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Educators: Parent Involvement Vital in Kids’ Sexuality Education

August 15, 2011

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Arizona schools are putting added emphasis on getting parents involved in their children's education. A PTA official says parents have an even greater responsibility when it comes to sexuality and relationships.

Michelle Steinberg, legislative chair of Arizona PTA, notes that most Arizona schools limit sex education to promoting abstinence. She says more comprehensive classes are necessary, both for health and academic reasons.

"Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unplanned pregnancies dramatically impact a student's ability to be successful in school. We also have to take into consideration how unplanned pregnancies impact the dropout rate."

Arizona has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation and one of the highest dropout rates. Since most Arizona schools avoid teaching about STDs and pregnancy prevention, Steinberg says the responsibility falls even more heavily on parents to communicate with their children about sex.

Vicki Hadd-Wissler, manager of education programs for Planned Parenthood Arizona, says studies show children depend heavily on their parents when it comes to sex education - a fact that comes as a surprise to most parents.

"Where kids want to find out 'How do you know when you're in love?' 'What does it mean when somebody wants to have sex with me?' or 'I'm having these feelings about this person' or information about dating and things like that - they really want that information from their parents."

Hadd-Wissler says research confirms outcomes are better when parents talk with their kids about sexuality.

"Young people who report having those conversations in their family and with their parents are less likely to engage in sexual activity at an earlier age. And if and when children do choose to be sexually active, they're more likely to use contraception."

Some parents argue that schools are not the place for sex education and that it's a private matter to be handled within the family. But Hadd-Wissler says there are some universal values around sexuality that can be taught in a medically accurate and unbiased manner.

"I think most people would agree that it's not okay to exploit somebody sexually. You don't have sex with somebody who's drunk. You don't have sex with somebody who hasn't given you their consent, and discussing what consent means."

She says it's important for parents to partner with teachers and keep current on what is being taught. She adds parents should always have the right to opt their children out of classes, if they desire.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