Saturday, November 17, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex.

This is my question for discussion: Do parents have the right to keep their children from learning about sex? 

Parenting and parental rights are such tricky subjects. Where is the line between this child came from my body; it is my responsibility/right to care for it as I see fit and considering the welfare of the child? As a community we agree that child abuse is not acceptable, but no one's ever sure how to decide exactly what constitutes child abuse and what's just a parenting approach with which we disagree. 

Is it abuse to refuse medication for your child because of your beliefs?

Is it abuse to use physical punishment, like spanking?

What exactly is abuse? Parents have so much control over how a person first becomes formed, and this can be a really good thing or a very damaging one. 

So the question is... sex. How the human body works. What sex is, what its potential effects are. Because that's the thing to consider—sex can 100 percent change the course of a person's life. There's pregnancy, and diseases, and emotional impact that for many people never fades. And one person's knowledge (or lack thereof) also affects all the people with whom that person will have romantic or sexual relationships in their lifetime. Basically, there's a lot riding on a parent's decision.

So where are the lines drawn? What are parents' rights regarding their children's education about sex?

And furthermore, what do we do about it if we think a parent is beyond their rights? If they refuse permission for their child to participate in sex ed in school, but don't provide the education themselves, at home? What can anyone do? What should they do, and who should "they" be? At what point does a child's need become more important than a parent's stewardship?


  1. That's a hard line to draw, like you said. As much as you want to leave it up to the parents to train their kids, there are too many parents who couldn't care less about their kids and what happens in their lives.

    As far as this topic is concerned, unless the parents move far away, never let the kid get on the internet or watch movies, read magazines,... talk with friends, the kids will hear about sex and learn, whether it be fact or fiction, about sex.

    I remember some interesting conversations with friends growing up. Of course there was the school puberty class, and my mom took the time to go over the topic with me before hand.

    I'm not sure what the answer is, but I know at least one school district that is putting the material online for parents to review first before their children see it, and to use as a guide for discussion. I think that's a pretty good start. Some schools make you have a permission slip signed too before you can have those lessons.

    It's near impossible to make parents teach their children anything. But it's hard to make the schools responsible to pick up that slack. (In areas such as manners, general healthcare...). I'm interested to hear other people's opinions.

  2. I think this dynamic plays out all the time, where parents think not only that they have the right to hide the truth from their children, but the flip side that the world has no ride to expose their children to the truth without their permission (i.e. sex ed.)

    One place I think this is super interesting is when you get outside married, heterosexual sex. I was reading some review of a kids' movie that where a character incidentally mentioned he had a boyfriend. The mother writing the review was furious - "How dare you teach my child that homosexuality is acceptable! That's something we should have talked about as a family when the time was right!" (nevermind the mother took the child to the movie without reading anything about it online, so bad protectionist move on her part). Anyway, I thought that was kind of bizarre, because although you might think it's your parental right to try to shield your kids from the truth or give them your slanted version of it, how on earth can you say that everyone else has an affirmative duty to your kid to never mention the existence of gay people within their earshot? (see also: Prop 8 religious fervor about how kids will learn that there are lots of different kinds of families in California public schools. The horror.)

    Additionally, the movie didn't straight up ADVOCATE for homosexuality, it just acknowledged that it EXISTS. How can a parent really argue that the public at large has a burden to keep the indisputable facts of life away from your child in deference to your parental rights? It's the same way people get mad at gay people for holding hands or kissing in public because their kids might see and then the big secret will be blown - not everybody is in a married, heterosexual relationship. How can people be required to perform their life in such a way that you can prop up an inaccurate worldview for your kids for as long as possible? In what world would it be acceptable for a 50s-style fundamentalist evangelical to complain that a kids' movie showed black people mixing with white people like it was no big deal, because it was brainwashing their kid into thinking that was acceptable?

    Sorry for the ramble, but I was thinking about this the other day and think it's pretty related to sex ed. The existence of sex (safe, unsafe, marital, extramarital, gay, straight, whatever) is just a straight up fact. I'm reasonably persuaded that parents can put whatever moral spin they feel like on sex ed (good girls don't have sex, whatever), as offensive as it might be, but when as a corollary they expect others not to express alternate viewpoints and to pretend like the world as presented by the parents is totally true whenever the kid is in earshot, is a whole 'nother can of worms.

  3. There are also too many parents who do care about what happens in their kids lives, but because of their beliefs they end up leaving their children totally unprepared to handle real life situations. Which is the trickiest part, I think, because it's not like they're neglecting their children.

    You're right—I don't think it's possible for a kid to just exist in the world anymore without picking up on at least bits and pieces. Which is exactly the problem, because it's those bits and pieces that end up warping a teenager's perception of sex, or leaving them with that dangerous half-knowledge that makes them think they know what they're doing when they really don't. It's so frustrating.

    I do like the idea of the school district putting that information online. I don't really think that's going to have much of an impact on those parents who just think their kids shouldn't be talking about sex, period—but it's at least helpful to those who would like to have the conversation themselves and maybe need a little guidance.

  4. Brilliant comment, Becca, that's exactly it. That's actually how I feel about sex ed in schools, too. The existence of sex is a fact. School is about education; we learn about the human body, and puberty and sexual reproduction should absolutely fit into that discussion. The "morals" (which are questionable) are what you teach at home—the shoulds and should nots, or whatever you believe about it. But the how and what—I think that's the non-optional part. You don't get to decide that your kids won't learn about it, because they have to know. And you certainly don't get to expect everyone else in the universe to live their lives and do their jobs in a way that will support the version you choose.