Should Sex and Character Education Come From Parents, Teachers, or Both?

Sex and Character Ed: Whose Job Is It?

By Judy Molland

Sex Ed: Whose Job is It?

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Public school courses about sexual health and reproduction have been around long enough to weather initial concerns about whether the subject belongs in the classroom. But opposition to sex ed in the schools remains. These days, objections are most likely to crop up over sexuality education – or the discussion of sexual preferences and values.

When 17 teens at the same Massachusetts high school became pregnant last year, and rumors swirled that the girls had made a pact to do this and then raise their children together, health advocates called for a sex education curriculum that focused in on sexual values and ethics.

But others – including talk show hosts, parents and observers – pointed their fingers squarely at parents: Weren’t the parents talking to these teens about sex and sexual values? Isn’t that a parent’s job?

That question has been around as long as sex education in the schools. And it can still prompt considerable debate: Who should be talking to our kids about sexual health and values? What about values in general? Should schoolteachers be giving children and teens lessons on character? Or parents?

Or both?

It Depends on Who You Ask

Parent and TeenPsychologist Sharon Maxwell, Ph.D., author of the book The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear From YOU About Sex and a frequent speaker on children and sexual issues, believes strongly that parents should be the primary adults teaching their kids about character, including sexual values.

"We have to give our children a structure with which to view the world,” she says. “Our overriding theme as parents should be to teach our children that becoming a full human being means having the ability to control and direct our desires, and that includes sexuality."

Maxwell, who advocates talking openly with kids about sex early on, says that where parents have abdicated this responsibility, schools have had to take over. She, herself, has developed a sex education curriculum now used in several public and private schools.

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