DEAR ABBY: For some time now, I have been reading about parents who can't decide who should inform kids about sex. Some argue that the teachers should do it. Others respond that it's the parents' job. Is it me, or does this seem juvenile? Shouldn't both teachers and parents explain the facts of life to the kids? I thought the idea was to protect and educate the next generation.
Teen-agers complain that their teachers can't get past the biology of it all. They dwell so much on hormones that by the end of class nearly half the kids have their heads on their desks and they're snoring. Teachers don't like to talk about the touchy-feely stuff. (At least they didn't when I was in high school two years ago.) If kids want a discussion of foreplay, oral sex, masturbation or homosexuality, they usually have to rely on their friends, movies, magazines, etc.
The parents are usually no better than the teachers. They shouldn't wait for their children -- especially their teen-agers -- to start asking questions. Sex isn't something that you shut in a closet, then bring out and dust off when a kid comes of age. Sex education starts when a parent tells a child where it's OK and not OK to touch someone.
If a 16- or 17-year-old comes home and suddenly asks his or her parent's opinion about sex, it's probably already too late. But if that happens to be the case, treating the teen as if he or she has committed a mortal sin will only make the situation worse. -- JENNIFER IN NORFOLK, VA.
DEAR JENNIFER: Until parents agree on the quality of sex education their children should receive, and elect school boards who will ensure that their wishes are enforced, sex education in the schools is not likely to improve.
The problem is many parents fear that talking about sex or sexuality will encourage sex, even though studies show that informed teen-agers are less likely to become sexually active than those who are ignorant. Parents must recognize that if their children don't learn about sex from their teachers or their parents, they will learn it elsewhere, and what they learn can be incorrect, confusing or contrary to the parents' beliefs. Frank communication is an important means of influencing a child's behavior before a problem occurs.
The American Social Health Association (ASHA) offers a helpful booklet titled "Becoming an Askable Parent: How to Talk With Your Child About Sexuality," which can be ordered by sending $2 (to cover printing, postage and handling) to: ASHA, Dept. DA69, P.O. Box 13827, Research Triangle Park, N.C. 27709.