A Healthy Attitude Towards Sex Education Must Include Realism

By Jay Menard,

It’s out there. And burying my head — or any other protruding body part — in the sand isn’t going to make it go away. So instead of arguing against the proposed Liberal Health and Physical Education curriculum, perhaps we should spend more time thinking about how we, as parents, should support and reinforce it.

We can all say it’s a parent’s responsibility to educate his or her children about these issues — and I don’t disagree. Of course, not all parents are going to. And not all parents are able to.

I know of one mother who firmly believes that children under 14 aren’t sexual. And no amount of facts, figures, or stats will dissuade her belief. So who is most at risk in that scenario? Her child.

Some parents abdicate their sexual responsibilities; others are unprepared. Many more are ready, willing, and able to support their children and are aware of what’s going on out there. But the fact is that many kids don’t want to listen to their parent or parents talk about sex. Sometimes, despite the giggling, the immaturity, and the uncomfortable shifting, school is a positive environment in which to learn.

Shocking that.

Too many people consider education with advocacy. It’s not the same thing. Teaching kids about responsible sexual practices, understanding limits, and preventing disease is not the same as saying, “Go ahead kids, do whatever your horny little hearts and parts desire.”

Kids will be kids. Youth will be youth. And teens will be teens. Curiosity will always reign supreme. But today’s kids face a far greater exposure level to sexuality than their parents ever did.

And even if we think we’re prepared, we, as parents, really aren’t.

We may have had hidden magazines or stashed VHS tapes. Forget what they can see on basic cable, today’s youth have the Internet (Rule #34). Today’s youth are on social networks, SnapChat, and Instagram. Today’s youth are sharing sexual photos and sexting. As good parents, we try to monitor everything, but we all know that’s impossible.

Cell phones, digital cameras, and mobile devices makes it easy for one experience (and whether that initial experience was desired or misguided, it doesn’t matter) to have long-lasting implications. It only takes one minute to transform overwhelming hormonal impulses into something that may be a source of regret in the future.

Pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. So let’s deal with today’s reality — not some Utopian society and ideals that never existed.

My daughter knows that no means no. But I want to ensure that message is reinforced amongst her classmates. Due to the fact that she has gay family members, my daughter has been raised in an environment where different sexuality is just part of life. But it would be nice for other kids to be exposed to that.

We fear what we don’t understand. That’s why “fag” and “gay” are pejorative terms in school. Some kids just aren’t exposed to relationships outside of the hetero sphere. And, sadly, some kids are raised in environments where parents don’t approve of those relationships.

Exposure is the only way to demystify (and, by extend, destigmatize) those relationships. Just as I’ve argued for the inclusion of a multi-faith course in the public system so that kids would have a better understanding of what religious symbols, clothing, and practices mean, so too could exposure to different family dynamics make it a more inclusive environment for all.

Exposing children to various aspects of life doesn’t equal endorsing behaviour. Teaching kids about drugs in Grade 3 isn’t going to tempt kids into trying out crack. But if they have a greater awareness and an open forum to discuss drugs, perhaps it will take away some of the taboo cachet they currently enjoy.

Same goes for sex.

Misinformation is a youth’s greatest weakness. If they feel that everyone is doing something, or that certain behaviours are the norm — and that includes being subjected to peer and partner pressure into performing sexual acts — then they are underequipped to make the right decision for them.

That doesn’t mean the right decision is always going to be abstinence — no matter how much you, as a parent, may want it to be. Kids will experiment, kids will make decisions — some will end up as a positive experience; others will result in mistakes. That doesn’t change, even as we get older.

But the more information, truth, and facts — especially presented in an unbiased, non-judgmental  way — that they have will better prepare them to face those decisions head on.

And that doesn’t mean that parents don’t have a role to play. School should be a secondary source of information on sexuality and drugs; parents still have the primary responsibility to talk about these issues, create an open and healthy forum for questions; and to be there for our kids.

Those who say our kids are too young to be exposed in the timelines presented by the Liberal government are deluding themselves. Kids are already being exposed to sex, drugs and alcohol, bullying, and peer and online pressures as we speak.

Sticking our collective heads in the sand isn’t going to make anything better. Keeping our heads up, looking around and embracing the reality that our kids are experiencing, and working together with the school system to support their needs and educate them will.

And that’s just a healthy attitude.

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