Should parents be allowed to sit in on sex ed classes?

This woman tried, and was turned away. While I’m sympathetic to her cause — she didn’t want her child being misinformed by fact-deficient abstinence-only education — I think that as a general rule, it’s not a good idea to have parents in sex ed classes. In Washington state, sexual health educators are required to present their curriculum to interested parents prior to teaching it in the classroom; when I was an HIV/AIDS educator in high school, we had an annual evening meeting where we went over our entire lesson with parents who then gave us feedback or chose to sign their child out of class. So there is a state law here allowing parents to see what their kids are being taught. That’s important. But putting parents in a classroom where sensitive topics like sexuality are being discussed changes the dynamic of the room, and inhibits the free flow of conversation and question-asking. Kids aren’t going to want to ask certain questions if their best friend’s mom or dad (or their own parent) is sitting five feet away, listening to every word. So while parents rights are important, there needs to be a balance — and in my opinion, placing parents in the classroom during sex ed is intimidating and limiting, and not condusive to the kind of open environment necessary for that kind of curriculum. Thoughts?


Similar Posts (automatically generated):

19 comments for “Should parents be allowed to sit in on sex ed classes?

  1. May 29, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    If the argument is that kids will be less likely to ask questions if a parent is present, I can understand that – but I do think that when it comes to sex ed (in particular) a parent has a right to make sure their child is not being bamboozled. Personally, if I saw an outside group with a specific agenda was involved in a school program and that there was no counter-balance group, I’d be concerned. Why can’t the school surreptitiously video the class so the parents and administrators can know what’s really going on?

  2. May 29, 2005 at 12:48 pm

    i agree that a parent in the classroom would have a “chilling effect” on discussion. i also think that parents should ask their children about what is presented in all classrooms and talk with them about school. i think secret videotaping is a very bad idea. the secret would get out and further erode any trust that kids have in adults.

    parents should review sex ed class material and “outside groups” have no place in setting curriculum.

  3. May 29, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    I have to agree – parents do not belong in a sex ed classroom. I do think the material should be available to them.

    I would hope the teacher was qualified and the material presented in a straight-forward, non judgmental, no ‘axe to grind’ fashion.

  4. May 29, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    While parents present in the classroom might kill the discussion, I’m not sure this particular class gives the kids much to discuss. Do you?

  5. May 29, 2005 at 2:56 pm

    I agree that parents do not belong in sex education classes. It would do more harm than good because not only would it hamper discussion, but it would also make kids too nervious about there being a parent they know around to actually pay attention and think about what is being presented to them by the teacher. It is important that kids think about what is being said, at least on a basic surface level. With a parent around, that is less likely to happen.

    The first time I had a sex ed class was in about fourth grade. The problem was that the science teacher who tought it was the mother of one of the boys in my class of twelve. We all knew each other really well (twelve kids, ten boys and two girls, not much choice about knowing each other well) and it made the class really difficult. After two sessions, she decided to turn the class over to the guidence counciller and not even be in the room during those lessons. It turned out to be a very good move because we payed much closer attention and asked questions that we never would have in front of the mother whose house we all played at. Parents in the room are definately not a good idea. Parents should be content with getting to hear the lesson plans in advance and perhaps a wrap-up of how it went at the end. Other than that, they should talk to their kids about the classes. If they can’t talk to their kids, they have even less of a place in such a class.

  6. leslie
    May 29, 2005 at 6:32 pm

    Think about growing up, did you really want your information from your parents? Yes, we have a lot to contribute but we also need to give oour kids space. The only sane policy is a non-judgemental one that lets our kids know about safety and intimacy withoout imposing our views.

  7. May 29, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    The biggest part of parenting is teaching your kids to think for themselves and know when what is being presented to them is factual and accurate.

    My son was five years old and asked a check-out clerk how the cash register’s change machine worked to automatically give out change. The cashier tried to give him a story about tiny fairies inside. He stomped his foot and yelled, “No, that’s a machine, and I want you to tell me how it works!”

    No pulling the wool over that one’s eyes, ever….

    By the time kids hit sex ed, you should have told them everything they need to know anyway. Including the ludicrous things others will try to tell them about it…

  8. mythago
    May 29, 2005 at 10:56 pm

    Does every session of every sex education class have discussion and “the free flow of questions”? Damn, but that sounds a lot more enlightened than every other subject.

  9. May 30, 2005 at 8:02 am

    While parents present in the classroom might kill the discussion, I’m not sure this particular class gives the kids much to discuss. Do you?

    Actually, the stirring of hormones, desire for sex, and confusion that it introduces in your lives is probably something your average teenager has ALOT to say about. Also, many sex ed teachers have a portion of the class, if they teach it right that is, where they have students write down questions and they answer them. Kids get a lot of misinformation from their peers, so correcting that is a big part of educating them.

