This morning, I sat on the Fox News couch next to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who, judging by our outfits, was visiting from summertime, while I stopped by from autumn. We talked about sex, as one does at 6:20 on a Monday morning.
Joining us was the talented writer and political analyst Zerlina Maxwell, who, much to Hasselbeck’s chagrin, wasn’t allowed to sit next to me because the Fox producers prefer the “vs.” feel of the host-in-the-middle TV angle.
As per usual, it’s hard to get into seven sentences something that took me all afternoon yesterday to research, so I’ll add here what I couldn’t shoehorn in this morning:
Background: The New Mexico sex education program BrdsNBz allows teens and adults to text their sex ed questions for personalized answers in 24 hours or less. The people at the other end of the texts are trained health educators who supply “medically accurate, nonjudgmental, confidential, and free * responses.” *Your carrier’s standard text message rates apply.
Here are my concerns about texting sex education:
I don’t like the anonymity of such a personal one-on-one form of communication. Who’s on the other end? If I don’t (or even if I do) like what they tell my kid (if I ever even find out), how do I follow up? A bigger concern is that they don’t know anything about my kid other than what he or she has texted, and yet they are replying in a format that provides a seemingly intimate conversation. If, for instance, you ask anonymously on the Internet, “Can you get pregnant in a swimming pool?” (Kids: yes) you know you’re dealing with answers from teens, adults, and trolls of all ages. It’s a different social contract than phone to phone, adult to teen.
I don’t know what their sex ed philosophy is. In preparation for today’s segment, I texted to the BrdsNBz teen line, “How old is ok 2 have sex?” Forty minutes later, the anonymous reply came: ”It’s up to you to decide when the time is right.” Which I found alarming, because what if I’m 13 and I have a hard time deciding which Uggs to wear to school, let alone whether or not I should have sex? Luckily, the rest of the reply provided some questions to ask myself, including “Do I know how to have safe sex?” “Does sex fit my beliefs?” and “Is it legal?” Another question to ask is, “Are you mature enough to get past the part where an adult told you it’s up to you to decide when the time is right [to have sex]?” In the fifth of five texts, he or she added, “Also – consider talking to your parents or another trusted adult.” Thank you. Because at least those adults will have some context when they answer the question.
There is no accompanying web site. Well there is, but it is devoid of any in depth information such as frequently asked questions and answers, links to additional resources for parents and teens, and tabs like “How to Talk to Your Teen about Sex.” Because clearly, we parents need it. Help a Momma (or Dad) out, would you? Why cut us out of the equation?
I am not so naïve that I think all parents are naturally adept sex educators, but why assume we are all useless? Judging by the sex ed questions I found while researching the segment on the Internet, we really need to do a better job of educating our kids about sex. But not all parents are cut out for this tough job, which is why there needs to be other sources. I am fine with sex ed in schools, because I know what the curriculum is, and I can identify the person/people teaching it to my teens. Also — and I never thought I’d say this — I don’t mind the Internet as a source, because at least my kids can sort through a variety of opinions, once they get past the asinine/condescending/funny trolls, of course:
This texting program may be the only sex education information they’ll get, and it’s better than what their buddies will tell them, and yet…. What’s more, it’s delivered in a way that teens communicate, texting. (I do, too, though I spell out “to” and “your.”). While I am likely among the few dinosaurs that actually still hand their kids sex ed books and follow up with a Q & A, I think we as a society need to include and encourage parents in sex education. This program doesn’t do that very well.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to provide comprehensive advice in a couple of lines? I do. For eight years, I served as a parenting expert answering potty training questions from parents. I had little context, and not much space in which to answer. It was challenging, and it was about poop. Answering teens’ tough sex questions in 160 characters? Well, that’s a tough assignment indeed.
Here’s the Fox & Friends segment: