Who Is Responsible for Your
Child’s Sex Education?
By John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Professor, George Mason
The Good Old Days
How many of us have heard their children say, “It just isn’t done
that way today”?
John E. Bonfadini
When it comes to the topics of sex and sex education, I can certainly
agree that things have changed since I was a child. My father, an Italian
immigrant who waited until the age of 38 to get married, never mentioned
the word “sex.” I can’t imagine him ever discussing the topic with
me as a youngster. My mother was reared at Saint Paul’s Orphanage for
most of her young life. Teachings on sex education were obviously not a
part of her early education.
These simple facts of home life left my education about the “birds
and bees” to the neighborhood rascal. One day while playing in the back
yard he informed me that I was not delivered by the stork and proceeded to
explain the process of creating human life. His revelation left a lasting
impression — I still remember his descriptions some 50 years later.
I can remember the time my sister came to me seeking some help. She had
witnessed two dogs in a compromising position and wanted to know what was
happening. She said, “I asked Dad and he said, ‘Get out of here.’
” She came to me seeking an answer. I forwarded her to my mother. To
this day I don’t know the response Mom gave her, if any. Times were
different back then.
A few unmarried girls did get pregnant. They usually married and then
sometimes ended up falling down the stairs, thus bringing on an early
delivery designed to hide the fact that the child may have been conceived
out of wedlock. In the old days there was no honorable status for single
Trying to grow with the times and not repeat the mistakes I believe my
parents made led me to develop a more liberal approach in discussing sex
with my children. But I also made my own mistakes. One incident stands
We were at Grandma’s house in Pittsburgh, celebrating the Easter
season. I was in the living room watching the local educational TV channel
that happened to be doing a special on reproduction. The program began by
showing how weeds and flowers reproduce. I immediately thought, what a
great opportunity to introduce the reproductive process to my 10-year-old
daughter. I quickly called her into the room to watch the program with
dad. Well, to my surprise, the reproductive process quickly shifted from
plant life to human life and my daughter saw the actual delivery of a
child. We were both stunned. I turned to her and said, “I guess you now
know you didn’t come from a stork. Do you have any questions?” She had
a blank look on her face and responded by saying, “No.” I had failed
to follow a simple rule that’s taught to every prospective teacher.
Review all material before presenting it to your students. Mom and Dad
revisited the subject at a later date.
The challenge of providing children with a proper and healthy view of
the reproductive process is far more formidable in today’s environment.
With all the media attention on the subject, kids will probably be
prematurely exposed to the topic of sex. You don’t have to worry about
making the mistake I made with an educational channel, because almost
every TV show openly discusses the subject of sex. The key question is how
will your child be informed about sex and whose responsibility is it to
inform them? My results from a telephone survey of parents have shown that
parents’ views on the subject have changed since I was a kid.
Should Be Part of the School Curriculum? Parents Respond.
In the survey, 285 parents were telephoned and asked to respond to the
following question, “Sex education appropriate to the child’s
developmental level should be included in the curriculum.” They were
asked to use the Lickert scale — Strongly Agree, Agree, Not Sure,
Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. The research statement used the word sex
and not family life to more narrowly define the contentious topic.
The graph shows that parents overwhelmingly support including sex
education in the curriculum for all children. Eight out of every 10 either
agree or strongly agree with the concept. Another 10 percent are
undecided, while 11 percent disagree that schools should include sex
education as part of the curriculum. Males and females have similar views
with the females being more supportive.
The schools have always responded to needs to help find solutions to
many societal problems such as driver education, ways to stop violence,
and drug education. My only concern is that too many people think that
just adding another sex education course in schools will solve a problem.
It will not. The responsibility for maintaining a healthy view of sex and
other values is centered in the home.
No Replacement for Parents
Obviously, there are
at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to
provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send
e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or send written
responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.
Certainly, churches and schools can and should help, but they can’t
act in place of the parent. Legislatures continue to pass laws that
require schools to offer all kinds of programs. Seldom are sufficient
funds and personnel provided to successfully implement these laws. Maybe
we need more laws for the parents.
What to teach is another concern. The research study didn’t ask this
question, but I’m sure the response would vary greatly. It would be
difficult for a school to develop a program that satisfies all parents.
This is the main reason I believe the only way to implement a sex
education curriculum that goes beyond basic biology is on an elective
basis. The simplest solution to the problems associated with the unwanted
consequences of sex is abstinence until marriage, but that approach may be
somewhat unrealistic. Young adults are waiting longer before committing to
marriage, increasing the likelihood of premarital sex. In addition, have
you seen how youngsters dress lately?
Knowledge and responsibility are the key concepts if society wants a
decrease in the unwanted consequences of sex. It’s up to you, the
parents. We educators are here to help, not replace, your role in the