Category Archives: Kids & Teens

Religion and Sex Ed in the U.S.

By: Nicole McLaren

The history of sexual education in the U.S. has been interesting to say the least. In the 19th century sex ed included pamphlets about the evils of masturbation to the spreading of the idea that masturbation and ejaculation cause loss of energy. The early 20th century brought about the first organized sexual education. Chicago was the first city to implement sexual education in high school although the program was shut down early after it started. The federal government’s first attempt to educate about sex was during WW1 when they began teaching solider’s about STDs.

The U.S. Office of Education began training teachers in sexual education by the 1930s. By the 60’s and 70’s sex ed had become a political issue that religious conservatives used to prevent sexual education in public schools. These religious groups viewed sex ed as promoting promiscuity, even going as far as claiming sex ed was communist indoctrination.

With HIV emerging as an issue in the 80s, sex ed took on a more prominent role but religious conservatives pushed back through the creation of abstinence only programs. From 1981 to 2010 the federal government spent over $1 billion on abstinence only sexual education programs. This began in the Reagan administration and continued into two years of Obama’s first term. Even in the Clinton’s administration there was provisions added, by religious groups, to the Welfare Reform Act of 96 to ensure that abstinence only education was funded by the federal government. The information provided in these programs not only leaves out birth control methods and other methods of prevention, they also distort medical facts and rely on religious doctrine.

While we have started to move towards a more scientifically based sexual education there is still improvements to be made. The need to promote fact based sex ed is ultimately up to the people in each state. We must push our legislators with organizations like Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth to implement sex ed programs in public schools that provide real education for students.

 

 

Sex Education in America: Why Abstinence Only Education Does More Harm Than Good

By: Jillian James

WHAT IS ABSTINENCE ONLY EDUCATION?

Abstinence only education is sexual education that promotes and teaches abstinence until marriage. Discussion of different types of birth control, STDs and STIs, and other sexual topics are excluded completely. Abstinence only education also for the most part only discusses heterosexual relationships and doesn’t provide a depth of information on LGBTQ+ issues.
WHY IS COMPREHENSIVE SEXUAL EDUCATION BETTER?

Abstinence education does more harm than good. It is incredibly important to provide comprehensive sexual education in schools because it gives students the power to makes informed decisions about their bodies and their sexual health. According to Advocates for Youth, 88% of millennials support comprehensive sex education.

Comprehensive sexual education gives students the power of knowledge and the resources to be healthy. By discussing sexuality, it becomes less stigmatized and students grow up feeling more self-actualized and confident about their identity and their bodies. Abstinence only education makes sex and sexuality seem shameful and causes students to have low self esteem and question their natural desires.

The idea that teenagers in high school must be “shielded” from comprehensive sexual education is ridiculous and counter intuitive. Teenagers are exposed to sex and sexual acts through music, movies, and pop culture and it is crucial that they are given medically correct information that is taught by a professional.

It is also important to note that the message of abstinence can be taught effectively while still providing comprehensive sexual education. Several studies have shown that providing comprehensive sexual education does not make the teen pregnancy rate go up. In fact, teen pregnancy rates have been dropping over the past few years and many studies owe that fact to wider contraception access and education.

Take steps to educate yourself and research sexual education in your area. If you have any questions at all about sexual health, Planned Parenthood clinics are available to provide educational services and professional help and advising. You can find your local Planned Parenthood and learn more about the educational services they offer at PlannedParenthood.org.

Teen Pregnancy & Educational Outcomes

teen-pregnancy

We see plenty of anecdotal evidence that teen pregnancy has an adverse impact on the educational outcomes of teen mothers, yet does research verify many of our notions. Health Educators and Social Workers gather observational data as we speak to our clients and when we pose the question of why our teen moms are not doing well in school or have dropped out of school all together, we receive responses such as:

“I don’t have time to study because my baby keeps me up.”

“Being a mom is more important than going to school.”

“I can’t work, go to school, and raise a baby at the same time.”

