Teach sex education sooner

Published 1:02 am Sunday, March 23, 2014

When it comes to the birds and the bees, the Vicksburg Warren School District needs to make like both of those signals of spring and let the wings dry on their own program.
Specifically, they need to implement sex education classes for children as young as the sixth grade — usually the age when attitudes about sex are forming and acting on them isn’t far behind.
In April 2012, VWSD in a 4-1 vote adopted an “abstinence-plus” curriculum called Choosing the Best. The Choosing the Best program is designed for older students but can be adapted for children in as low as sixth-grade, trustees were told. Abstinence-plus, the product of a state mandate that districts adopt either that or an abstinence-only curriculum, teaches students about contraception without any demonstration of condoms or other methods.
At the moment, though, sex education is taught in the district’s junior high and high schools. That’s good, but not good enough, according to a Vicksburg Child and Parent Center representative whose thoughts on the matter were on point recently.
“If we start there, they will know how to deal with the pressures of sex when they become teenagers,” Krystal Hamlin said. “When we start now, they already have their mind made up.”
Last week the second speaker in three months at Port City Kiwanis highlighted the need for starting the fundamentals of sex education earlier for public school students.
“Mississippi leads the nation in a lot of bad categories. We all know about obesity. We also lead the nation in our number of kids who are having sex before the age of 13,” Stacy Tennison, executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Choices, told the group.
The curriculum, she said, is not appropriate for elementary students.
“Elementary needs to teach decision making, which would help,” Tennision said.
Here’s some common sense things we all know, whether we’re parents or not. Most children are about 11 or 12 years old when they start sixth grade. It’s the gateway to those awkward teen years, when, in some social circles that develop, not wearing the coolest, flashiest pair of athletic shoes or the latest fashion in clothes can be used as a weapon to scar a child emotionally.
When hormones in the adolescent body and mind start ramping up — as is dictated biologically for us all — the elders of society, in this case our parents and teachers, must step in and teach our children the basics of human reproduction and the results of sexual activity. Make no mistake, the words “step in” mean doing so at that critical threshold to the teen years.
Nationally, the teen birth rate is slowing down. In 2008, the teen pregnancy rate hit a 40-year low, according to a study released in 2013 by the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute using the most current year that comprehensive information was available. It stood at 68 pregnancies per 1,000 teens, down from 117 per 1,000 teens in 1990. Birth rates, which measures how many pregnancies were carried to term, showed a similar downward trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rate for 15- to 19-year-olds fell 6 percent in 2012, to 29.4 births per 1,000, the lowest rate in the 73 years the government has collected the data.
Mississippi still ranked in the top 5 for its teen pregnancy rate, the Guttmacher survey said. At 90 pregnancies per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19, the state was second only to New Mexico’s 93 on that list.
The statistics that can be read in a newspaper or online article are one thing. Taking a look around society, particularly in some of our schools, is quite another. It doesn’t take a statistician to know that honest, informative talk about sex is the best we can do. And we can start by letting the program take wing a bit sooner than junior high.