Despite not having any kids (thanks to the wonderful information about contraception I received as a Peer Educator with Bridgercare!), I am familiar with how intimidating “The Talk” can feel for everyone involved. However, the benefits of establishing an open line of communication from an early age are so compelling that I would encourage parents to address topics relating to sexuality in an developmentally-appropriate way as soon as possible. Here are some reasons why:
You can’t always depend on schools to fill the gap in knowledge.
The quality of sex education in Montana varies from school to school, and sometimes even from teacher to teacher. There are no laws barring religion in sex education or requiring the information to be medically accurate. Though there are some wonderful teachers and organizations like Bridgercare that make sure students get comprehensive sex education, there is no guarantee that any given child in the Montana school system will learn what they need to make healthy, responsible choices. Also, according to the most recent Montana Youth Behavior Risk Survey, 23.8% of teens self-report having sexual intercourse by 9th grade, so even if information is provided in school it may come too late.
Your kids listen to you more when they’re younger!
A recent poll of 12-24 year olds found children are most receptive to information about sexuality from their parents between the ages of 12-15, with the influence waning as they get older. It is important to give children accurate information as soon as possible, before they turn to their friends, the media, or other potentially unreliable sources. The best way to protect children from misinformation is to give them accurate and age-appropriate facts early and often.
As children have increasing access to the digital world, they are exposed to inappropriate media content at increasingly early ages.
As soon as a child can use an electronic device independently, they are at risk. According to studies done by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, 42% of children ages 10-17 had seen pornography, and the majority of those stumbled upon it by accident. Even though it is challenging to prevent children from seeing it in the first place, it is within parents’ power to initiate conversations about what children should do if they should see something explicit online. For example, the website “Sex Ed Quickies” recommends telling children as young as 3 that, “If you find any pictures or movies of people with no clothes on, you need to tell me. You won’t get into trouble but I need to know if this happens.” If the burden is taken off the child to address challenging topics for the first time, they will feel much more comfortable asking their parents for guidance later.
If a child is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s unlikely that they will get accurate and affirming information tailored to their needs in a traditional sex education setting.
About 11% of students in public high schools identify as something other than heterosexual, and .7% as transgender. They face disproportionate risk when it comes to mental and sexual health and in one study by The Trevor Project, 39% of LGBTQ respondents said they had “seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months.”
However, sexual education topics relating to the LGBTQ+ community are sorely under-covered.
The University of Montana polled sexual education teachers on their comfort teaching varying topics, and found that LGBTQ+ topics were ranked the lowest. I still think about a question I received in the anonymous question box after teaching a class—“Is it ok to be gay?” In an ideal world, no child would ever have to ask that question. The good news is that by facilitating conversations from a young age, parents can raise children who know they are supported regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even if a child isn’t LGBTQ+, education is still important. Talk to them about what to do if someone is facing discrimination for being LGBTQ+ or another facet of their identity. Having supportive and educated classmates improves the quality of life of LGBTQ+ youth.
You don’t have to do it alone!
There are many wonderful resources—The aforementioned “Sex Ed Quickies” can be accessed for a one-time payment of $29, and provides sample scripts broken down by age and topic. Additionally, Bridgercare offers free “How to Talk To Your Kids About Sex” workshops. For more information, email Cami at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to our mailing list.
-Written by Ava Snow, Bridgercare Summer 2019 Intern and previous high school Peer Educator!