I have my radio tuned to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) all the time. I love the lack of top-40 music, I love the intelligent interviews. Being a work-at-home sort, I really love the sense of connection with the outside world.
One noon-hour show last week highlighted a woman who had concerns over her 14-year-old son's assignment in his health class. He'd tried to get out of it, and his mother initially told him that of course he had to do it, just as he was expected to do all his homework. Then she found out what the assignment was: He, like all his grade-nine compatriots, was to purchase a box of condoms.
Now that's interesting.
The mother reported that her son was uncomfortable with the assignment because, as he told her, he has decided to defer having sex yet, and didn't see the relevance to him. I have my own opinions on this of course, but I was even more interested to know my kids'.
Rebekah (15, grade 10):
"Of course he's going to tell his mother that. Who tells their mother they're thinking of having sex?"
"Even if he has decided not to have sex right now, with a teenager that can change really quickly. Like, as soon as a girl lets him know she'd be interested."
Adam (19, 1st year college):
"What kid is going to tell his mother he's thinking of having sex?"
"I don't know what he was embarrassed about."
Me: "Even at 14? Weren't you embarrassed the first time you bought them?"
"It wasn't embarrassing. [grin] It was awkward. These days I just pick up a few other items, too -- razors, deodorant, kleenex, and plonk it all on the counter together."
Sarah (23, university grad, gainfully employed and living as an independent adult):
"Nobody tells their mother before the fact that they're thinking about it. Even more if she's kind of uptight about it."
"If she's using words like 'panic' and 'blind-sided', maybe she should see it as the teacher doing her a favour. Now she doesn't have to have what would obviously be a really uncomfortable conversation for her."
So. My three are united on one thing: The parent is NOT going to be the first to know when a child is considering sex.
Given that the average age for first sexual encounter here in Canada is 16.5 (2005 stat), fourteen is arguably a bit young, but then, do you want to wait until after they have sex to teach them about safer sex practices? The other factor in this example is that grade nine is the last year that health (and with it, sex ed) is mandatory in Ontario. After that, kids can opt not to take it, and miss out important information. Vital information, if it's not being provided at home.
Me, I'd expect a 14-year-old to be embarrassed. Were I the teacher, that would be part of the lesson: "If you're too embarrassed to go to a store and buy condoms, you're not mature enough to be having sex." I've certainly said it to my kids, not in a sneering way, but just factually, as one sign that you're not ready yet.
There are other ways to teach this lesson. Sarah's teacher brought an assortment of condoms into class. Rebekah's health teacher was even more creative. Last year, in grade nine, her entire class was given a worksheet which (during health class, on school time, and accompanied by the teacher) they took to the nearest pharmacy. Then the entire class wandered over to the condom aisle, plonked themselves down on the floor, and filled out their worksheet, in which they had to list five different brands, their various health aspects (spermicide, latex, lubricants, etc.) and their various pleasure aspects (ribbing, colour, flavours, etc.).
At the end of that exercise, the kids knew what their options were, where to find them, and, for many of them doing this for the first time, the mystery/intimidation/embarrassment factor had been greatly reduced. Sarah said: "That's very clever. They can look at them and sort through all the options when it doesn't matter, when it's clear this is not YOUR idea. Talk about taking the pressure off when it does matter."
For those of you who are shocked by this and sure that these kids are being groomed for a life of promiscuity, bear in mind that Canadian and American teens start having sex at pretty much the same age and the same rates, and yet Canadian teens have significantly fewer births AND fewer abortions than US teens. (Meaning that the lower teen birth rates can't be accounted for by more abortions.) Their rates of STIs are also lower. It's even more dramatic when you compare US teens with those in Germany, The Netherlands and France. Follow that link, and just see what head-in-the-sand abstinence "education" is costing American society.
"A few kids actually bought a package," Rebekah told me. "You could if you wanted, but you didn't have to. Most of us didn't need them, so we didn't bother."
But you can be sure that, when they do need them, these kids will be more likely to get them.