Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexual Health Education at School and at Home: Attitudes and Experiences of New Brunswick Parents

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Sexual Health Education at School and at Home: Attitudes and Experiences of New Brunswick Parents

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This study examined the attitudes and experiences of New Brunswick parents regarding sexual health education (SHE) at school and at home. Over 4200 parents with children in grades K-8 in 30 New Brunswick schools completed surveys. Ninety-four percent of parents agreed that SHE should be provided in school and 95% felt that it should be a shared responsibility between school and home. Almost all parents felt that SHE should begin in elementary (65%) or middle school (32%), although there was not consensus on what grade level various topics should be introduced. The majority of parents supported the inclusion of a broad range of sexual health topics at some point in the curriculum, including topics often considered controversial such as homosexuality and masturbation. Although parents indicated that they wish to be involved in their child's SHE, most of them had not discussed any of a range of SHE topics in a lot of detail with their child. Parents also indicated that they want more information from schools about the SHE curriculum, about sexuality in general, and about communication strategies to assist them in providing education at home.

Key words: Sexual health education Schools Parents Parental attitudes

INTRODUCTION

Adolescents rate sex education as one of their most important educational needs (Cairns, Collins, & Hiebert, 1994). However, sexual health education (SHE) is often a controversial topic, with perhaps no other subject sparking as much debate. School administrators have identified fear of parental or community opposition as major barriers to the provision of SHE (Reis & Seidl, 1989; Scales & Kirby, 1983). Similarly, teachers in New Brunswick have identified anticipated reactions from parents to the inclusion of specific topics as the greatest barrier to their willingness to teach SHE (Cohen, Byers, Sears, & Weaver, 2001). Are parents in fact opposed to school-based SHE as often feared or do parents support the provision of SHE at school? The answer to this question is important because parental support is strongly associated with the success of SHE programs (Rienzo, 1989). Further, discussion of sexuality in the home is an important component of students' overall SHE, and school-based SHE can make it easier for parents to discuss sexuality with their child (Berne et al., 2000; Parcel & Coreil, 1985). The purpose of this study was to evaluate parents' attitudes toward and experiences with SHE at school and at home, including their ideas about the timing and content of the sexual health curriculum and their involvement in providing SHE to their children.

ATTITUDES TOWARD SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION

Although a vocal minority can create the impression that parental objections to school-based SHE are widespread, research has consistently found that parents support SHE at school. For example, McKay, Pietrusiak, and Holowaty (1998) reported that 95% of parents in one rural school district in Ontario agreed that SHE should be provided in school. The majority of parents (82%)felt that SHE should begin in the primary grades and continue through to high school. Similarly, 95% of parents of high school students in rural Nova Scotia supported school-based sexuality education (Langille, Langille, Beazley, & Doncaster, 1996) and 98% of urban Ontario parents were in favour of AIDS education in the schools (Verby & Herold, 1992).

As no large-scale study has been undertaken to assess New Brunswick parents' attitudes toward SHE, it is unclear whether results of studies conducted in other provinces can be generalized to New Brunswick. It is important to have information regarding the attitudes of New Brunswick parents as parental attitudes have the potential to affect educational policy, curriculum, and procedures in this province. Therefore, the first goal of this study was to assess parents' general attitudes toward SHE in the schools, including which topics they believe are important to their children's SHE. …

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