I have been a sexual health educator for over a decade. During that decade I have also trained many teachers and other youth serving adults to teach sex ed. One of the most common fears or concerns that I have heard from the people in our trainings is “What about the parents? What if I teach something and a parent gets upsets or calls my principal? What If I share too much information?” As a sexual health educator it is easy for me to say “don’t worry!” In my experience there have been less than a handful of times that we have had parents contact us because they’re upset, but the reality for full time classroom teachers is that they interact with parents on a more regular basis. With that, I also know that the worry of an upset parent means something very different to them than it does to me.
Did I mention I am also a parent? I have two amazing, inquisitive boys. I am not gonna lie, the first few months after my first son was born, I struggled saying the word “penis”. I thought for sure someone would come and take my sex educator card. Luckily that passed and I was able to keep my credibility. Being a parent and a sex educator has given me some perspective on these common fears. So I’ve been thinking “What would make me get involved or call the principal?” and the answer was pretty simple- the teacher sharing their personal values, giving misinformation, or making my kids feel ashamed about sex and sexuality. That’s it. Sounds easy enough, right? For some people it might be. If you’re like me, you may want more info. Read on for some examples to clarify my response.
- First thing, most kids who are going to be sitting through the sex ed lessons were given permission to be there. Their parents know what sex ed is. They may not know the details of every lesson but they have an idea. For example in Colorado, letters are sent home prior to sex ed starting and parents have the option to opt them out. If they are sitting in your classroom, they have permission to be there.
- Everyone has values- our values are what shape us and shape how we view and experience the world. When teaching comprehensive sex ed, you aren’t values neutral, but instead you’re using values that have been outlined for comprehensive sex education based on years of research and best practices. Science. Sometimes those values align with your personal values and sometimes they don’t. Either way, the minute you step in that classroom those are the values that you should teach from.
- The best way to manage values questions and comments are to give ranges of values. Ex: “Some people believe masturbation is okay and some don’t.”
- Always refer back to me as the parent. Ex: “If you are trying to decide what you believe, talking to a parent or trusted adult can be helpful!”
- Stick to the medically accurate, developmentally appropriate information. I understand that kids come into the classroom with many different experiences and knowledge bases. (My kid went to preschool and wanted to play Game of Thrones, he was the Night King…) They are definitely going to ask questions that are not developmentally appropriate.
- It is okay to set a boundary and say that you won’t answer a question.
- You can write it down and let them know you will come back to it. Text us and we’ll help you figure out if there’s information that can be useful.
- You can also talk to the student one on one.
- You can always refer back to the parents or another trusted adult.
- This one is a big one. Do not share personal stories. It does not matter what birth control you have used. It doesn’t matter if you have gone to get tested. It doesn’t matter if you had sex at a young age and regretted it or loved it. It is not about you.
- Best practices say that there is never a right or appropriate time to share sexual history, behaviors and practices.
- Sharing this information does not make you more relatable, no matter how well-intentioned it is.
- Last but not least, it is okay to say “I don’t know.” Saying “I don’t know” doesn’t make you less credible. It actually gives you more credibility, especially if you follow up.
- Be honest about your expertise. It’s okay if you don’t know why nipples get hair or why some periods are heavier than others, or why they call it the clap.
- Just don’t fake it or make things up, like “Nipples get hair to keep them warm in the winter.” (disclaimer: that is not true.)
Look, you’ve got this! I can’t guarantee that you will never get a parent call but if you stick with these guidelines it’ll be okay. We all have the same goals. We want our children to be safe, healthy and happy. The only difference is how we get them there. As a parent, I appreciate you and the work that you put into supporting our future generations. As a sex educator, thank you for understanding that sex education is an important part of overall education. If you ever need support we are here for you! We have sexual health educator trainings, which you can check out here. You can also sign up for office hours by emailing us at Professional.Development@pprm.org. If you need more immediate support or help answering a question, text SEXED to 57890. You are not alone in this!