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Sex ed presentations a welcome first step

March 24, 2006

We welcome the decision by the Washington County Public Schools and partnering agencies to offer a 90-minute presentation on teen pregnancy to 1,700 ninth-graders this spring.

The proposal has been talked about since November, but has only recently come together.

Because of the graphic nature of some of the material, parents will need to give permission for their children to attend. We urge them to do so, for a couple of reasons.

In an ideal world, parents would provide their children with information on sex, reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases.

But based on the county's teen birth rate - now the fourth highest in the state - either parents aren't doing the job or their message isn't getting through.

At this late date, no one should have to repeat the arguments against teen birth, but here they are:

Teens who give birth are less likely to go to college and more likely to remain in poverty.

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Teens who give birth to one child are more likely to do so again, decreasing their chances of escaping poverty and increasing the public's cost of caring for them and their children.

Children born to single mothers are more likely to be abused or neglected.

How much do ninth-graders know about sex and reproduction? It's unclear. We do know they are exposed to a great deal of material that glamorizes sex - and not nearly enough that emphasizes that child-rearing is hard work that teens who are still maturing are ill-equipped to handle.

The program that will be shown to ninth-graders will feature skits developed by Girls Inc. and graphic representations of the effect of sexually transmitted diseases from the Washington County Health Department.

We suggest the groups also consider the approach taken by the Parent-Child Center in its "Teen Voices, Teen Choices" program.

The center, a United Way agency that works to prevent child abuse, recruits teen mothers who have been through its parenting programs to tell their stories to other youth.

Teens often convince themselves that "It could never happen to me." But when shown a teen mother who looks very much as they do - and who describes the harrowing day faced by the parent of a hyperactive child - the message just might get through.

A final thought: If you choose not to allow your child to participate in this assembly, resolve to spend all the time necessary to do the best job you can educating your child about teen sex and its consequences.

As a 2005 survey found, it's not enough to say "Don't do it." As uncomfortable as it might be, parents must have detailed conversations about why teenage sex is unwise and dangerous.

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