Sex education for kids – why it’s time to get explicit

by Scott Douglas

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The importance of marriageA version of this post first appeared in the Daily Record’s Edinburg Now supplement.

Who can forget the red-faced, sweaty-palmed and cringe-inducing ordeal of sex education lessons?

The nervous sniggering to mask the mortification? The cowering attempts to appear invisible while praying the next awkward question wouldn’t come your way? The blessed relief when each session was over?

Actually, that perfectly describes me during recent intensive questioning from my inquisitive 11-year-old, a typical school kid getting to grips with growing up.

Y’see, in my experience, being an adult doesn’t actually make sex education any easier.

Despite the promises I made myself that I’d be a cool dad with a relaxed line in all the right answers, I still ended up a throat clearing, ceiling-gazing and feet-shuffling mess when the awkward questions started to fly.

Shamefully, I even resorted to a mumbled, “You’d be best speaking to mum about that,” before hastily making an exit.  Since I consider myself neither squeamish, nor prudish, I’m at a loss to explain why I reddened and stuttered when put on the spot.

This is why I’m so grateful to the school teachers who have taken the strain in carefully, sensibly and sensitively introducing junior to the basics of where babies come from and what the onset of puberty is all about.

It might also explain why I was drawn to a weekend news report about the “uproar” which is apparently being caused by proposed changes in school sex education lessons.

Sexual Health

The news report suggested the Scottish Government is in the firing line over an updated draft of its guidance for schools on delivering lessons in Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP).

It’s an approach meant to equip children and young people with the information they need – appropriate for their age – on subjects like puberty, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), contraception and what’s involved in looking after a baby.

That’s music to my ears, given me recent cack-handed handling of trying to explain some of the intricacies of the birds and the bees.

Scratch a bit deeper and I learned this approach has actually been in place in Scottish schools since 2001. Indeed, a quick search online threw up a “Guide for Parents and Carers” to accompany the original sex education framework.

It’s a reassuring document – cool-headed, clear and sensible, laying out why sex education is important, what subjects will be addressed at what stages and the role of parents in the process.

It emphasises “the importance of relationships based on love and respect” and points out that our youngsters will be encouraged to “appreciate the value of stable family life, including the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage”. Also explained were the rights of parents to withdraw kids from certain classes.

So why the sudden brouhaha?

Well, the Scottish Government is now updating the 2001 guidance to make sure RSHP lessons fit with the new Curriculum for Excellence and to reflect the Bill to legalise same sex marriages which is wending its way through Parliament.

Same Sex Marriage

It turns out the “uproar” in the weekend headline actually came from the Catholic church and from Scotland for Marriage, both of which oppose same sex marriage.

If they are to be believed, the proposed changes to the guidance are a “sneaky” and “underhand” way to “trample” the rights of parents to withdraw kids from sex education lessons.

They also claim it is a slap in the face for religious groups and supporters of traditional marriage by undermining the “the value placed on marriage by religious groups and others in Scottish society”.

The topic of sex education is tricky enough, without this kind of unwelcome scaremongering.

I’ve read the updated draft guidance and it’s clear that it further enshrines and clarifies a parent’s right to withdraw a child from sex education classes. Moreover, it couldn’t be clearer about the value of marriage.

Here’s what it actually says: “Children and young people should be encouraged to appreciate the values of a stable and loving family life, parental responsibility and the importance of family relationships in planning for and bringing up children and in offering them security, stability, happiness and love.

“Children and young people should also be encouraged to appreciate the value of commitment in relationships and partnerships, including marriage.”

Now that’s what I call explicit – and as a parent I’m grateful for it.

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