New York Public Schools To Mandate Sex Education

In an effort to curb teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and dropout rates among African American and Latino students, all New York City public schools will begin to teach sex education starting this year. From the New York Times:

New York City’s new mandate goes beyond the state’s requirement that middle and high school students take one semester of health education classes. The city’s mandate calls for schools to teach a semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade, and again in 9th or 10th grade, suggesting they use HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk, out-of-the-box sets of lessons that have been recommended since 2007. A city survey of principals last year found that 64 percent of middle schools were using the HealthSmart curriculum….

Parents will be able to have their children opt out of the lessons on birth-control methods. City officials said that while there would be frank discussions with students as young as 11 on topics like anatomy, puberty, pregnancy and the risks of unprotected sex, the focus was to get students to wait until they were older to experiment. At the same time, knowing that many teenagers are sexually active, the administration wants to teach them about safe sex in the hopes of reducing pregnancy, disease and dropouts.

This makes sense to me. There are parents who are uncomfortable talking about sex with their children, and today there are so many avenues for kids to get false information like their friends and the Internet. At least at the school they’ll be getting accurate information and not urban myths.

What do you think about New York City’s new requirements? By the way, unlike this curriculum in New York City, one in four teenagers in this country receives abstinence-only education with no information on birth control, according to the Times.

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Should the Children of Politicians Be Off-Limits?

Normally, I’d say yes, but this Huffington Post piece gave me pause.

I had an “aha!” moment, when Huffington Post columnist Keli Goff covered two disturbing articles in Gawker on California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s two adult sons, who have been kicked out of prep schools, among other places, for assault and even a racial incident. Not only has Whitman settled with a subordinate who she was accused of shoving, but I remember being really put off by her anti-illegal immigrant ads in the Republican primary because they came off as very anti-Latino. It made me uncomfortable.

Anyways, I saw Goff’s article as evidence of a pattern of racism in Whitman’s family. But for the purposes of this article, Goff made a compelling case for instances in which it should be okay to cover a politician’s family. The obvious cases are when politicians use their families as props, or run on their record as a parent.

While I was initially hesitant to write about them at all, since yes, I know they are not the ones running for office, I thought about it and wondered why I shouldn’t. Don’t they represent one of Whitman’s most significant contributions to the world, as does the child of any person? Also since Whitman cited her investment of time and energy in raising her children as being the primary reason she didn’t register to vote until she had nearly reached the half-century mark (an egregious example of using your family as a political shield that should make feminists of all political parties shudder) then why isn’t assessing how well her investment turned out, fair game? Furthermore, if Whitman has been accused of having temperament issues in the workplace and her children are accused of having temperament issues as adults as well, doesn’t that raise questions about her leadership skills at work and home?

Obviously no person is perfect and no family is perfect (me and mine included) and we shouldn’t expect them to be, but here’s my question. If we hold elected officials accountable when their policies fail other people’s children, then why shouldn’t we hold them accountable when their parenting skills fail their own?

To those who think that the media has no business ever covering the children (adult or otherwise) of candidates, I ask this: If a candidate opposes gun control, and his own child accidentally shoots another child while playing, are we supposed to have a hands-off mentality, because the child did not run for office? Or, if an elected official argues that abstinence only is the most effective form of sexual education for kids, but then her child proves this to be false through an unplanned pregnancy, is the media supposed to operate with blinders? What about if a candidate campaigns on his tough-on-crime credentials but when his adult son is accused of sexual assault, uses his resources to make sure junior gets the kind of blind justice only money can buy? Does the media have a responsibility to do the right thing by not covering such stories?

I agree with Goff 100 percent. However, putting on my reporter’s hat here, I think it is important to distinguish between covering a child for the sake of it — think of cruel Saturday Night Live jokes about Chelsea Clinton — and reporting on the hypocrisy of a politician. I don’t think the children of politicians should be covered in and of itself as a story. But if they commit a crime and get off easy because of their parents, or behave in a way that is antithetical to their parent’s platform, then they are fair game as far as I am concerned.

Under the latter, I would cover Sarah Palin who ran on a platform that included abstinence education. As for the former, I would certainly mention Jeb Bush, whose daughter, Noelle, was jailed for two measly days on a drug charge, which is nothing compared to the many young people who were locked up for years under the watch of her father’s administration for similar offenses. And, yes, I would include Whitman’s sons — although is this hypocrisy or just coincidence? — who Gawker covered here and here.

Also, I don’t think it is a coincidence or unfair that all these children happen to be the sons and daughters of prominent Republicans. It seems to me that if you are going to run on a platform of “family values,” then you are just begging for this kind of scrutiny.

What say you? Are politico’s children fair game when it comes to media coverage?  

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Tuesday Open Thread

What’s up?

In celebration of Black History Month this month, check out this CNN story about a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter 50 years ago. It still amazes me that this country had segregation only 50 years ago.

If you can stomach it, here is a depressing Newsweek story on children as indentured servants in Haiti.

