Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sex Ed for Teens
We are parenting a teenage boy who is turning 14 next weekend and will be a freshman in Upper School in six months. Many of our parent to parent conversations are centered around topics typical for this stage of parenting. How will I talk to my child about smoking, drugs, alcohol and sex? Or more specifically, how can I protect my child? We also have an added layer of complication: electronic communications, social media and the Internet. Technological facilitation of access to sexual misinformation, pornography and predators is a giant challenge.

It was easy to teach how our kids to say please, thank you and I'm sorry and we started as soon as they could mumble a sound. Parenting now also means we have to teach texting and email etiquette, how to not bully or not be a victim on social networks that allow anonymous interactions (these are the worst), how to not respond to the predators that lurk in online chat places and on and on. These are lessons that should come 
before they are a possibility and not after they surface.

It is IMPOSSIBLE to control what teenagers access in cyberspace. Our parents dealt with kids looking at a Playboy issue or sneaking behind the X-rated theater. My teenage son can purposely or accidentally land on porn sites with disturbing videos and images anytime. We could put controls on his devices but we cannot control his friends or other Internet sources. And young minds are cognitively not ready to understand what they see is not real and can be dangerous even.

So what do we do? Perhaps the Internet can also help us populate our parenting toolkit. Today I found a couple of websites that will possibly "speak" to my teenager. A hard copy pamphlet or book is not going to cut it with this generation.

Scarleteen, is a great resource for sex education that is geared towards ages 15 to 25. Common Sense Media has a review of Scarleteen,
Parents need to know that Scarleteen is a sexual health site that is educational and medically accurate but sometimes explicit. Parents' comfort level will probably depend on how much they think their teens should know about sexuality. The site includes information that's geared toward younger teens (articles about self-esteem and puberty, for example) as well as more "adult" topics that aren't normally addressed in sex-ed classes (like sexual pleasure). The site identifies as feminist and pro-choice and explains its philosophy as "a nonjudgmental and unbiased attitude of acceptance, tolerance, and understanding for young people, whether they choose to be sexually active or not."

A Naked Notion,, is an interesting collaboration between Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and sex educator Laci Green. It has candid video vignettes meant to encourage open conversations and learning. Topics include "Birth Control Basics: Pulling Out", "Problems with Penises" and "Annual Visit=Happy Vag."

Not all families will be open to sharing these sorts of sites with their teenagers. These types of Internet resources should not be considered the only source of sex education. Classes at school as well as parent and teen conversations are also needed. However, I would like Oldest Son to have a parent approved electronic resource that he can use without fear. Restriction of information is just not realistic in the information age.