Inclusion, respect, healthy relationships, equity...These are the topics I’m starting with when I bombard (er...talk to) my children this October for #LetsTalkMonth.
Yes, October is #LetsTalkMonth. Originally coordinated by Advocates for Youth, it’s a month dedicated to frank conversations between young people and the adults they trust about sexual health. It’s a great time to start the conversation about sexuality with your kids, if you haven’t already. (My poor kids have been hearing from my husband and me on these topics since before they could talk...now they just roll their eyes at us!). As we parents gear up to convey the facts (usually marked by frantic Google searches to make sure we are up to speed on all of the latest research!), one angle we sometimes overlook is our values. Any time we talk about sex with our kids is an opportunity to infuse that conversation with our beliefs and our families’ norms.
In the context of sex education, values can be a touchy subject. It doesn’t have to be, though. Last year, our school district here in Palo Alto had a bit of a scuffle over our public school sex ed curriculum as it worked to integrate new sex ed instruction to adhere to recently passed state legislation designed to ensure public schools provide medically accurate, comprehensive, inclusive sex ed to students. Fortunately, our school board voted not to halt our top-rated, legally compliant program. One of the takeaways for me from that process, was that some parents’ concerns were rooted in fears that our district was trying to replace their values with its teachings.
In my mind, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Over the course of the year, many of those initially reluctant parents took the time to learn about the program, including digging into post-program student survey data. For example, they found that the 7th grade cohort’s content knowledge increased from 35% to 87%, and read overwhelmingly positive student anecdotes, including “I’ll be a lot more careful,” “I will be more respectful,” “I will make sure to have consent,” and “I will talk to my parents more.” They also noted that during the program, they themselves had homework! Our district’s sex ed program not only encouraged - but required - that students talk to their parents about their families’ values, whether those values were informed by religious beliefs, culture, or prior experiences. (I’m not usually one to invite extra stuff to do, but what a great idea!)
Including parents in the sex ed curriculum is not just an artifact of our district’s sex ed program; it’s actually required by state law. If you read the education code, amended for the California Healthy Youth Act, you’ll find that compliant curricula must “...encourage a pupil to communicate with his or her parents, guardians, and other trusted adults about human sexuality and provide the knowledge and skills necessary to do so.” This means HOMEWORK! Yay! (That’s the first and last time I’ll ever cheer for homework.)
Seriously, though. Look at those outcomes and anecdotes. And think about the talks kids are having with their parents as a result of our sex ed program...in some cases, it’s the first time they’re broaching the topic, and the first time parents can convey their values on sexuality in a meaningful way. I know talking about these topics can feel overwhelming or scary for some parents, but it’s more than worth it to be the one to tell your kids how you feel, instead of leaving it to other kids or the internet.
So as we go into #LetsTalkMonth this October, I want to encourage other parents to begin a dialogue. I’m
joining with thousands of other parents, educators, administrators, social workers, and students throughout California (and beyond!) as part of a campaign to encourage frank talk at home, while also showing our support for comprehensive sex ed in schools. As we broaden the conversation this year, we have a positive, hopeful take, and have designated our campaign with the dual hashtags #LetsTalkMonth and #MyHope.
You can join us by following Health Connected or @PAParents4SE on Facebook for an entire month's worth of tips and resources to get the conversation about sex and relationships started with your kids. Share one, some, or all of the Facebook posts to show your support of comprehensive sex ed in schools and at home. Or, run a campaign yourself! Here's our pre-made campaign-in-a-box, with graphics, posts, links to resources and more! If you want to learn more about this campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Note: The views expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to Health Connected.