School-based sexual health programming is often portrayed in opposition to parents’ engagement with their children on these important topics. In fact, at Health Connected, we see parent-child communication and school-based sex ed as two sides of the same coin. In order for one to be effective, the other must be also be present.
School-based programming plays the important role of ensuring that all students receive consistent and comprehensive information about reproductive anatomy, conception, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), and pregnancy/STI prevention. We can provide frameworks for understand gender identity and sexual orientation as well as characteristics of healthy relationships. And we can support school efforts to establish communities of respect, tolerance, and communication, while giving students a forum to internally articulate their personal values about romantic and peer relationships.
Parents play a critical role in helping their children understand their values and expectations around relationships and sex. As we have oft reported on our various social media sites, teens routinely say that their parents play the most significant role in helping them make decisions about sex, love, and relationships. Parents may not know about the effectiveness rates of every form of birth control or which STIs are treatable and which are curable, but they play a critical role in helping teens understand and articulate their values about sexuality. How should I think about the images I see on TV? When is it “okay” to have sex? What role does sex play in a relationship? These are just some of the important questions teens have for which parents can provide a guiding force.
Parents also play a valuable support system for young people as they grow into young adults. Adolescence is an opportunity for young people to practice being adults – navigating challenging social situations, learning how to deal with life’s joys and challenges, figuring out how to set limits for themselves. It is necessary for them to have ample opportunities to explore these life experiences, but when they inevitably face obstacles, parents provide a soft cushion for them to fall on and practice self-reflection. Sexual health decisions are no different in this way than many of the other experiences pre-teens and teens encounter. Parents can help guide their children through this maze of social situations.
Parents and schools are partners in the effort to ensure all of our young people have access to information and the support they need to make informed, positive decisions about their own sexual health.