Thursday, October 02, 2003

Thinking unrealistically

After squirming through a jokey depiction of sex education in school while watching "8 Simple Rules" with my daughter the other night, I got a little look at the real thing while working in her school's library yesterday. Among the videos I was to enter into the library's catalog was one called "Abstinence First!" — and despite the title, the video and its accompanying materials were mostly about alternatives to abstinence, offering information on a variety of birth control options for teens.

The librarian explained that the video had been pulled from the shelf because someone had objected to its depiction of how to put on a condom, and that after being edited for increased discretion it was now once again ready for check-out, albeit labeled FOR 8TH GRADE USE ONLY. So apparently the 11- and 12-year-olds can be spared the contraceptive demos for the moment. And I have a while before my personal 13-year-old sixth-grader will be bringing home questions.

I felt some small measure of relief in that — but should I? As the librarian explained, she doesn't approve of teens and pre-teens having sex, but "realistically, they're going to do it anyway, and they need this information." I huffed and mumbled something about wanting my kids to get that information from me and not from a video called "Abstinence First!" (and apparently subtitled, "And Then, Let's Get It On!"), and she just kept saying yes, but, realistically, the things kids are doing today, and realistically, the problems they're having, and realistically, the information they need to get. And realistically, I felt myself getting older and grayer and more fuddy-duddy-ish with every word she said, and more like an evangelical, right-wing, "take sex education out of the classroom and put prayer back in" zealot than I ever imagined I could.

There was a time — I can still remember it — when I would have applauded this "realistic" approach to giving children the information they needed to navigate the hormone-plagued teen years in a responsible, disease-free and pregnancy-free manner, and scoffed at anyone who unrealistically suggested that these frisky young things be taught to "just say no" to sex. Of course, this was before it was the sex education of my own personal child we were talking about. It's okay, I suppose, for all those other kids to be instructed about condom usage and Pill popping; but the only message I want my daughter to be getting is Thou Shalt Not.

And there will be those who will shake their heads and smile condescendingly and tell me I'm just not being realistic. They will have statistics about sex ed reducing rates of STDs and teen pregnancy, and good for them. But they'll never convince me that telling kids "We think you should abstain, but realistically, we know you won't, so here's lots of info about safe sex" doesn't make them think that teen sex is okay — even put a little pressure on to do this thing that realistically, everybody is expecting. Can't we ever just be black and white about this? I mean, realistically, a lot of kids are going to try drugs, but we don't set up programs in the schools to say, "We think you should just say no, but realistically, we know you'll try them, so here's the right way to shoot up."

But then, you know, I'm a parent. I gave up being realistic a long time ago.

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