Any woman who has raised a child can attest to the fact that the rearing of a child takes a considerable amount of work but does the fact that being a mom as a teen really hinder educational attainment? According to the National Conference of State Legislators, Thirty percent of all teenage girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy and parenthood as key reasons. Rates among Hispanic (36 percent) and African American (38 percent) girls are higher. Educational achievement affects the lifetime income of teen mothers: two-thirds of families started by teens are poor, and nearly one in four will depend on welfare within three years of a child’s birth. It evident that the majority of teen mothers face not only the hurdle of raising a child while pursuing their education but all while doing so in most cases with financial burdens.

Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between poverty and educational attainment and those that live in poverty are less likely to graduate or obtain post-secondary education. Furthermore research states:

– Only 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school. Fewer than 2 percent finish college by age 30.

– Young women who give birth while attending a community college are 65 percent less likely to complete their degree than women who do not have children during that time.

– Children of teen mothers perform worse on many measures of school readiness, are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, and are more likely than children born to older mothers to drop out of high school.

Teen pregnancy and dropout rates could be more likely attributed to poverty and other adverse social factors especially considering the fact that more affluent teens have greater access to health care, housing, employment, and social supports. While these other social factors may play a greater role in the academic achievement of teen mothers, it is still evident that health educators, school personnel, and policy makers must be aware of the barriers that teen pregnancy has on educational outcomes. One way to mitigate the aforementioned barrier is through the implementation of comprehensive sex education programs, specifically those that target high risk populations and teens that are currently pregnant or parenting.

According to an article published in the Journal of School Health, school-based programs have the potential to help teens acquire the knowledge and skills needed to postpone sex, practice safer sex, avoid unintended pregnancy, and, if pregnant, to complete high school and pursue postsecondary education. A secondary benefit of comprehensive sex education is that it will serve to protect youth from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, which also disproportionately affect urban minority youth. It is evident that there is a correlation between teen pregnancy and poor educational outcomes and it is vital to develop comprehensive measures to promote academic achievement among teen mothers, especially minority teens living in poverty.

References:

National Institute of State Legislators http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-affects-graduation-rates-postcard.aspx

Basch, C. Teen Pregnancy and the Achievement Gap Among Urban Minority Youth, 2011. Journal of School Health.

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Why Young People Should Still See a Gynecologist Before Their First Pap Smear

Nurse Meeting With Teenage Girl And Mother In Hospital

Nurse Meeting With Teenage Girl And Mother In Hospital

Many people now know the new guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) do not recommend pap smears until the age of 21. This can be a bit confusing and frustrating for parents and teens that still have sexual and reproductive health care needs and are unsure if they should visit a gynecologist or sexual and reproductive healthcare provider (SRHP) who specializes in this area.

Here are some of the most common reasons young people should go to a SRHP.

STDs – Many young people and their partners need to be tested or treated for STDs. They may also want to talk to their parent/guardian and their medical provider to determine if they should receive the Human Papilloma Vaccine. The Gardasil Vaccine is recommended for boys and girls ages 11 or 12. The vaccine is recommended for people ages 9 to 26. According to Merck pharmaceuticals, the Gardasil vaccine helps protect against 4 types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases, 70% of vaginal cancer cases, and up to 50% of vulvar cancer cases. In males and females ages 9 to 26, GARDASIL helps protect against about 80% of anal cancer cases and 90% of genital warts cases.

Vaginal Infections – Infections can occur at any time during our lives and many times have nothing to do with whether we are sexually active (i.e. urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, folliculitis).

Menstruation – Some teens have irregular periods, PMS, painful cramps or heavy bleeding that keeps them home from school or work, acne or other medical conditions like endometriosis or abnormally large ovarian cysts that may require medication, procedures, or an office visit.

Birth Control – A sexual and reproductive health care provider can discuss the benefits and potential side effects of each birth control method and help the patient determine which method is best for them.

Pregnancy – Young people can receive pregnancy tests, options counseling, and preconception health if someone is planning to become pregnant in the future.

Safer Sex – Education can empower people to make safer choices and know their risks if and when they decide to be sexually active.

