By Amy Johnson, Sex in the Suburbs

By Amy Johnson, Sex in the Suburbs

Recently, I watched presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech on racism with a friend who has different political views from mine.

We had a very vibrant, intelligent discussion afterward and both left feeling appreciative that we have a relationship where such discussions are welcome.

Discussions about sexuality education are often as polarized as those on the topic of race issues in our country. I receive both criticism and support as an advocate of comprehensive sexuality education. I stand by my encouragement of more schools, faith communities and community groups to inform all our youth about abstinence — and about protection from sexually transmitted infections, birth control, sexual harassment and exploitation, sexual orientation, pregnancy options and relationship skills.

However, there are more kids I’m concerned about than the ones whose parents read this column.

Whether we like it or not, many youth in our community, and in every community, are growing up in homes without strong role models for healthy sexuality development. As a school social worker, I routinely saw students whose relatives or family friends had abused them sexually, whose parents and grandparents were gang members, who had drug and alcohol addicted parents, and who had teen parents themselves.

I listened to children and teens living with relatives because their parents were in treatment or on the streets supporting their drug habits, kids whose parents were in jail or had died of AIDS. Any school counselor or social worker or teacher will tell you that these children are in their schools and classes every day, with limited resources and power to change those situations.

I applaud those who have high ethics, morals and values and who want those for all our youth. Superintendent Tom Murphy says about serving the children in our school district that “all means all.” If we really want to work for positive change, we need to embrace that the children mentioned above are not someone else’s children; they are our children and the future of our community. They often don’t have access to the kind of loving, value-rich discussions many of us routinely have with our children.

With the Washington Department of Health and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy agreeing that 35 percent of young women in the United States become pregnant before age 20, it is everyone’s responsibility to care. Research has proven that teen parents are more likely to drop out of high school, live in poverty and have children with higher than average medical and learning needs. Criticizing these young people or their parents isn’t effective in creating the changes we want to see — healthier youth making more life-giving and future-oriented decisions.

Comprehensive sexuality education isn’t the entire answer, any more than abstinence-only sexuality education or any “program” is. Bill Milliken, founder of Communities in Schools, said: “Programs don’t change kids; relationships do.” Listening with compassion and understanding builds better relationships and helps them realize their lives are worth making good decisions for.

Do I want teens to wait to be sexually active, and do I tell them that? Without a doubt. Do I want them to have access to birth control and condoms and information in order to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease if they are not waiting? Definitely.

Today’s youth are all of our future. It is in our best interest to embrace them all with love, support and the information they need to be safe. Doing anything less is immoral.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a professional life and parent coach in Federal Way. She facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth, and parenting classes at the Federal Way Community Center. Contact: comments@diligentjoy.com.

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