about healthy sexuality, intimate love and relationships. In fact, it is the only place where these topics can be discussed within the framework of core beliefs.
Help your children feel secure in their own opinions by helping them learn to express themselves confidently at home. Prompt them with age appropriate questions as they grow so they know that you are the best and most reliable source of accurate information.
2. Prepare yourself to be the first and best source of information for your kids.
It is easy to get caught up in the hype when all you hear is the ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal voices, which shout their agenda from either side of the debate.
The best way to sort through the discord is by going directly to the source. Read and evaluate the curriculum for yourself. Once you have gone through it carefully you may identify a few areas, which cause you concern. Develop a strategy to address those concerns during regular conversations with your child or during a family discussion.
Each year be sure to review the concepts that will be addressed at your child’s specific grade level. Keep these concepts in the back of your mind and look for opportunities to introduce them as a topic of conversation during the course of everyday routines. Your child will be able to recognize whether anything introduced at school doesn’t fit with the message received at home.
3. Find out who is assigned to teach Sexual Health at your school.
Perhaps you have read the curriculum and you are still worried about how it translates into real life instruction.
In this case make an appointment to talk with your child’s teacher about your concerns. Note: principals often assign one or two teachers at each school to cover all health classes. These teachers usually have a background in physical education.
Before the meeting, prepare a few well considered questions. Find out exactly how the curriculum is taught within the classroom. What specifically will your children see and hear during the lesson? Ask if there are any projects that will accompany the learning unit. Also, you may like to know how students have responded in the past when a particular concept was addressed.
If you still feel uncomfortable about how the curriculum is being taught, then take your concerns directly to the principal. If suitable changes cannot be made, you may request that your child not attend class during the unit of study.
4. Appreciate why schools are addressing sexual health.
Even when sex-ed programs are not executed exactly to our standards, schools generally do have the student’s best interests in mind. Consider for a moment all the influences that can threaten a child’s sexual well-being at any age:
- The real threat of sexual predators, sexual abuse and even sex trafficking
- Inevitable exposure to online pornography and other sexual content, especially at a young age
- Easy access to hardcore pornography which promotes violence and the rape-myth culture
- Accumulating misinformation on a number of topics related to sexual health
- Participating in early sexual experiences
- Becoming involved in risky sexual behaviours
The following video from Educate Empower Kids demonstrates that children often rely exclusively on the internet to satisfy their curiosity about sex.
We need to do more than answer our children’s questions about sex, we need to anticipate what aspects of sexuality are most important to them through the different stages of maturity. Timing is critical.
Schools are addressing the tougher subjects because they know that many teens are either talking about, looking at, or experiencing for themselves masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, gender identity and abortion.
As parents we need to teach our children how to recognize and reject media, conversations and behaviors that can cause them emotional and physical harm. Children look to parents as examples on how to embrace sexuality in a way that will empower them with strength and confidence.
5. Acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of your school’s health program.
Public health programs, like those found in most North American schools, are developed with the intent to give students accurate information about their bodies and to help them make informed decisions as they consider becoming sexually active.
It’s obvious to most that a classroom setting could never be the ideal place to tackle these subjects. Putting twenty-plus kids from varying cultural and religious backgrounds together has got to be the most awkward way to talk about sex. Bravo to the teachers who do make it somewhat bearable for the students.
The average school curriculums will do fairly well at teaching the anatomy and mechanics of sex. However, the most important ingredients of a sexual relationship, such as love, intimacy, respect and emotional connection can get overlooked. Parents must fill in the gaps during home discussions.
Ultimately, we want our children to grow up and find joy in healthy relationships, which include love, sexual intimacy and emotional connection. That’s a pretty awesome responsibility when you think about it.
So, what I hope to emphasize is that no matter which side of the sex-ed argument you find yourself on, when new policies are put in motion know there is a great deal you can do to make the curriculum work for, rather than against, your family values.
Please share with us how you have successfully introduced some of the tougher subjects about sexual health as a part of your own family conversations.
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