There's an old joke that starts out with a set of parents telling their teen-aged offspring to "sit down. It's time we had a talk about sex." "Sure," says the teen-ager. "Just what is it you wanted to know?" A whole barrage of influences might make this scène common in more anti more households. What with formal sex education classes being offered in schools, and movies and televisión becoming more and more explicit, many parents feel their old roles, as mere imparters of "the facts of life," have changed. They don't know what, if any, form their new role should take. Child guidance experts, however, stress that parents offer an essential element to their children's sex 'Stion, although a changing one. Parents are needed, they say, to give a ''total approach" to the subject to supplement the factual knowledge offered by the schools. Ellen Johnson, a registered nürse involved with setting up the sex education program for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, says that the school sex classes are designed merely to supplement teaching which, ideally, should begin in the home. ''Teachers can impart fa ets, clear up doubts and relationships, whereas a mother or father might not have the expertise at their fingertips," Mrs. Johnson said. But, ''sex education shouldn't be left completely to the school or the home or community," she added. "We learn much about sex through many sourees." It's a combination of influences that make sex education really complete, she said. Glenna Avery, a social worker for the schools, agrees. "Many times, parents have found they were too embarrassed to talk about sex," with the result that the children had to find out on their own, she said. "My perspective of sex education is not to take over for the family. We hope the education will start there. It's just that we have things to help them (both parents and children) understand." Mrs. Avery and others believe that the traditional practice of the parental "heart-to-heart" talk with the child when he reaches 1 ty is apt to be outdated by today's standards. Explicit movies, televisión and newspaper accounts of vivid sex slayings may constitute real influences on a child's concept of sex long before he reaches adolescence. Dismissing the argument voiced by some parents, that sex education courses are too detailed, Mrs. Johnson said that a child has "accurate and inaccurate details coming right into his living room" via televisión which, unlike the materials offered i n school, "is information you can't screen;" Parents must take these modern realities into consideration, Mrs. Johnson said, and count on their children's curiosities being activated al an increasingly earlier age. A common problem of parents, therefore, is the question, "Should I wait until the child asks or should I anticipate his curiosity - possibly giving him information beyond what he's ready for?" Dr. Marguerite Krebs, a school psychologist and a mother of a nine-year-old boy, said that parents should adopt a gradual approach to their children's sexual curiosity. Sometimes a child's use of a "naughty word" can set off a discussion between parent and offspring, she said, whereby the parent explains tó some degree what the word means and why it shóuldn't be used ín conversation. Also, she said, the mother or father can question the child, in a casual, relaxed manner, about "how much he knows" about the glib terms he throws around. Often parents believe the child knows a great deal when actually he doesn't, Mrs. Krebs said. For young children, Mrs. Avery suggests that the sex habits of a family pet or another animal can be a good starting place for a child's sex education. In school, children begin by learning about the gestation periods of animáis. It's easier to make connections with human pregnancies through such an approach, she said. It's also more comfortable for parents and children when i the time for the "heart - to - heart" talk at adolescence finally arrivés. Because of supplementary school films on menstruation and human organs and opment, today's discussion of the facts of life will probably demand less factual knowlege and more emotional guidance from the parents, Mrs. Johnson said. Some mothers and fathers will turn to programs such as those sponsored by churches which include religions and and moral guidance to the young. One such program is offered by the Rev. David Bracklein, education minister at Zion Lutheran Church, who encourages parents and children to take a gradual approach to the subject. Including children who range from .the fourth to twelfth grades and their parents, the program consists of films, reading materials as well as frank discussions between minister, parent and child. The advantage to such sessions, Rev. Bracklein said, is that it forces parents to become involved in their child's sex education, the basis of which is established in the schools. Rev. Bracklein finds that "both parents and children realize that there a lot of things they haven't ta1ked about many times because the parents didn't believe they had adequate information." Also he said, such an approach avoids confronting the topic only in a "crisis situation"- when both parties may be too emotional and the circumstances too irreversible to do much good. Rev. Bracklein admits that many parents enroll in the program to "instill a conservative attitude" toward sex in their children. Yet, he said, "we go about it in a positive way." Both parties are encouraged to discuss traditional beliefs and come to conclusions as to why these may be held, he said. Dr. Krebs also agrees that parents are entitled to complement their child's sex education with a moral view. First, however, she said, mothers and fathers should think through their attitudes, those of their own parents and how, if so, they want things different. They shouldn't expect that children will adopt their beliefs simply becáuse, "it's always been done," she said. Rather, Dr. Krebs suggests that parents should give reasons for their beliefs and hope that previous years of training rather than threats of punishment will account for his child's rational approach to sex. Mrs. Johnson describes it as a "sort of grada tion of care." "When a baby's bom, he's bound and determined to walk. A mother has to I alize she won't be able to piek I him up when he tumbles." Similarly, she said, "kids must realize that if they pick a poor love partner they'll have to live with the 1 quences in terms of lack of personal fulfillment and unhappiness, and other harmful results. "Parents take on too much," sometimes, Mrs. Johnson said. "When a child is 15 or 16, he must have learned by then they must have certain things under control and to make decisions." Dr. Krebs added that parents should strive to instill in a child ways of reacting when peer group pressures become strong. ' Instead of falling back on the excuse, "My parents won't let me," they should be able to more responsibly answer, "I don't care what everyone else is doing . . .," Dr. Krebs said. Although recognizing the pressures on young people because of sexual information, Mrs. Johnson believes that proper sexual education will lead to greater honesty among the sexes and responsibility on their part to "handle the freedom." Too much? Yes, Mrs. Johnson said - unless it's supported by a child's mother and father, religious counselor, and others. "Young people have to learn, but be guided along the way."
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