  10. May 30, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    By the time kids hit sex ed, you should have told them everything they need to know anyway. Including the ludicrous things others will try to tell them about it…

    I hate to sound like one of those “personal responsibility” fanatics, but I TOTALLY agree with Donna.

    Anytime anyone mentions the “need” to hand over parental responsibilities to “trained professionals” – I just have to cringe. Sure, some kids need to have someone fill in the gaps. I guess that’s what public education and public sex education are for. An ideal situation would be for kids to have open conversations about these topics with parents and close friends with whom they have had nurturing relationships for their entire lives, rather than paid public officials (no matter how well-qualified or well-meaning) who need to be responsive to and careful of other peoples’ ideas of what is and is not appropriate.

    Perhaps OT, but I have a funny story about the sex education continuum. A friend of mine and her 9-year old were watching the Simpson’s episode where Patty (or was it Selma?) came out of the closet. They got about halfway through the episode when her son said “That Patty (or was it Selma?) is stupid!”

    My friend quickly jumped into gender preference equality mode, and began to discuss the validity of homosexuality and the diverse nature of human beings.

    Her son interrupted her, after patiently waiting a couple of minutes for the lecture to end, by saying “No, I don’t care that she’s a lesbian. She’s stupid because she SMOKES too much.”

  11. May 30, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    Anytime anyone mentions the “need” to hand over parental responsibilities to “trained professionals” – I just have to cringe. Sure, some kids need to have someone fill in the gaps. I guess that’s what public education and public sex education are for. An ideal situation would be for kids to have open conversations about these topics with parents and close friends with whom they have had nurturing relationships for their entire lives, rather than paid public officials (no matter how well-qualified or well-meaning) who need to be responsive to and careful of other peoples’ ideas of what is and is not appropriate.

    While I generally agree, there are some things in sex ed classes that many parents are simply not equiped to teach themselves. I still remember when we learned about the male reproductive system in my 5th grade sex ed class. My parents had explained what sex was, but the whole physical process of how men get erections and ejaculate was totally new. While my parents knew the basics, I don’t think either of them would have done a particularly amazing job explaining the purpose of a vas deferens or even a prostate gland. So sex education is also valuable in the same way that learning basic biology is.

    I also agree that in an ideal situation, kids and their parents have open and honest conversations. But unfortunately, this is not the case in many families. Even healthy, loving parents have trouble discussing sex and sexuality with their children, and many children (including myself) will go to their peers before their parents when they have a question. That’s why comphrensive sex ed is valuable.

  12. May 30, 2005 at 10:28 pm

    Making an appointment in advance and examining the materials seems to me to be a fair way of going about it. Kids do tend to ask more questions in sex ed simply because the subject matter is more pertinent and interesting. But allowing a day for parent observation (provided they don’t interrupt the teaching) is reasonable.

    But there’s a larger issue here that some members of the thread aren’t grasping: just what is being taught in those classes? Childless though I am, I want a more comprehensive sex ed class taught simply because I have a future living with the present occupants of those classrooms. It is not only the business of parents but also of all taxpayers to know.

    The reason why the Washington woman wanted to observe the class is simple: she doesn’t want to live with the misinformed graduates of the class either. In a fantasy world where George W. Bush is not president and where Fundamentalists don’t dominate education, it might be said that parents will have taught their own children. In the real world, they don’t.

    This is why I and others struggle to see that teenagers have the full facts. In countries where they do, the teenage pregnancy rate falls. Why? Because kids are in the know and less likely to be ruled by their hormones.

  13. May 31, 2005 at 9:11 am

    Jill,

    I don’t disagree that sex education can be valuable for families whose parents don’t have the time, inclination, or desire to research and understand basic human sexual biology (although that, I think, is symptomatic of the messed-up priorities of our society)…I am certainly not saying that sex education should be abolished. But what I AM saying is that parents should not rely upon the schools to present any type of values-based education for their children – regardless of what their values are. And, whether we like it or not, there are many who regard open discussion of sexuality to be values-based education.

    The problem with public education is that…well, it’s public. Which means it needs to take everyone’s ideas of appropriateness into account. People who have liberal ideas about sexuality need to understand that they are viewed by conservatives the same way we view them, and there is no telling who is right and who is wrong. I mean *I* of course know who is right according to *my* worldview…but I can’t impose that rightness on someone else without deadlocking the topic entirely and making no progress whatsoever.

    The solution, in my opinion, is…in a word…homeschooling (surprise, surprise.) Or, at the very least, being vigilant in your home to unteach, reteach, or reframe issues that are taught in schools. I think that is true of all subjects taught in schools. Which, to me, makes homeschooling my children a lot less work than having them in public school.

