The moment I had been “dreading” had arrived. “Dreading” is not the right word. Rather, not waiting for it. For it’s arrival means rather a loss (to me) of the innocence of “childness” – not childhood because this is an extended period as it encapsulates the period of growing up into adulthood. But it was inevitable because as children approach teenage years, a discussion of puberty and body changes is going to bring up questions around reproduction and sex.
Now, I’m no prude, though I am conservative around these issues. And despite the fact that I was brought up in a (now) extremely conservative school of thought, ie. abstinence-before-marriage, I am also realistic. I have lived in the west a long time. It’s a school of thought that’s not adopted these days and therefore preparation and information for the child is key. (I’m finding out preparation and information for the parent is also key.) Of course, this assumes that the parent intends to take an active role in educating their child.
If these considerations are important to you, then I invite you to take notice.
How and when sex education should begin is determined differently in different countries. Right now, I have no idea when sex education begins in Australia (I assume it does in High School), but I definitely know it begins in England at the age of 10 going on 11, or Year 5. Bearing in mind that some children start the school year on the “younger” side, this means on the early side of 10.
What happened last year
Okay, so this is fine (I thought). Some girls develop early, they’ll need to be introduced to the topic of puberty and body changes. Schools are schools, they know how to present information in a scientific and factual way, bearing in mind the age of the child and the sensitivity of the subject. They’re the experts, right? I was wrong. They went through everything. When I say everything, I mean everything. Boys and girls in the same class. Boys even learned how tampons were inserted. Seriously, was that information necessary at 10? Suffice it to say, a lot of the children came home shell-shocked. Probably more boys than girls.
How wrong I had been about my assumptions at school. In my heart, I was annoyed. I was annoyed at the school, but most importantly, the only person I had to be annoyed was myself, because I did not check it out further. But the deed was done, and I had to pick up the pieces. Honestly, it felt like that. A bomb went off in school, and we parents had to deal with the consequences of it. No point getting annoyed.
What happened this year
So when the time came for sex education this year, I was determined to find out more. Videos were being shown this year, and parents who wanted to view it could view it – the day before. The purpose of this afternoon, was to allow parents to view the material and decide if they didn’t want their child to take part. In hindsight, the time given was too short for the parent who decides not to join up. There’s a big conversation to be had before 9 am the next day.
You would probably guess by now (because I am making such a big effort writing this blog) that I did not like what I saw. 97% was fine. But I had concerns with 3%. By 3%, I also mean around no more than 5 minutes worth of material. No big deal, right? No. I am in a line of work where it is all about messaging. In every communication that you send out, there is a “something” you want people to do.
I expressed my concern that some commentary and visuals were unnecessary. Of course, they would not be editing it out. And anyway, there was no time to do that. I was advised that the children don’t dwell on it, that they are fascinated by and ask a lot of questions more around how babies are born.
Here’s my opinion: Children are like little adults. They don’t ask a lot about underlying messages because they are not trained to do so. They aren’t confident that way yet. However, it doesn’t mean this information is forgotten. It’s just rolling around in their heads until they can make sense of it. When you consider how much sexually explicit programming is out there on TV-land, and I’m just talking about advertising, it’s a very easy gap to close to say “Ah well, everybody’s doing it, they seem to enjoy and have fun, so it must be okay.”
Downsides were not covered
I questioned why sexually transmitted diseases were not being covered and why issues around teenage promiscuity and pregnancy were not being raised. (Yes, it’s a big can of worms of a subject once you really get into it.) It didn’t matter that the teacher said they would tell children that it’s illegal to have sex until they are 16. Goodness, if I could do that cocked eyebrow look, that would have been the look I was giving here.
Effectively, I felt (and this is my opinion only) that my child was being taught that he had a gun, he was being taught how to load it, he was being taught that shooting a gun might kill someone, but not to use it because it’s illegal to shoot it. He wasn’t being taught that shooting a gun could really, really killed someone, and that they could be dead, or badly injured. He wasn’t being taught that he could go to jail if this happened, and that it would cause him and his family great pain. He wasn’t being taught that the family of the victim would be very sad if their loved one died, and angry.
Call me a cynic, but I work from the assumption that boys are trigger happy and eventually they will attempt to pull the trigger. They won’t wait till they are 16 – not if there is no downside, not if there are no consequences.
If the school is going to get into this level of detail, then all details must be taught, including the downsides. And if they are not going to do it, then I had to do it. And if I had to do it, then I might as well manage all the information around it.
And this is the concern I had with the class, and have with the sex education curriculum in the country.
It seems ironic to me that with a rising rate of teenage promiscuity in this country, that they want this type of education to be given to children even earlier in schools, around Year 1 or 2. It is a chicken or egg argument. I don’t know the answer. All I know is that I am not a common denominator, and I don’t want to get dragged into a “common denominator” type solution for the masses.
Don’t let the system make the choice for you.
Notice I am not saying that the school is bad, the teachers are bad, the content is bad, or parents who send their children to sex education class are bad. I’m only saying that this content was not for my child, and that it was not aligned to my value-system. But don’t let the system make the choice for you. Make the choice for yourself. Even if you decide, in the end, that the class is okay for your child, that’s okay. At least you’ve given it thought, rather than no thought at all.
Here are some other considerations from my experience:
Consideration No. 1
No matter how nice the school and how much your child may be enjoying the environment, the values of the school system do not mirror your own. Many parents think the school is just giving a headline view of things. Schools will give the curriculum view of things, which (in my view) has had a sex therapist/consultant spin on sexuality. Depending on the video resource used, there may be animated images of sexual behaviour.
Consideration No. 2
You assume that its only sex education. You may be incorrect.
To me, 97% of the video content I saw was factual and scientific. 3% of the content I saw had “commentary” of how to touch and how touching where gives pleasure. This is not sex education, this is education about how to have sex. Where does one end and the other begin? Not sure, but, in my books, it doesn’t begin at 11.
Consideration No. 3
You believe that the school has an interest in the well-being of your child, they don’t. They are required to teach this subject, so they teach – according to a curriculum, designed by people you don’t know. This does not mean they are bad people or don’t care. They are good people and care very much. But they are teaching to a curriculum that they’ve been advised by many other people who may be experts in society, that this is the information to convey. So in their world, they have to. The thing about experts is, that they are an expert over their area of experience. But they are not an expert on how you manage your child. As parents, we have to assess whether our child is ready for this information, or whether this information is suitable for a child.
Consideration No. 4
You are cool with the information given, the terms used, and the animations being shown. It’s sex education – they’ll cover both the upsides and downsides. They may not. On the class plan I saw, there was no coverage of sexual diseases, responsibility or consequences. From where I sat, it was all upside. Golly gee, the video made me want to run out and have sex with the first rich, handsome, well dressed, nice looking person driving a Porsche . (Yes, I try to have standards. Note to self: must get husband to win Lotto and buy a Porsche.)
Consideration No. 5
All other parents are sending their children in. It must be okay. They’ve done it for years, it must be okay. Consider that they may be thinking exactly the same thing as you, and that if you’re sending your child in, it must be okay. And if you’ve thought about it and still think it’s okay, good for you. You’ve exercised conscious choice. And if you don’t think it’s okay, that’s cool too. But don’t do it because others are doing it.