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Education: PTA offers tips on talking to kids about sex
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's like getting a root canal.

Or going on a job interview.

Or running toward the edge of a cliff.

That's how some parents have described talking about sex with their children. But at least one Utah group is trying to change that. Amid a renewed debate about sex education in Utah, the Utah PTA has launched a campaign to teach parents how to talk to their kids about sex.

"Right now there's all this debate about sex education," said Mary Ann Kirk, a Murray PTA member who helped lead the first training session Wednesday. "The parent is really the one that has the power."

For months, Utahns have debated possible legislation that would split sex education into two tracks, both requiring parental permission: one that would teach abstinence only and another that would encourage abstinence but also include information about contraceptives and other issues. Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, and Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, are now working together to see if they can come up with a new version of that bill.

Since the first draft of the two-track bill was written, Utah PTA Health Commissioner Liz Zentner and the Utah Planned Parenthood Action Council have stood on opposing sides of the debate.

But both Zentner and the council can agree on at least one thing: Regardless of what's taught in schools, parents should be involved.

"I think parents should definitely be empowered to have this conversation with their children," said Melissa Bird, executive director of the Planned Parenthood council, which has been advocating for the bill. She called the training program for parents a "great" thing.

Zentner said the training program is also a way for parents to become closer to their children.

"The approach we want to take is instead of liberalizing the curriculum and putting information in there a lot of parents don't feel comfortable with, we wanted to train the parents and let the parents teach the kids," Zentner said. "We thought we just need to get parents to learn how to talk to their kids."

Nationwide, teens rank parents as the No. 1 influence on their sexual decisions, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But many parents don't talk to their children about sex for a number of reasons. Some think their kids are too young to hear about it. Others worry it will change their relationship with their children. Still, others avoid the topic out of fear that they won't know the answers to all their children's questions.

As part of the Utah PTA's first training session Wednesday, Zentner and Kirk told participants how to allay those concerns among parents. They said parents should start talking to their children in fourth, fifth or sixth grade; that it could change the parent-child relationship for the better; and that parents don't need to be experts to talk about sex with their children. The most important thing, they said, is for parents to tell their children they love them and that they have expectations for them.

"You want to be the first ones to tell your kids," Zentner said.

Nearly 20 PTA parents, local health department workers and others attended the session, which was designed to teach them how to hold trainings for parents across the state using materials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Parents Speak Up national campaign.

Michelle Brown, president of the Hillcrest High PTA, said it's important parents learn to talk to their kids about sex, and she hopes to hold a training session for parents at her school. Brown said she's very open with her own children in hopes they'll avoid the pitfalls she didn't. When Brown was 17, she got pregnant with her first child and ended up being pushed into an unhappy marriage, she said.

She said she's preaching abstinence to her children but also trying to be realistic.

Nationwide, one out of three ninth-graders has had sexual intercourse at least once, and the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In Utah, nearly 18 of every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17 had a baby in 2006-07, according to the Utah Department of Health.

"Even great kids from great families with strong moral values, LDS, Catholic, whatever, it can happen to any kid," Brown said. "If parents trick themselves into thinking it can't, they're wrong."

How to talk to your kids about sex

Here are some tips, and for more information visit http://www.4parents.gov" Target="_BLANK">http://www.4parents.gov:

» Start early at age 10 or 11, before the child starts puberty.

» Give small pieces of information, and give more information over time.

» Use movies, TV and music as opportunities to start conversations.

» Use everyday activities as time to talk.

» Share your values and opinions.

» Avoid confrontation. You don't need to have one "big talk."

» Ask questions.

» Don't judge or criticize.

» Encourage dialogue.

» Keep it casual and light.

Source » Parents Speak Up National Campaign, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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