Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sex Ed From a Father's Perspective

I am a father of two young kids. A few weeks ago, my wife called and was upset because she saw our five-year-old daughter crying during an intruder drill at the elementary school where she attends kindergarten and my wife teaches. My wife said that our daughter was crying and scared as she and her fellow classmates huddled together in the bathroom of her classroom while having to be completely silent. Prior to the drill (which is scheduled periodically), her teacher had to explain what the dangers were and how they could protect themselves, which included practicing for the intruder drills. As a father, the thought of my daughter being upset and frightened was not easy to deal with. I, and many other parents, would do anything humanly possible to avoid having our children feel this way. The beginning of the conversations between my wife and I started with how uncomfortable we were with not only our little girl being scared but us having to think about what is possible and the possible danger both of our kids could be in. After we talked for a while we both agreed that it was unfortunately necessary for our kids to know the dangers that are out there and that it is a good thing to practice protecting yourself against them. 

I have been working in teen pregnancy prevention for over 12 years now and have heard plenty of reasons why people do not support comprehensive sexuality education and also reasons some choose not to discuss sexuality at all. I think sometimes it is hard for others and myself to see how they could think in such a way and often quickly blow them off or label them with being close minded or “old fashioned” without stopping to think why they believe that. Now, the danger that I described above is obviously different and scarier to some than teen pregnancy but I still draw parallels when talking to others about both. I have been in this field a long time and deeply believe in comprehensive sexuality education. I believe that it’s a young person’s right to know what they are in danger of and how to protect themselves. I talk about this issue daily for work and freely and often as possible outside of work. Teaching, training, talking and discussing sexuality is easy and something I enjoy. Others have not talked about it daily, and in fact, many adults have not talked about it much, if ever. When I talk about sex or sexuality in some settings, I see adults growing visibly uncomfortable and even upset that I am speaking about the topic. I also have worked for and with school districts in many different settings and have had to deal with parents and community members who do not want their teens discussing sex at all, not to mention not teaching comprehensive sex ed. My question is why are they so against this topic that I am so passionate about teaching? Don’t they know the risks their kids are subjected to? Don’t they know how easy it is to educate them? Don’t they know that practicing a skill could help prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancies? Well, no…no they don’t.

I have found through working in this field, and more importantly to me, talking to my friends, family, and peers that I have known for many years, and in some cases, my whole life is that they all believe that teen pregnancy and STIs are a problem but mostly they are uncomfortable talking about issues because they never had anyone talk to them. Many believe that their young person is not at risk. I will always begin the conversation telling them that just because something makes us uncomfortable and we wish it wasn’t necessary to address, doesn’t mean it is not the right thing to do for others who need it and deserve it. Many of the people may have grown up in an area or situation where these topics were not an issue, but the reality is that it is an issue for their young people. I wish I didn’t have to talk to my kids about strangers and intruders in schools or fire and tornado drills for that matter, but I know that ignoring these dangers and failing to talk to them is not fair to them nor will it help protect them. I also wish that my daughter and her classmates didn’t have to practice these drills, but I know that practicing a skill is more effective than just talking about it. I have found that talking to others and educating them about the risk that young people are facing everywhere, not just in “those” neighborhoods, help them to understand why they or their communities, including schools, should be talking about comprehensive sexuality education. I also think it helps to show them that even if they are uncomfortable and wish it wasn’t an issue doesn’t meant that it should not be addressed today. Most people don’t have the comfort level that I have to talk about love, sex, and relationships but they have to understand that their young people need to talk about it, learn skills to protect themselves, and be given the space and time to practice the skills they have been taught.

Some may wish we lived in a time where STIs, teen pregnancies, and unhealthy relationships weren’t an issue, but the reality is that it is. And just because you wish it didn’t exist and are uncomfortable with talking about these things doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be addressed. Choosing not to talk about it and give accurate and factual information will not protect anyone from anything. I know that just because the thought of possible dangerous situations that my children may face may not be easy for me to think about or even talk about at times, that it is still my responsibility to talk to them about it and help them know how they can protect themselves. 

by Chris Rollison, Technical Assistance Coordinator, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

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