So who should decide what teens are taught about sex and who is most knowledgeable to make such a decision?
Should the government decide? The only program funded by the Bush administration is abstinence-only. Schools that teach abstinence as as the only component of sex education are given assistance by the current administration, but schools that teach any other form are not recognized by the federal government. Virginia does not require schools to teach about STDs and stipulates that if they do, they must stress abstinence.The administration and its supporters believe that teaching contraception methods will only encourage sexual intercourse before marriage. The government has created many programs such as the Adolescent Family Life Act to encourage "family oriented lifestyles" and to target teenagers in an effort to promote family planning early.
Should school administrations decide? In my former school district and in all others across the state of Maryland, you must pass a health class, which includes sex education, to graduate. The opposition to the abstinence-only program does not reject abstinence as a legitimate form of education, but its opponents want teenagers to understand that there are options if they choose to have sex. One-third of surveyed high-school principals say that they teach abstinence programs because they need the funding and believe that some education is better than none. Many believe that teenagers will have sex whether you educate them or not, and leaving teens ignorant only increases their chances of an unwanted pregnancy or STDs. They believe that teaching only abstinence alienates an entire group of teenagers who have already had sex before they attend the class. Alienating these students makes them more insecure and more likely to engage in sexual intercourse again. But if you teach students the negative effects of sexual intercourse or the contraceptive measures to combat these effects, statistics show that teenagers will be healthier and less likely to participate in unprotected sex.
Should parents decide? Statistics show that most parents believe that abstinence should be stressed but want their children to be informed of other options as well. Fewer parents are talking to their children about sexual intercourse, and about two-thirds of parents don't know their kids are sexually active. Many parents feel that it's the responsibility of the school to educate their children through sex-education classes. Many school districts have consent forms that must be signed by parents before a child may participate in a sex-education class. Parents in 33 states can choose to have their children removed entirely from the class or are able, at any time, to remove their child from the class. Should parents be able to censor what their teenagers hear about sex education? Are parents informed enough about their children's sex lives to make that decision?
Should teachers decide? Most educators agree that students deserve to be properly informed and educated before they make decisions. The role of the educator is to be the one who gives them the knowledge to make informed decisions, so shouldn't teachers have a say in what information they are giving to their students? The material presented by a trusted teacher could have a great impact on a student. The way teachers feel about the information they are passing on to their students also has an effect on the student and how that student uses the information. Because teachers are so closely linked with students, they may be better at judging what students need to hear and how it should be presented to them.
Should students decide? Teenagers are constantly being asked to take on more responsibilities: drive a car, get a job and apply to colleges. If teens are being asked to take on responsibilities and make decisions for themselves, why should they not have a say when it comes to what they're taught? Teenagers need to be taught how to make decisions about what they want to learn because they will be bombarded with these decisions later in life. Students also need to be equipped with the knowledge of how to respond in sexual situations, and they know best what it's like to be in these situations. Who is better to control what teens need to know about their sex lives than the teens who are living them? Who would know better about my questions about sex education than me?
Though the government has the most resources, it's disconnected from teenagers and driven by political motives. The school administration is powerful, but influenced by the funding it receives from the government. Teachers are closer to the students, but are influenced by the school administration and are restricted by the decisions of parents. Parents, who may be the closest to their teens, can be blinded by their desire to protect their children. Students, who are the most knowledgeable about what risky behaviors they're already engaging in, lack the influence to change what they learn in sex education classes. Those who have the resources should be listening to those with the information. Don't you think it's time to ask your teens what they believe they need? S
Lauren Wright is a freshman at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.
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