Do you remember being in the halls of your high school, or, more commonly, in the locker room, with some friends and hearing about what others have learned, heard, or experienced relating to sex? What about the first time you watched an episode of a popular T.V. show that portrayed sexual activity in an inappropriate way? Is this the form of sex education that you would like your children to receive? Is this accurate? How can we help our children know the real facts and consequences of sexual activity? If they aren’t taught the facts, then false portrayals will continue to be spread by the media or other sources.
Fox News reported an incident in a small Washington State community about the principal of a local elementary school who taught a sex education program and described some explicit sexual content to 11-year-old students. Parents were very upset at what was taught by the principal who responded to a student’s question about other forms of sexual activity. The principal answered the question by teaching the class in detail about anal and oral sex.
To avoid this kind of parental upset, we hope that children can be comfortable in asking their parents these valid questions before going to other sources of information such as their peers, teachers, or the media. If parents are the first to educate their children about sex, they can help instill their personal values in their children’s view of sexuality. An open relationship and good communication about sexual topics are important to a child’s healthy outlook on sex and the development of his or her personal values.
Advocates for Youth emphasize the importance of parent-child communication in instilling in children a healthy sexual outlook. They found that parents and children who have open communication about sexual content are more likely to have a healthy relationship and be more open about any questions they might have. In turn, that strengthens parent-child communication related to sex. Through a survey given to adolescents, Advocates for Youth also found that the adolescents preferred parental insight above any other source for sex education. In other words, our children want to communicate with their parents about these sensitive topics. We must keep this communication open and available, or children will receive their information from other less desirable sources.
It is important to have the right tone in order to create an environment for good communication with our children. The special “talk” about the birds and the bees when parents may have taken their child out for dinner, or to some other special setting, may have been effective in the past; but less so today where children need a less formal and more continuous dialog between parent and child. Parents should talk about sex in an everyday setting, such as when they are sitting on the bedroom floor with mom, or driving in the truck with dad. This will help children feel more comfortable about bringing up topics about sex again because these are easily replicated situations. These situations need to be positive and comfortable so that children do not feel that the topic of sex is forbidden. The child will notice if their parent is uncomfortable or embarrassed. They will then be uncomfortable bringing up sexual topics in the future.
When approaching questions children might have, it is best to answer in a clear and concise way so as to not overwhelm or confuse them with too much information. Parents should follow-up by asking if they have any more questions, or if their questions have been answered fully. The American Academy of Pediatrics gives some examples of situations that can arise in everyday life that are good opportunities to answer children’s questions. Interacting with pregnant women, changing a baby’s diaper, watching a T.V. episode, and noticing sexual behavior in pets and other animals are some of these examples of opportunities to talk about sex. These examples are all times when children may have questions, and they can be good opportunities to teach our children in age-appropriate ways about sexual facts.
When these opportunities for teaching arise, it is important for parents to be educated about these subjects. If unsure or not prepared to answer a question posed by a child, it may be wise for parents to learn more about the question and let their child know at a later time. Some recommended sources of information are medical journals, books, or advise from professionals. Every sex education source is different, and some parents may need to pick and choose depending on their values and what they think is most age appropriate for their children.
Giving good information regarding sex, in an appropriate setting, at the appropriate time is and has always been a challenge for parents. That’s why parents need to work at it! Create the best environment for sharing information, openly and consistently communicate with your children and most importantly, share and instill your personal values relating to sexual behavior.
If you don’t, someone else will.
Christiana Phillips is 21 and a senior attending Brigham Young University-Idaho. Christiana is married to Brett Phillips (23) who is also attending BYU-Idaho. She is majoring in Marriage and Family Studies with emphases in Education and Sociology. Her plan is to continue to receive a life-long education, start a family, and to always be involved with the community and schools. Her career goals are to be involved with School Administration.
Emily Green is from Birmingham, Alabama. She is the sixth of eight children. She is a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho and has plans to graduate in July of 2013. Her plans after graduation are to go to graduate school and pursue an education in social work and hopes to find a career where she can work and advocate for children and families.