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October 24th, 2012

Sexual education lacking in New York schools



By Frances Fox-Pizzonia, LMSW

Kids having kids, teen rates of HIV/AIDS skyrocketing - the studies are alarming!  Locally, rates of Chlamydia and gonorrhea are rising, especially among teens. Recent reports from the Department of Health show the increase is more than 8% in New York.  What this tells us is that youth are not only just engaging in early sexual activity, but they are also not protecting themselves from dangerous, sometimes deadly, diseases and unintended pregnancy. As a new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) shows, too many communities and schools across New York State are not teaching the information and skills youth need to make informed, responsible decisions about sex. The alarm is going off but if we continue to hit “snooze” our youth are going to keep suffering because of it.

What have teens learned from their parents, schools, church, friends and the internet? In New York State, sex education is not mandated or regulated - it’s left up to the individual school districts to decide. The NYCLU report analyzed sex education curricula taught in 82 of the state’s 697 school districts and found them to be riddled with medical inaccuracies, ineffective abstinence-only instruction and other problematic teachings that are putting our teens’ health and lives at risk. For example, while 93 percent of districts teach about HIV, only 56 percent provide complete and scientifically accurate information. Clearly not everyone is comfortable talking about sex.

Adolescent brains don’t fully develop until age 25 and many “play with fire” when it comes to protecting themselves, because they don’t fully process the consequences of their behavior before acting. They need our guidance and need it often. So what can we do? Keep talking. Keep promoting values while promoting prevention.

They know the dangers of cigarettes. They know why they need to wear a helmet and a seat belt.  They hear they aren’t supposed to drink and drive and most recently not to text and drive. We need to push for the same behavioral “campaigns” around teens and sex. October is Let’s Talk Month, a national public education campaign coordinated by Advocates for Youth that emphasizes the importance of conversations about sexuality and relationships between young people and parents.
Parents need to take the lead and get involved at home, in churches and in schools to see that the campaign is widespread. Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley can come to your group to provide parent only, parent child puberty or parent-teen communication programs free of charge.

Parents can set the tone by introducing their teens to a private, adolescent-friendly physician or bring them to one of our Health Centers for their first visit so as young women and men they begin a journey to adulthood that includes understanding and care for their sexual reproductive health.

Without education and prevention, more teens will engage in sexual behavior too early, have unintended pregnancies or become infected with diseases that may stay with them for the rest of their lives. It’s time we wake up. For more information call our Education office at 838-1200 x103 or email education@ppmhv.org.

Frances Fox-Pizzonia, LMSW, is the Director, Community Education & Outreach for Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley.
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