Here is a game-changer in favor of abstinence-only education: At least one study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania has found that a third of 6th and 7th graders did delay having sex after taking an abstinence-only course compared to students in other sex education classes, according to the Washington Post. Officials for the Obama Administration, who have called for a scientific approach to sex education, have said abstinence-only courses like the one in this particular study could qualify for federal funds.

Laurie Puhn over at the Expecting Words blog cast a spotlight on a parenting philosophy of treating children like “little people” as opposed to babies and toddlers. In this case, a father let his almost 3-year-old daughter run around a high-end bar because she needed to figure things out on her own. Puhn viewed it as a lack of parenting while the father thought otherwise. What say you?

Starting in April of next year, fathers in Britain will be able to take 6 months — three months paid — of paternity leave, according to the Telegraph of the UK.

The taxpayers of Oregon just passed tax hikes on wealthy individuals and corporations to avoid a budget crisis in the state, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Here is an interesting article in Education World on how recess before lunch actually helps children eat more, behave better and gives teachers more instruction time. Who knew?

I, too, missed the Grammys Sunday night so here is a recap thanks to CNN.

Apparently American Idol will go on without Simon Cowell next year. Among floating names to replace him is former head of Sony Music Entertainment, Tommy Mottola, according to CNN.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Wednesday Open Thread

What’s up?

President Obama’s State of the Union Address is slated to air tonight at 9 p.m. ET. Feel free to use this open thread for the occasion.

The Washington Post had some disturbing health news. One is that girls are three to eight times as likely as boys to tear their knee joints’ anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs). The other is that one in five U.S. teenagers has a cholesterol level that increases the risk of heart disease.

In spite of a push for abstinence-only education and more Christian values, abortions and teen pregnancies were up in 2006 under President George W. Bush, according to USA Today. This represented a reversal from the 1990s when both teen pregnancy and abortions declined under President Bill Clinton.

Okay, I am going to see Avatar. My husband cannot stop raving about it and now I am reading in Variety magazine that it is the highest grossing movie of all time. Did you see it? What did you think?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Adding insult to injury, Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas voted to restore $50 million in abstinence-only education funding the same day they rejected a public option in a Senate healthcare proposal, according to the Associated Press.

MomsRising.org blogger Thao Nguyen wrote a good piece on why abstinence-only education is ineffective and discriminatory.

A mom over at the MomsRising.org blog brought up a good point about healthcare reform: How can we assure that sick children today are insured in the future? This is something I have heard from other parents of chronically sick children. Once they are off their parents’ insurance, no one wants to insure them, yet they need vital treatments and medications.

From the Associated Press: “Americans Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak won the 2009 Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering a key mechanism in the genetic operations of cells, an insight that has inspired new lines of research into cancer.” It is the first time two women clinched the top prize in medicine. Very cool.

Starting on December 1, bloggers can get fined up to $11,000 for failing to disclose any freebies or payments they receive for product reviews, according to Salon Wires.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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CDC: Teen Pregnancy and STDs on the Rise

As if we did not already know, teen pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted diseases rose sharply under the George W. Bush Administration, according to a story by the Guardian in the UK.

Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush’s evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US’s major public health body.

In a report that will surprise few of Bush’s critics on the issue, the Centres for Disease Control says years of falling rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease infections under previous administrations were reversed or stalled in the Bush years. According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005. The study also revealed that the number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of Aids cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.

The CDC says that southern states, where there is often the greatest emphasis on abstinence and religion, tend to have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs.

In addition, about 16,000 pregnancies were reported among 10- to 14-year-old girls in 2004 and a similar number of young people in the age group reported having a sexually transmitted disease.

The Guardian interviewed both sides of the abstinence-only versus comprehensive sex education debate. I could not help laugh at this analogy by Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for American Values that advocates for abstinence-only education: “In every other area of public policy — food, drugs, alcohol — we tell children what is the best choice. It seems very bizarre that the sex education establishment rejects the idea that we should talk to kids about what is best for them. We don’t take vodka to drivers education because children will drink and drive.”

You got that? Educating children about condoms is like giving them vodka in driver’s ed. Brilliant.

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Late-Night Liberty: Let’s Talk About Sex

This article in Ms. magazine caught my eye. It is about mothers and daughters bonding over Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books and the books’ harmful message to tween and teen girls about their sexuality.

I have never read the books, but here is what English and women’s studies professor Carmen Siering had to say about them:

On the surface, the Twilight saga seems to have something to please everyone. Moms are reading the books and swooning over Edward right alongside their teen and tween daughters. Librarians and teachers are delighted to see students with their heads tucked into books, and since Twilight’s romantic sensuality is wrapped up in an abstinence message, all the kissing and groping appear to be harmless.

