According to Fulbright (2010), parents are the people best qualified to teach their children about sex and intimate relationships. The theory behind Fulbright's (2010) proposition is that parents and their children gain a more honest and open relationship, which fosters healthier identity and sexual development than if parents shun their children's questions or avoid discussing sensitive matters like these. Moreover, children will receive incorrect, patchy, and conflicting information when they rely only on friends, rumors, and formal sex education in schools. Parents teach from their own experience, and can confer not only values but also valuable practical information. In many cases, the child's experiences in terms of biology and social interactions will parallel those of the parents, which allows for more intimate and meaningful discussions than what would take place in the more generalized setting of a school. While I still believe in the importance of formal sex education in school, I fully agree with Fulbright's open and frank approach to sexuality.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to broach the subject of sex at home. Teenagers can be especially uncomfortable discussing sex with their parents. This does not mean parents should not try and be persistent. According to Planned Parenthood (2012), "most parents and teens talk about sex; teens are less comfortable than their parents having these conversations; and parents need to talk more about how their teens can prevent pregnancy and STDs." It is critical that parents safeguard their teens from preventable problems like pregnancy and STDs. Each school district is different, which is why parents do need to supplement what is taught in the classroom with guidance from home. I believe that parents themselves often need sex education, and that not all parents are equally qualified to teach their children about sex. This is why I would like to see changes to the cultural norms related to sex, which is what Fulbright also seems to be saying. Openness paves the way for a healthier sex life.
There are some problems with relying too much on home education about sex. For one, religious or conservative parents might offer children incorrect or incomplete information about teenage sexuality. Topics like homosexuality might not be discussed properly or sensitively in a conservative household, leading to the child's possible development of identity problems, depression, or homophobia. Second, parents themselves might have erroneous information regardless of their background. Educators in schools are trained to discuss core matters related to sexuality and sexual health, making it important to continue formal sex education. In fact, formal sex education is often lacking in genuinely useful information for children. Simply knowing how to put on a condom is not enough.
Fulbright's Sexuality Source website provides a forum by which to learn about sexuality. Although geared to adults, the website can be consulted by parents needing some frameworks with which to teach their children. Moreover, the website might be helpful in improving the parents' own sexual health. Sexual health can become an integral part of overall mental, emotional, and social health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013) defines sexual health as "a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity." This means that parents should view sexuality as being integral to their child's overall well-being, and cease segregating sex into an area that is taboo. According to Planned Parenthood (2012), parents are actually responsible for "guiding their teens into adulthood" and that includes the difficult job of communicating about sex and relationships. Making sex taboo can create dysfunctional patterns, and possibly even lead to problems as wide ranging as abusive future relationships and STDs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013).
Teaching children about sexuality should be accomplished in accordance with evidence related to the stages of adolescent development. There are three basic stages in adolescent development: early, middle, and late. Early adolescent development is between 11 and 13 years of age for girls, and 12 to 14 years of age for boys. This stage corresponds with intense mood swings in both genders. It also corresponds with the onset of puberty and biological sexual development. The child is starting to experiment with the body through masturbation, and may feel anxiety, confusion, and loss of control (Pawlowski & Hamilton, n.d.). This may therefore be the most crucial phase to start teaching children about sexuality. Children who learn early that their bodies and their thoughts are not evil are better able to cope with the changes they are going through mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially. This is why I agree with Fulbright's (2010) approach. In Who Better than You? Fulbright discusses the importance of clarifying questions children have at the early stage of adolescent development, as well as at later stages.
According to Pawlowski & Hamilton (n.d.), the middle stage of development is characterized by continued mood swings as well as intense sexual and romantic feelings. Between the ages of 13 and 16 for girls, and 14 and 17 for boys, the middle stage of adolescence is when parents need to start teaching their children about safe sex in detail. While some children are sexually active at a younger or older age, Pawlowski & Hamilton (n.d.) point out that more than 50% of American teenagers aged 16 or younger have had their first sexual experience and the risk of pregnancy is high during this time. To prevent pregnancy, it is important for parents to give their children condoms and drill home the importance of using them. Each child is different, which is why it is important for parents to teach their children about sex. Some children will be naturally more inquisitive about sex. Perhaps because their bodies developed sooner, or perhaps due to individual differences or genetics, some children will be naturally inclined to experiment with sex at an earlier age than other children. Similarly, some children will become more interested in, or even obsessed with sex. Parents need to have the courage to recognize what stage their child is at, and address sex accordingly with an emphasis on safe sex and non-judgmental approaches to sexuality. A judgmental parent will only encourage the child to shut down. Even if the child seems disinterested or uncomfortable with the conversation, the message will sink in. Parents can also rely on books, online resources, and other materials that their children can read on their own and in private. This might help shy or uncomfortable children learn about sexuality at their own pace. Parents should prompt their children to ask questions, though, rather than expect the child to voluntarily ask.
Emotional relationships also start to develop at this stage. In particular, middle adolescence is the "puppy love" stage, during which the child becomes fixated on a significant other for a brief period of time (Pawlowski & Hamilton, n.d.). Friends and lovers take center stage, pushing parents to the periphery. This means that parents risk losing out on the opportunity to speak to their teenagers. It is therefore doubly important to speak to teens before this stage begins, as the adolescent will be much more likely to listen to the parent at the early vs. The middle stage. Even so, teenagers need to be reminded again and again of the dangers of unprotected sex. During late adolescence, some teenagers are developing genuinely caring, mutually respectful intimate relationships. This is when parents have the opportunity to broach subjects beyond sex, and delve into the deeper issues of love, heartbreak, morality, and emotional vulnerability.
In Who Better Than You? And her website, Fulbright offers concrete and sensible suggestions for parents. Parents need to know how to broach difficult subjects like sexual and emotional intimacy. Teenagers who are embarrassed or who do not want to listen are not necessarily exempt. As Fulbright…