Back-to-School: Your Sex Ed Supply List
By Stefanie Winfield, Community Programs Director
August 18, 2016
It’s that time of the year again: that time when kids and youth grumpily accept that summer is coming to an end – and when parents rejoice that their kids are going back to school.
It’s also that time of so many back-to-school lists: what clothing will they need for the year? What books? What supplies? There are endless runs to Staples and Target – for backpacks, pencils, pens, notebooks, folders, and all manner of miscellaneous materials – in the hopes of being fully prepared for what a new year of academics will have in store.
These back-to-school lists can be life-saving. They help parents keep track of what needs to be accomplished before a new, busy school year begins. In the spirit of back-to-school supply lists, we here at Colorado Youth Matter would like to offer a back-to-school list of our own – a sex ed supply list.
Whether you’re an educator/youth serving professional or parent (or both), we hope this list will keep you prepared for whatever sexual health needs may arise this upcoming year for the youth in your life!
1. Be a Trusted Adult. We talk about being Trusted Adults a lot at Colorado Youth Matter, because it’s just that important. Kids need to know that you’re open to their questions and concerns, that you’re available as a resource to them. It’s okay not to know every single fact about sexuality and sexual health; what’s more important is that youth know that they can ask you those questions, and that you’ll do your best to answer them honestly. We know sometimes those questions can be downright terrifying. After all, sex can be awkward to talk about, for both kids and adults! That’s why CYM is offering our new monthly blog series, TRUST, where Ruthie Kolb helps you figure out how to break down those difficult questions and answer them honestly, respectfully, and inclusively. Check out Ruthie’s first blog here! And in the spirit of being a Trusted Adult, one of the best ways you can be trusted is to…
2. Use teachable moments. Maybe you’re watching a movie with your kids and the characters on screen don’t seem to be in a healthy relationship--or they’re in a particularly healthy relationship. Or maybe you’re a teacher and you overhear your students talking about STIs. Don’t let these moments slip away! These are great opportunities for you to engage youth organically, about issues that may interest them. A little tip from us? If you’re a parent, try having these conversations in the car. Cars are a great place to have conversations with your kids, because eye contact isn’t a necessity when you’re driving. Sometimes your kids might really want to have a conversation with you but feel a little embarrassed about it. Removing eye contact is an easy way to lessen the intensity your kids might feel bringing up sensitive subjects.
3. Stay informed on what your kids are being taught. If you’re a parent, stay informed on what your kids are being taught in their sex ed class, or if they are even receiving sex ed in school, and make yourself available to answer whatever questions they might have about what they’re learning. Remember that you have every right to ask the school or your child’s teacher what exactly is being taught in their class. Knowing what your kids are being taught will allow you to be prepared for questions that might come up. For instance, if you know that your child’s class will be discussing birth control options, it couldn’t hurt for you to brush up on your knowledge of the variety of birth control options, so that if your kids have questions after the lesson you’re prepared to face those questions with up-to-date information. This will also keep you informed on things your kids are being taught that you might not agree with. Maybe you feel that their class focuses too heavily on abstinence, or too little. Being aware of the lesson plan will allow you to open up conversations with your kids about the range of values surrounding certain sex ed issues. But remember that the ultimate goal of sex ed isn’t to tell youth what to think, but rather how to think so that they can make the most informed decisions for their own lives and experiences.
4. Stay informed on what they AREN'T being taught. Unfortunately even the best sex ed programs can be lacking in information that you might feel is vital to healthy youth development. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is that many sex ed programs are not LGBT inclusive, which directly invalidates the sexual identities of LGBT youth. Sex ed programs also tend to exclude conversations surrounding sexual pleasure (especially female pleasure), which makes it impossible to fully talk about consent. If you’re an educator going through a sex ed curriculum that is missing this information, or if you’re a parent who feels strongly that your kids need this information, find those teachable moments to talk to the youth in your life about these issues.
5. Actively work to empower all youth through inclusivity. Being a kid or a teenager can be a vastly confusing time, especially as questions about sexuality and identity begin to pop up. Remember that as a teacher, or as a youth-serving professional, you are in a unique position to validate a youth’s identity from an institutional position. That can be an incredibly powerful thing. And if you’re a parent whose child’s identity isn’t being validated or empowered in school, have those difficult conversations with them. Let them know that there are existing inequalities in our American society, and around the world. Strategize with them on the best ways to face those inequalities, and work to empower them through honest and respectful conversations.
6. Keep up-to-date on your state’s laws. State laws influence your child’s or your students’ sexual health education. For instance: teaching sexual health education is not a requirement in Colorado. However, where it is taught it must be science-based, age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, medically accurate, and address the topics of abstinence and contraception, including emergency contraception. There are a myriad of laws surrounding all kinds of sexual health issues: confidentiality issues with youth access to health services, consent laws, sexting, and more. You will be better able to talk to your kids – as educators, as parents, as anyone working with youth – if you know what the law is. Here are some online resources you can look through to stay informed:
- Colorado’s Sex Ed Standards: //coloradoyouthmatter.org/images/stories/pdf/hb1292.pdf and //coloradoyouthmatter.org/images/stories/pdf/cym_policybrief_1081.pdf
- Age of consent: //www.ageofconsent.net/states/colorado
- Sexting: //www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/teen-sexting-colorado.htm
- Confidentiality for Minors when Accessing Health Services: //www.cde.state.co.us/sites/default/files/documents/healthandwellness/download/school%20nurse/understanding%20minor%20consent%20and%20confidentiality%20in%20colorado.pdf
- Sexual Assault/Rape: //www.colorado-criminal-law.com/colorado-sex-assault-guide/colorado-law-sex-assaultrape.htm
This back-to-school list is by no means exhaustive, but we hope that it will at least get you thinking at the start of this new school year about what you hope the youth in your life will learn about their sexual health this year, and what you can do to make that happen!