    To me, sex education – beyond the basic biology – is not something I want my children to be taught within the context of the pseudo-relationship of teacher/child*. I’m not quite sure why so many people think that’s strange, and that it’s normal for someone to have to go outside of nurturing family/close friend relationships to find out about intimacy and safety.

    What I’m saying is that sex education in public schools should be more of a safety net to catch those whose parents aren’t equipped or prepared to teach the topic themselves. And from that angle, it would be extremely beneficial to allow parents to participate in that education.

    *Yes, I understand that there are many wonderful, committed teachers out there who cultivate nurturing relationships with children. However, I wonder if anyone else remembers their sex ed teacher the way I did. Do schools actually invest the time and money required to find really good sex ed teachers? My sex ed teacher in school was the football coach/geometry teacher, for crying out loud.

  14. Marissa
    May 31, 2005 at 10:07 am

    My issue is that we don’t really need a sex-ed class in public schools. What I would love for them to teach (and to have taught) is something along the lines of puberty-ed. An ONGOING, EVERY YEAR class starting in about 3rd grade (given that at around 9 now, girls enter puberty – it starts a couple of years before you get a period.) The purpose of the class would be to present biological facts about what is likely going on with your body, what is within “normal,” which alot of kids don’t understand is a pretty wide range and are thus unnecessarily paranoid about, and things to be actually worried about. If this started at that 8-9 year old range and continued for years, by the time the kids got to be in junior high, I bet alot of them would be a hell of a lot more comfortable with their bodies, which generally leads to better decision making than being insecure and paranoid. But, possibly more important, they might actually listen to the adults that start warning them about the implicit dangers in sex (not that it’s a bad, dirty thing, just that there are certain risks you take every time you have sex.) Because – dum dum dum! – Adults took the time to help them understand themselves instead of just worrying about their own agendas.

  15. Ron O.
    May 31, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    Drublood, I think the parents play a strong role in sex ed and ed in general, but there will always be a need for prefessional teachers as well. I think many intelligent people would not be good at explaining one facet or another. Lots of bright, caring people are lousy at teaching, even things they do well, my Dad is a good example. I’m glad for you that homeschooling works, you have the time, resources and personality to pull it off. But for many I believe that would be a bad decision, especially when the kids are older and starting to learn advanced topics. As an analogy, I think people should make informed medical and legal decisions, but very few should self-diagnose or represent themselves legally.

    Also, I doubt any teenagers really want a parent to teach them the proper way to put on a condom. When my kid gets old enough I plan to stress the importance of use, but hope someone else will handle the mechanics. If that is not available in the local schools, I’ll have to get a book or something. I never learned until college during a peer couseling session. In HS School I had a break incident that thankfully turned out OK.

  16. mythago
    May 31, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    But what I AM saying is that parents should not rely upon the schools to present any type of values-based education for their children – regardless of what their values are.

    We allow schools to teach about nutrition and healthy eating, though clearly food is linked to values for an awful lot of families. If I said “I don’t want the schools to teach kids about eating because they might mention pork and we don’t eat pork,” I’d be labeled a nutbar. But if the subject is sex, oh, well, That’s Different.

    The notion put forth here that kids should “already have sex education” is like saying that kids should “already have math.” Yes, parents should be teaching their kids about sexuality at an age-appropriate level–but it’s a lie that one big lesson is all they need, and they’ll retain it forevermore.

    I highly recommend y’all go read The Flight of the Stork. It will shatter any illusions that telling your five-year-old where babies come from is a sufficient sex education that will last until adolescence.

  17. May 31, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    My mother sat in on my sex ed. class. It was completely embaressing.

    IMHO a solution could be to have the sex ed. teacher give parents a lesson. I would hope that parents would show up if they really had any concerns. Then they would get the full preview and be able to ask questions of the presenters. Maybe the presenters would be able to offer some supplemental material to the parents to help facillitate conversation at home. That is a win-win situation.

  18. Quisp
    May 31, 2005 at 6:34 pm

    My mother (a dr. who was pregnant at the time) came to guest lecture at mine.

  19. janet
    May 31, 2005 at 7:02 pm

    I had next to zero sex ed in school, but luckily my parents taught me some of the basics, including birth control info, and I gleaned a lot from books — though it’s amazing some of the misconceptions I carried into my teens.

    I don’t have children (working on it for several years now, arrgh), but I’ve thought a bit about what to do when my hypothetical kids are old enough to have questions about sex or things to talk about. I’ve imagined saying something like “I would love it if you would ask me any questions you have, but I understand that you might not feel comfortable doing that. So if there’s something you want to know and you don’t want to ask me about it, please talk to [list of trusted adult friends] or your doctor. I promise I won’t ask them to tell me what you talked about.” Something like that.

Comments are closed.