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Column

Parents are all for abstinence in teens

By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published October 21, 2007


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No parent wants their teenager to have sex. The big question is how do we get our sons and daughters to wait.

They hear mixed messages. Some school districts hammer home the big, No. No sex before marriage. Others are more pragmatic. One school district is New England is even going to distribute birth control pills to girls in middle school.

How and when we teach kids about sexuality has changed. In Pasco County 30 years ago, sex education meant showing the girls a Walt Disney picture about getting their period, while the boys played football outside.

Today there are menstruation classes for fourth grade girls, not to mention sex ed classes for fifth-graders and kids in middle and high school. In Pasco, the focus is a mixture of abstinence and practical education. They'd rather kids not have sex, but if they do, they better be prepared and protected.

But Stephanie Knight, founder of A New Generation in Brooksville, believes there's a much better way. Tell those kids they shouldn't have sex. Period. Abstinence only. And condoms. You can't put too much faith in them. They are prone to fail especially after they've been sitting around in a boy's wallet or in the glove compartment of his car.

That's the message A New Generation has been teaching Hernando students for years. Knight said some Pasco families asked her about bringing her message to their schools. That's what prompted her meeting with Superintendent Heather Fiorentino this week.

"Most parents are going to say 'teach my kids to be abstinent,"' said Knight, who started her agency at a counseling in center 1999. Seeing all those young girls who got pregnant or contracted a sexually transmitted disease prompted her to preach abstinence only.

"You want to do something to change that, to prevent the hurt and to prevent what they are going through," said Knight, who is speaking from experience. "I had an unplanned pregnancy. I was younger; I wasn't married."

Some folks are convinced that abstinence only education is a back door to get Christian values into the public schools. I'm not that cynical, although it's hard to see how abstinence only can be packaged outside a faith-based context. But Knight said it can be done.

Her program, ABC for TeensAbstinence is the Best Choice for Teens is about actions and consequences. They try to teach students about setting goals, refusal skills (teaching girls and boys how to say no), media manipulation (those sexually suggestive ads), STDs, the benefits of marriage and strong parental involvement. Knight says she gets a lot of comments from students saying how much the sessions changed their lives.

"Kids really appreciate us coming in and telling them the truth," she said.

Those reactions are no doubt heartfelt, but do they hold up in a parked car in a lovers lane on a moonlit night?

If you search long enough, you'll find studies that say both yes and no. But if you're a parent, the only stat that matters is your child. Is he making the right decisions? To do that, he'll need both sex ed classes at school and solid life lessons at home.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at askerritt@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.

[Last modified October 20, 2007, 19:56:04]


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