Monday, November 06, 2006

My Moral Dilemma

Being careful again not to divulge too much information, I have to mention my latest job possibility. It is, except for one significant glitch, one of the most attractive prospects so far.

A major textbook company wants me to consider writing a high school health text. I'd write about topics that I'm passionate about, some of which we addressed in FUEL and CHILL: healthy relationships, communication and conflict resolution, stress, family relationships, media, and violence prevention. This would be my dream job, for sure. Not only do I love the subject matter, but it encompasses everything else that I consider to be a perfect work situation: I'd get to write (and be paid for it!), I'd work from home, I'd travel just enough to keep things interesting, and I'd interface with movers and shakers in the teen health arena. It's absolutely perfect. Right?

Well, not quite. The text takes an abstinence-only approach to teen sexuality and even includes an "abstinence-only pledge"! And that chapter sits between "refusal skills" and "violence prevention," a placement that I believe gives a very distinct underlying message. As both an educator and a mother of four teens and young adults, I have serious issues with the abstenence-only approach. First, research shows that it simply doesn't work. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens who take virginity pledges are almost as likely to contract STDs as those who don't take pledges. And, of those who took the "no sex before marriage" pledge, 88% have sex before marriage anyway. Obviously, this approach doesn't have the desired effect... I wholeheartedly agree with Planned Parenthood's statement that "abstinence is certainly an important aspect of any sex education curriculum, but to limit discussion of pregnancy and STI prevention to abstinence alone, omitting any information about contraception, not only flies in the face of what the scientific community supports -- it also threatens the health and safety of young people."

As a parent, my two Really Big Rules are 1.) Never combine a motor vehicle and alcohol and 2.) Don't have sex until you are in a fully mature, responsible, loving relationship, and the first time you have unprotected sex should be when you are ready to make a baby.

I can't afford to have my head in the sand about what it means to be a teen these days. I believe that the most important issues for teens are those that can forever negatively impact theirs or someone else's future because of ignorance or stupidity. Drunk driving and unprotected sex fall into this category. I believe that it's unrealistic to say to teens, "NO SEX." Instead, I feel that it's important to teach them about the importance of responsible choices when it comes to sex. Similarly, I believe that more important than forbidding teens to never drink (because we know that this is, unfortunately, unrealistic) is to communicate with them about responsible choices regarding alcohol. "Just say no" sounds nice, but it's unrealistic and I don't regard it as education. It's more a slogan, a buzz-phrase. It's nice for politicians, but it isn't enough for teens in the real world.

I think a much more realistic, respectful and positive approach is one of educating teens about the issues. TEACH them about the effects of alcohol on the body and the mind. TEACH them about sexuality, about STDs, about pregnancy prevention so they can make mature, responsible, educated decisions.

To have a fabulous textbook that does a great job teaching about nutrition and activity, friendship and communication, and violence prevention (among many other important topics), but neglects any mention at all about teen sexuality and tools teens need to be responsibly sexually active is, in my opinion, both irresponsible and unrealistic. The only chapter that discusses teen sexuality in this text is called Abstinence: A Responsible Decision. There's no mention of any approach other than abstinence-only -- no discussion of birth control, and the closest they come to discussing serious dating relationships is in a chapter called Dating and Setting Limits, which focuses on "behaviors that will enhance dignity relating to marriage." Wow.

Unless there's some leeway regarding approach (and I can't imagine there is when states like Texas dictate content -- and they do), I will likely have to turn down any job offer that comes my way from this textbook company. I couldn't live with myself -- or face my teens, with whom I've always been open, honest and realisitic -- if I don't.

Too bad, because I would LOVE this position under different circumstances.

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