Halloween has passed, and with it all of the goblins, and ghosts and other things intended to leave us frightened.
I'm here to tell you, put the ghost cutouts away. Turnoff the flashlights, and stop telling the scary stories. Because when it comes down to it, there's no reason to be spooked by sex education.
Yes: starting this spring, New York City public school students will begin receiving two semesters of sex education: one in sixth or seventh grade, and one in ninth or tenth. As the New York Department of Education recently wrote, much of the news coverage around this topic has been sensationalist, and misreported the facts. But still, for many parents mandatory sex education may be a scary step, especially if you've never discussed the topic with your children yourself.
But that's why sex education is the perfect opportunity. You have a chance to talk with your children, to strengthen your relationship with your child, share your beliefs and values, and make sure your children have the resources they need to keep themselves safe, no matter what situations they may face.
Think about the alternative. Should we ignore the fact that our children are already learning about sex and sexuality from everything around them -- movies, music, TV, video games, the internet, to name a few? My daughter, who is a student at a New York City public middle school, now has three classmates who have become pregnant, something she and I have begun to discuss together as a family. On a larger scale, according to the New York City Department of Health, our students are contracting STDs, getting pregnant, and not having safe sex at an alarmingly high rate. I know talking with our kids can be scary, but the alternative is downright terrifying.
According to a recent poll, "Let's Talk: Are Parents Tackling Crucial Conversations about Sex?" the majority of parents are having some conversation about sex with their children, but when it comes to the tougher, more complicated issues like birth control or how to say no, parents are avoiding the subject. 94 percent of parents believe they can influence whether or not their child uses condoms or other forms of birth control, but only 60 percent are actually talking to their children about birth control. And 57 percent said they are uncomfortable or only slightly comfortable talking with their children about sex and sexual health at all.
The good news is that there are resources out there for you to use. At PPNYC we run parent education programs, called the Adult Role Models program, to teach parents how to have these tough conversations. We also have a number of publications available for parents to use to help them have these conversations. These programs and publications are available in Spanish and for free!
I know that broaching these topics can seem scary. And we worry that we'll lose control of our children. But parents, treating sex education as something to be afraid of will only put our children in danger. Attempting to keep our children ignorant will only leave them with misinformation, and prevent them from making good, healthy decisions in the future. Parents, we have an opportunity to make sure our children are safe. Talk to your children. Share your values and your hopes from them. And in doing so, you just may help protect their future.
A version of this op ed originally appeared in Spanish in El Diario.