Imagine getting your first period and not knowing what’s happening to you.
It’s an indelible memory. I was 11, and Mom was visibly uncomfortable explaining to me that it was normal, just not something to be talked about.
She sat at her piano, her fingers playing a melody, her eyes on the wall above the old upright. It was a short talk, just enough to let me know I wasn’t sick or dying.
Jump forward 30 years.
When my daughter was in fifth grade, the boys and girls were sent to separate assemblies for their puberty talk. Parents were invited to attend. I did. A nurse explained what puberty was and what to expect. Every girl in the class went home with pads, information, coupons. It was comfortable and necessary, a brilliant mix of healthcare and education. Many of the girls, my daughter included, had already had the talk, but the public talk took the embarrassment out of it.
When my daughter was in middle school, I took her to the county health department and let the nurse give her more information. Again, I was there, but I thought she would be more comfortable hearing what a nurse had to say, especially about STDs.
No, they aren’t a scare tactic, like the boogeyman, that parents trot out; they are a real threat. So are teen pregnancies. The nurse explained safety and contraception, and she also talked about protecting oneself from unwanted advances.
Imagine if all young people had access to this information.
Silence protects no one. Yet it is silence that our state Superintendent of Public Education is promoting. What he’s not promoting is education.
How many teens have their lives irrevocably altered by an unwanted pregnancy?
How many young people, both male and female, live with fear and shame not of their own making, because we don’t talk to them, don’t teach them that people in power do not have the right to violate their bodies – not family members or teachers or coaches or church officials?
What if we decided that the safe, and sane, thing to do is to take the mystery out of growing up, and when the time it right, out of sex?
Keeping kids in the dark about their own bodies is not good for kids or for the adults they will become. Children born to teen mothers are more likely to live in poverty. They are also more likely to become teen parents themselves.
We need to make sure our kids are educated on every front. They need to be comfortable in their own skins and have the confidence to make their own decisions.
We won’t always be there to protect them or to make their decisions for them. That’s what an education’s for.