But while Twilight is ostensibly a love story, scratch the surface and you will find an allegorical tale about the dangers of unregulated female sexuality. From the very first kiss between Edward and Bella, she is fighting to control her awakening sexuality. Edward must restrain her, sometimes physically, to keep her from ravishing him, and he frequently chastises her when she becomes, in his opinion, too passionate. There are those who might applaud the depiction of a young man showing such self-restraint, but shouldn’t the decision about when a couple is ready to move forward sexually be one they make together?

Bella is also depicted as being in need of someone to take charge, someone to take care of her. Edward isn’t just protective, though, but often overprotective of Bella. Edward is jealous of Bella’s relationships with other boys, going so far as to disable her car to keep her at home. He is condescending, assuming that he knows what is best for her in every situation.

Maybe it’s difficult for Edward to see Bella as an equal because Bella has almost no personality. Meyer writes on her website that she “left out a detailed description of Bella in the book so that the reader could more easily step into her shoes.“ But Meyer fails to give Bella much of an interior life as well; Bella is a blank slate, with few thoughts or actions that don’t center on Edward. If Meyer hopes that readers see themselves as Bella, what is it she is suggesting to them about the significance of their own lives?

Meyer also insists that she sees Bella as a feminist character, since the foundation of feminism is being able to choose. What Meyer fails to acknowledge is that all of the choices Bella makes are Meyer’s choices—choices based on her own patriarchal Mormon background.

Aren’t these books about vampires? Perhaps it is a generational thing, but I thought this column read way too much into the books. Sometimes fiction is just fiction, you know?

But she touched on a good topic we have often just scratched the surface here at MotherTalkers. What values — if any — would you instill in your daughters in terms of sexuality? Surely, there are different ways to approach the topic based on our culture, religion and personal experiences.

Being the Catholic school girl that I was and having a positive experience in waiting until college to have sex, I will probably encourage my own children — both son and daughter — to wait for the “right partner.” I just saw so many female family members and friends get burned. I know I would have been freaking devastated if I guy I liked and slept with didn’t bother calling the next day. I would be afraid that my children would neglect their studies or lose themselves if they engaged in a sexual relationship too young. Clearly, I am putting my own experiences and hang-ups on them. And of course, I am not naive to think it will all go according to plan, which is why I do not believe in abstinence-only education in schools. Nor will birth control be a dirty word in our household.

But my instinct is to be as honest and open as I can about my own experiences and feelings and hope they will have a variety of viewpoints — not just peer pressure — on what I think is a life-altering event. What about you? What do you think of Siering’s essay? How have you or would you approach the topic of sex with your daughter?

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Mark Landon, an actor and the eldest son of Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon, was found dead in his home on Monday, according to the Associated Press. AP did not list a cause of death but said he was 60 years old.  

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget includes cuts for abstinence-only education in favor of teen pregnancy prevention, according to USA Today.

Oprah Winfrey’s in-house medical and health expert, Dr. Mehmet Oz, is leaving to start his own show, according to the Associated Press. Also in the Associated Press: Miss California USA, Carrie Prejean, will retain her crown despite the emergence of photos showing her posing in her underwear as a teenager. Prejean has not stopped making headlines since she opposed gay marriage in the last Miss USA pageant where she placed second to Miss North Carolina Kristen Dalton.

In celebrity gossip break: Now it’s Kate Gosselin of Jon & Kate Plus Eight fame who is under the mediascope for allegedly having an affair with their bodyguard, according to People online. Oy vey.

And I am surprised I missed this, but Sarah Jessica Parker is going to have twin girls via surrogate, according to People. Finally, in case you missed it, actress-writer Nia Vardalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding wrote a moving essay for People about her newly adopted 3-year-old daughter’s blessing at church.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?

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Abstinence-Only Education (Re-)Rears Ugly Head

In a study that abstinence-only education advocates say proves their point, researchers have found that sexually active teens are more likely to engage in oral sex than virgins, according to the Washington Post.

“There’s a popular perception that teens are engaging in serial oral sex as a strategy to avoid vaginal intercourse,” said Rachel Jones of the Guttmacher Institute, a private, nonprofit research organization based in New York, who helped do the study. “Our research suggests that’s a misperception.”

Instead, the study found that teens tend to become sexually active in many ways at about the same time. For example, although only one in four teenage virgins had engaged in oral sex, within six months after their first intercourse more than four out of five adolescents reported having oral sex.

“That suggests that oral and vaginal sex are closely linked,” said Jones, whose findings will be published in the July issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. “Most teens don’t have oral sex until they have had vaginal sex.”

Valerie Huber, the executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, held up the study as proof we need to discourage teens from engaging in all sex. Hey, I am for encouraging teens to wait, but withholding all information on sex, including condom use, is not the way to go. I wholeheartedly agree with this guy:

“More than half of our teens are having sex — vaginal and oral,” said James Wagoner, president of the group Advocates for Youth. “We can’t afford the luxury of denial. Abstinence-only programs are the embodiment of denial. They have been proven not to work, and it’s time to invest in real sex education, including condoms.”

Still, as other experts in the story pointed out, it is important to collect as much information in this area possible.  Researchers welcomed the news.

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