I am teaching a unit on Africa in my Honors Geography class. We were talking today about the health issues that exist there including Malaria and HIV/AIDS. I have tried to make it a policy in my classes to be precise and honest with my students about sex and the human body (any time you say sex students wake up and start listening which is a bonus). Per this policy I started asking students about what HIV is, how you get it, and what it is like to be infected. They were clueless and I was shocked. We talked about the scenarios in which infection of any kind of STD can occur and again my honors students were stumped.
During my planning period I did a little investigating and found a number of very revealing and useful statstics on the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) website. I shared this with other classes and again found some students uninformed. When I told them that Birth Control Pills and Patches don’t prevent STDs I saw a few revealing faces. Again, I was honestly thinking, “What the heck???” We spent longer then I thought talking about this topic today and I hope that my students will listen and make some smart decisions about their sex life; that they will wake up and get informed.
We have a responsibility as educators and adults in a society where sex is everywhere. I asked students to guess what percentage of American students have not had sexual intercourse and they guessed numbers like 25%, 14%, 30%, etc. In 2004, the majority of students (55%) were estimated to not have had sexual intercourse. What is the cause of this, you ask? Television and advertising I say. Any 5 minute segment of television is bound to have numerous sexual allusions or images galore.
But all this so far has been my commentary on our educational system, legislative priorities, parenting methods, and the media and entertainment industries. I started thinking (and I’ve been doing this a lot lately), what if this where my very own child? Would I want them to have condoms and be taught how to use them? Would I put my daughter on birth control pills? I want to emphatically say no. But the the honest answer is I don’t know? I don’t have kids now, but what if I did? How would I, on the one hand, develop a child with a healthy sexual view of them selves, while on the other hand create boundaries for enjoying this gift with the right person at the right time? My answer: that’s why I married a therapist.
Maybe the answer lies in the question? I think lots of kids are severely over-sexed. They believe that it is normal to be promiscuous and with multiple partners and the students who do not not feel pressured to have sex are prone to view sex to be “dirty” or “evil”. Developing a healthy view of sex in the right context is a task desperately needed for today’s teenagers. Boundaries are the other difficulty with teens. They need to learn some relational skills, but guiding them through where to go and not go is as tricky as anything I can imagine.
There are parents out there who do not even have the skills to get their kid out of bed for school, let alone create any influence in the kids sex life. This is my shameless plug for therapists in school settings. I talk with parents regularly who seem lost as to how to handle their student and are desperate for some help. There is no one in our public schools really equipped with the tools to help parents with their students. Employing therapists in our schools is the answer to this issue. Better parents make better children. Why would we not want this?
This is as serious a situation as any facing our youngest citizens today. It is a problem among teens of every age, race, and economic status, and I can say little other than the fact as an educator I see the effects of this daily. There is work to be done and changes to be made and we are all responsible and we all can be a part of the solution. This requires us to speak up: to our kids, to the media industry, to doctors, to our legislators. I will not be easy, but it must be done. The risk we run in silence is far too high.