Why Parents and Schools Should Partner in Sex Education
Parents let schools teach the A B C’s- but what about “the birds and the bees?” In recent weeks, several Texas school districts have been in the news because of community controversy over sexuality education. This is not a new controversy- but perhaps one we will see more of as the gap between school districts and parents grows on this important life issue. A dangerous misstep school districts can make is not involving, informing, and including parents as key partners in the rearing of healthy young people.
Parents matter especially in sex education- and in several important ways.
The opinions of parents matter. Sex education is a personal and sensitive issue, bringing about many different personal, sensitive, medical, moral and religious opinions. And while everyone has a different opinion about what should be taught to whom and at what time, those opinions matter and should be considered when implementing local sex education policy. The Texas Legislature affirmed this when they established School Health Advisory Councils in 1995 “ensuring that local community values are reflected in the district’s health education instruction.” Texas Education Code 28.004 requires “a majority of the members must be persons who are parents of students enrolled in the district and who are not employed by the district.” The opinions of local parents are to be considered when choosing local instruction.
The values of parents matter. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is true about our behavior choices. When asked who most influences their decisions about sex, a large majority of teens ages 12-19 say their parents do (Campaign to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy). What parents believe and expect of their children are quite likely to be what their children choose. Values are determined by both knowledge and experience. Parents, then, need good knowledge (coupled with their experiences) to have good values related to sex and relationships. Parent education is key for successful school sex education.
Children’s relationships with parents matter. “Parent connectedness”- a term used by researchers to describe the closeness a child feels to their parent- has consistently been shown to be a protective factor. The Centers for Disease Control uses the term “parent engagement” to talk about parents and schools working together, which “makes it more likely that children and adolescents will avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as sexual risk behaviors.” Schools can work to grow this connectedness, especially in fostering parent-child communication about sex. A family that talks about sex can talk about anything.
And lastly, the trust of parents matters. Everyday caring parents place the care of their children in the hands of the school system. Anyone who knows the heart ache of dropping off their precious five-year-old on the first day of kindergarten can relate likewise to the parent who’s entrusting the sexuality education of their older child to the hands of the school system. Like the kindergarten parent, their lack of trust comes largely from understandable fear, and that fear can be overcome with disclosure. More communication is needed on this subject perhaps more than any other. Parents should be given multiple opportunities to see and hear every word, picture, and video their children will receive.
When parents clearly understand that their opinions, values, and relationships matter, and are informed by the school district as vital partners in the sexuality instruction of their children, they will be best equipped to serve in that partner role. While some may still exercise their parental right to “opt-out” their child from the school instruction, they will have been empowered as the primary sex educator of their child.
When schools show that parents matter in sex education, they will be better able to fulfill their role of educating the next generation and preparing children to make the best choices for their health- and for the health of the community.