I want you to imagine that you are presenting a sexuality education workshop to a group of 100 college freshman. You open up by asking how many of their parent’s talked to them about sex and sexuality before 11th grade. How many would raise their hands? 20? 50? All 100? Chances are slim depending on the group, right? Let’s say you continue presenting sexuality education workshops to college freshman once a month, with 100 eager students attending each session (a sex educator’s dream, I know!). You begin your session with the same question each time asking who has the brave parents. How long does it take before you begin to realize the pattern of silent parents? Session number two, maybe three? More importantly, when do you realize that you may be presenting to the wrong group of 100 participants? Don’t panic, this doesn’t mean you are out of a job, it means you may have just created another avenue for sexuality education.
It occurred to me recently, that for all the interventions and curricula designed to help young people navigate their sexuality (choices, decisions, feelings, etc.), we invest virtually no time and resources into helping parents help their children navigate their sexuality. What makes this so interesting is, as educators when we sit down to develop a curriculum we are instructed to do research, research, research, add rationale, and do more research. What better resource could you use to learn more about a child, than that child’s parent or guardian? I am not sure if parents are the only experts on their children, but most parents and caregivers are the first to see how their child’s personality, speech patterns, anxieties, freedoms, questioning style, etc. develop. If this be the case why not build a relationship between sexuality educators and parents that would work symbiotically, with the child as the focus. Something like an individualized sexuality health plan.
So, how would we actually teach this? First, let’s think about a timeline. There are some parents who are geared up and ready to teach about sex education 24-hours post delivery, while others may be ready when their children are of retirement age. No matter when parents are ready (or need help getting ready), here are some helpful tips.
- Parents have feelings, too! Discussion and education around what parent’s think and feel about sex and sexuality is a very important element. If you dismiss their anxieties, questions, and concerns, you put parents on the defense. This only heightens their discomfort about discussing sex and potentially slows or stops their feelings of self-efficacy.
- Adults need stages, too! Remind parents that they may not have all of the answers now (or ever!) about sex and sexuality and that’s okay. Remind them they are not only learning (or re-learning) about themselves, but they are also learning about their child, so give themselves room to learn and make mistakes. It is perfectly okay to move at a pace that is comfortable for them and their child.
- One size does not fit all. Parents may be able to tell you that their first child learned to walk at 9 months and their third child learned at 13 months. Teaching about sexuality is the same way. Children will desire to learn different things at different times in their lives, so be patient with them and yourself when it comes to tailoring information to each child.
Now that you are armed with a few tips on how to teach sexuality education to parents, you are wondering where in the world do you recruit them?! Well, let’s think of places parents with children of different ages may be.
- Daycares - Think of approaching daycare centers with organizing a “How-To” sexuality education workshop once a month for parents and daycare personnel.
- Faith Centers - If you, or someone close to you is a member of a religious organization, see if any parents would be interested in starting a group to share stories on sex education that are rooted in their particular faith. This could also help parents of younger children get ideas and support from parents of older children.
- Local Libraries - Talk with your local library to see if you could survey parents who attend book clubs or reading groups for themselves or their children to gauge interest in learning how to better educate their children on sexuality.
- PTA Board - Yes, schools can be a scary place to bring up sexuality education, but if you, or someone you know has a group of parents that spend time together in or outside of PTA meetings see if they would be interested in learning more about teaching sexuality education to their children.
Some may dismiss this notion of teaching parents about sexuality education as too difficult or laborious. That may be true, but when you think back on that imaginary story at the beginning of this blog, and you visualized how many students had parents who never talked to them about sexuality, it seems high time that we reframe the conversation. Many sexuality educators entered the field because of a bad experience (or a series of bad experiences) around how they were, or were not educated about sex and sexuality. At what point do we stop blaming the parents who never taught their kids about sexuality for all for the high rates of infection and pregnancy, and offer help to parents? Silence can be seen as an answer, but if we asked a different question, we just may get a different response.