TOO MUCH, TOO YOUNG; Why It's Not the Job of a Nanny State to Lay Down the Law on What Children Should Be Told about Sex

Article excerpt

Byline: KATIE GRANT

TWO v e r y u r g e n t questions arise from the current furore over the contents of sex education materials in Scotland's schools.

The first is: what is the point of sex education? And the second is: how far should the State be permitted to take on a parenting role?

These two questions are connected because sex education has two purposes.

One is to warn both girls and boys that it is only too easy to find yourself with, or responsible for, an unwanted pregnancy. The other is to teach children about sex.

Sex education as a warning about pregnancy is clearly a matter of public concern. In Scotland, the State, in the form of the Scottish Executive, is right to address it.

Quite apart from the personal and social difficulties of teenage pregnancy, the financial burden of looking after single mothers and their babies nearly always falls on the taxpayer.

No responsible government is careless of taxpayers' money.

Attempting to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies is, therefore, a perfectly legitimate government concern.

As Scotland has the highest level of teenage pregnancies in Europe, the Scottish Executive could rightly be accused of negligence if ministers simply shrugged their shoulders and ignored the matter.

But warning of the dangers of unwanted pregnancy is not the same as teaching children about sex. That is something that parents, not the State, should do.

Masturbation, group and oral sex are nothing to do with the Scottish Executive. If some parents are unable to cope with explaining these terms when asked by their children, teen magazines are full of helplines and information.

SUCH kinds of information about sex are nothing to do with teenage pregnancy and have no bearing on the public interest. If 14-year-olds do not know anything about sadomasochism, it is not the State's job to fill them in.

This is where the Executive has made a big mistake. Ministers are unable to see the difference between sex education as an aid to cutting teenage pregnancy and

sex education as a private journey each of us must make in our own time.

By ignoring this vital difference, they have managed to upset parents in what i s already a very sensitive and difficult area - and at a time when it is vital that Ministers are seen to be conducting themselves in a responsible and adult fashion.

By backing the distribution of some sex education literature to schoolchildren, they have also left themselves open to accusations that they have endorsed the dissemination of pornography.

The Executive's belief that it knows best is symptomatic of a wider and worrying trend towards the Nanny State. The day is beginning to dawn when help? Now the Scottish Executive wants to define when we can and cannot smack children.

And Jack McConnell, our new First Minister, wants to lay down the law on teenage tearaways so that the State, rather than the parent, operates a curfew.

It seems that because many of us have been found wanting as parents, the State has decided it will do our parenting for us. Everybody wants to see the State, rather than mothers and fathers, is seen as the best judge of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour.

In addition to dictating what our children are taught at school, the State now wants to tell us how and when we should manage our children when they are at home.

Remember Mr Blair's early pronouncements on the 'correct amount of homework' and what we parents should do to

children well-educated and decently brought up. Everybody recognises that the State has a role in this. The State, after all, is responsible for law and order.

BUT my fear is that the m o r e t h e S t a t e removes the responsibility for children from parents, the more the bond between parent and child will be undermined until parents might a c t u a l l y become incapable of bringing up their children without the State having a central role. …