LGBTQ Health Concerns – Specific information can be given on how to be safer with a partner, medical concerns that impact LGBTQ individuals and referrals to additional resources.

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Are Same Sex Partners Better or Worse Parents?

One of the tired old arguments against gay marriage and gay adoption revolved around the alleged damage same sex parents would do to their children. Four recent studies that were presented at the American Psychological Association conference disputed this belief.

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Three major concerns about same sex parenting are often heard. One is that children of same sex relationships will experience confusion in gender roles. This is not the 50s when most moms stayed home and took care of the household chores including being the primary childcare giver and dad went off to work each day spending very limited time with his children. Today, clear gender roles are often non-existent where boys are taught to cook, clean and nurture while girls are free to dream of a career and expect a partner who is equally involved in all aspects of childcare. Somehow children reared in opposite sex households where mom goes off to work and dad is the one making the lunches and driving the kids to soccer do just fine. Why would it be any different with same gender parents? Well, it’s not.

A second fear was that children in same gender families would be less well-adjusted than their peers. Research results show that gay and lesbian parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children and raise equally mentally healthy kids.

A third fear is that children of same sex couples will be stigmatized and experience bullying. While they may feel different, research in one study shows that 70% of children interviewed appeared to respond to adversity with resilience and have very positive feelings about their families. Feeling different and experiencing some challenges with peers were not necessarily impacting children negatively. It’s important that issues are discussed with the children and that other adults, such as teachers and coaches, be supportive as well.

Now that same sex marriage is legal and social media frequently normalizes all sorts of blended families, the generation of kids growing up now is much more accepting of two mommies or two daddies. What all kids need more than anything else is a stable, loving environment where they feel safe and loved.

*Additional resources can be found here, here, and here.

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Sex Education and Your Preschooler

I am a mother of two daughters, ages 3 and 5, I have a Master’s degree in Public Health Education, and I have over ten years experience as a sex educator. Yes, I’m that mom who can’t wait until her kids ask where babies come from.

The term “sex education” is widely misunderstood. What most people don’t understand is that sex education is built upon a foundation of anatomical and emotional vocabulary, self-respect, self-exploration, body image, family values, communication and negotiation skills – and that’s just in the toddler/preschool years!

Sex education begins when you look into your baby’s eyes, meet their basic needs, and start to build a safe and secure attachment. The baby will cry, communicating the only way it knows how, and you’ll meet its needs, which is how your child starts to trust you.

woman-changing-diaper-photo-450x400-ts-75677441Diapering is another of those early opportunities you have to create positive experiences and foster brain development. Use gentle touches. Use positive language. Don’t use words like gross, disgusting, and stinky because remember that you are applying those words to their genital area and they need to have a positive relationship with their private parts. If they reach for their genitals while you’re changing them, don’t swat their hand away because that gives them the sense that there’s something wrong with them, that somehow touching their own body is wrong. Instead, gently move their hand to the side.

Before you know it, your 12-18 month old seems to be picking up a new word every day. By this time, you’re asking her where her nose, elbows, ears, and toes are so why not include the rest of the anatomical parts? Your son doesn’t have a “birdie” or a “ding dong,” he has a penis, scrotum and testicles. Your daughter doesn’t have a “vajajay” or a “potty maker,” she has a vulva and a vaginavagina. Your daughters can’t see their vaginas so it is best to use the correct term for the part they can see and touch (vulva). You may feel weird saying these words especially if your parents didn’t raise you using these words, but practice makes perfect. An elbow is an elbow, a back is a back, and a penis is a penis. Send the message that you are comfortable talking about their bodies because after words come sentences. And questions. Oh, the questions.

Seize questions and teachable moments like they are winning lotto tickets floating from the sky. If you aren’t sure how to answer their questions, follow these tips.

Using that technique, here’s a conversation I had with my almost-three year old:

Daughter: “How did the baby get out?”

Me: “How do you think it happened?”

Daughter: “It boomed out of her mouth.”

Me: “Well, that’s interesting.”

And maybe you’re wondering why the sex educator mom didn’t tell her daughter the whole truth… well, I know my child best. I knew her body of knowledge and vocabulary about the topic and she was still 2 years old. I did not think it was age-appropriate to tell her the whole truth at that time. Lucky for me, she asked me again recently and I told her that a baby comes out either through the vagina or by surgery. Children ask more sexuality-related questions by 8 years old than they will the rest of their childhood and adolescence. Take advantage!

My two year old is starting to sit up on the changing table with legs spread apart to examine her vulva. I let her. I say, “that is your vulva.” She repeats after me. And just like that, a valuable teachable moment occurs.

When my oldest was three she had some questions about pregnancy. A well-intentioned friend told her that her baby was in the tummy, but she knew the tummy to be the stomach, where food goes. I clarified for her, “the baby actually grows inside of a very strong muscle called the uterus.” Teachable moment.

Messages about privacy and self-exploration are now working their way into conversations with my four year old. She has discovered that it “tickles” when she touches herself. I tell her it is ok as long as she does it in private. We also teach her that other people want privacy when they are in the bathroom and changing rooms.

My husband and I avoid using the f word. Not the swear word, the FAT word. We are both aware that early adoption of a healthy body image will directly influence her sexual decision making later in life. If she values and respects her body, she’ll hold her future partners to the same standard.

bodyimageA lot of the messaging about family values at this age is unspoken. Do you shower or get dressed in front of your little one? Do you show affection to your spouse and/or extended family members? Do you look at yourself in the mirror with appreciation or disdain? What role does your faith play? Do you and your spouse argue respectfully or not? And much of it is spoken, hopefully loud and clear. 

So the next time someone tells you that your child is too young to receive sex education, tell them they are wrong. In the beginning, sex education isn’t about sex at all. It’s about giving your child a solid foundation to stand on. Help them learn to love, respect, and trust during the early years because it’ll make a huge difference during their adolescence. Be open, be honest, and don’t fear THE BIG TALK. You know you’re doing it right if you’re having many little talks. You can do this!

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Fun Friday: Periods Don’t Have Glitter in Them

Happy Friday! Helloflo released a very funny video about menstruation. Here it is:

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How to Help Protect Your Kids From Sexual Abuse

pmpyMy life’s work is with teens and know that a large number of them have been sexually abused at some point in their lives. According to Lauren’s Kids, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Lauren’s Kids is a foundation that helps to bring awareness to the issue and gives parents, community members and kids the tools to help prevent sexual abuse. We all have children in our lives that we care about and need to ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent them from becoming victims. Here is a list of tips* to help adults teach children the messages they need to be safe.

  1. Teach your child that safety rules apply to everyone at all times. Over 90% of offenders are not strangers to their victims (US Department of Justice).
  2. Don’t force your child to hug or kiss anyone. Giving children control over their bodies reinforces that they have the right to determine how and when they are touched. If you force them to be affectionate it teaches them that their bodies are not their own.
  3. Give your child permission to be ugly and impolite if they are uncomfortable.  Practice yelling with your child (it can be fun) – from their toes to the top of their head – when they need to get the attention of a safe adult.
  4. Don’t let your child be alone in a public space or bathroom until you feel they are old enough.
  5. Be aware of who spends time with your child. This includes older children.
  6. Listen to your inner voice and validate your child’s. Let your child know that their inner voice helps let them know when something is unsafe and will make them feel scared, confused or “icky.” When this happens they should always tell you or a trusted adult. It is also important to have the child name the trusted adults in their life.
  7. Help children develop confidence in their ability to be assertive will children and adults. Lauren’s Kids recommends using the “I mean business voice” and having the child practice putting their hand out and saying, “Stop, I don’t like that!”
  8. Teach your children the proper names for their private parts and that those areas are the parts of their bodies covered up by swim suits. When you give them the names of their ears, elbows, etc., you should also name their penis and vagina. This helps ensure that they genitals are not seen as different, icky or something people keep secret.
  9. Repeat personal safety guidelines often and keep reinforcing them throughout their childhood with age appropriate messages
  10. Reach out to community resources if you need additional information, education or support.
  11. Know who is a registered sex offender in your neighborhood. Go to Family Watchdog to find out where the offenders in your neighborhood live. Enter your zip code and it’ll show you a map. Click on any of the dots to see the specifics on that offender (picture, height, weight, address).

*The tips above were adapted from Lauren’s Kids Foundation and the Child Protection Center in Florida.

Remember that sexual abuse prevention is not a one-time conversation. You should be finding ways to discuss personal safety on a regular basis.

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Where Do Babies Come From?

If that 5 word sentence invoked instant panic, this article is for you. One of the many roles you have as a parent is that of sex educator. Don’t let this and other sex-related questions throw you off your parenting game. You can do this, and you can do it well! Your answers to their questions will be different depending on the age of the child asking the question and how much they already know. Here’s a good way to field questions about where babies come from:

Child: “Where do babies come from?”

Step 1: Affirm that you are listening, then ask them why they are asking. This buys you time and gets at their real motive for asking. Be sure NOT to use a tone! If you use a tone, it will shut them down and they’ll be afraid to ask any more questions for fear of getting in trouble or upsetting you.

Parent: “Good question. Why do you ask?”

Child: “Because my friend said that . . . ”

Step 2: Turn the question back on them to find out what they already know, what vocabulary they are using, and if there’s any misinformation you need to correct.

Parent: “Oh, well, where do you think babies come from?”

Child: (answers will vary)

Step 3: Take a deep breath and tell the age-appropriate truth! Use proper anatomical language. (Ex: Babies don’t grow in a stomach, they grow in a uterus.) This is where you will insert your family values. You might want to talk about love or marriage or God. You might even have to explain how babies are made in same-sex relationships. You will have to be the judge on how much to tell them. Maybe they don’t want to know how babies are made, but just how they get out of the woman’s body (this is why it is important to pay attention to their answer from step 2).

Parent: “Babies are made when . . . ” or “Babies come out of . . . ”

Step 4: After you give your answer, ask them if they understand. If they do, ask them if they have any more questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell them that you’ll look it up and get back to them.

We highly recommend It's So Amazing! and It's NOT The Stork! by Robie Harris.

We highly recommend It’s So Amazing! and It’s NOT The Stork! by Robie Harris.

Remember, what’s important is not that you get every single reproduction factoid correct. What’s important is that you try to answer their questions and keep the stream of communication open. And trust me, they are going to ask more questions. If you think you get to have “the big talk” and be done with it, you are VERY wrong. Think of it more as a bunch of little talks. FYI – The steps above work for all types of tough questions from kids.

P.S. The car is where lots of “teachable moments” happen because everyone is “captive” and often not distracted by other things. If you have a DVD player in your car, turn it off once in a while and marvel at the quality of the conversations that come from the back seat.

 

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Proud to serve all girls

I was a Girl Scout for ages – I started in kindergarten, and continued on through high school, largely because my friends and I really liked having access to cheap campsites.

We weren’t the most typical of troops – when we passed through other troops’ camps, we did the traditional ‘trade songs’ ritual, but would often sing the Ramones – but that was one of the great things about Girl Scouts. You could follow the more conventional route, but you also had a lot of freedom to explore ways of being a group that worked for you. When I came out as bi in high school, I didn’t feel like there had to be a split between that and my membership in the group, and was very thankful for that. (We weren’t quite as forward thinking as the Radical Brownies, but we were still pretty progressive.)

That kind of inclusivity is deeply rooted in the culture there, and it’s why I’m thrilled but not surprised that the national Girl Scouts organization is standing firm on their policy of including trans* girls in their troops. In 2012, a girl in Colorado joined her local troop, and the national group supported her and her troop when they started to get a bit of backlash, due to the fact that she’s trans*.

Currently, the American Family Association is trying to pressure the Scouts to reconsider their position, but the Scouts are standing firm and stating “we are proud to serve all girls.

And me – I’m thankful that I get to be so proud of being a Girl Scout.

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