I’ve dedicated my career as a licensed nurse to helping young people live safe and healthy lives.
Despite my training, I wasn’t prepared for the awkwardness of responding to a young girl who said she hated herself and was concerned she would go to hell because she was a lesbian. Nor was I ready for the young man who was worried that if he never got married he could never have sex. And then there were those who need birth control but are too ashamed to ask.
I was saddened to learn that these harmful ideas were resulting not from cultural forces beyond our control, but instead from what we were teaching in physical-education classes just down the hall. Clearly, these lessons lowered self-esteem, confused young people and were harmful to their well-being.
Fortunately, my school – and California as a whole – has made great strides in recent years. We are on a path that puts our teens’ health and well-being over outdated ideology. Thanks to the California Healthy Youth Act, we are now teaching comprehensive sexual health education curricula across the state.
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Now, our teens are not only learning honest facts about their bodies in an age appropriate way, they are also learning critical concepts like the importance of inclusivity and consent, which will benefit them throughout their lives.
Getting here was not easy, and kids in other states are not so lucky. The federal government is making it worse by moving to cancel teen pregnancy prevention programs, attacking LGBTQ people in the military and workplace, and making it harder for women to access birth control and other reproductive health services.
In California, we know this is dangerous and leads to high unintended teen birth and sexually transmitted disease rates. But our teens have a critical advantage because we are providing medically-accurate information about health and contraception. They are informed and empowered to make safer choices.
Every day, young people are inundated with things of a sexual nature, whether it is on the internet, or the rumors they hear in school hallways.
We accept this reality and respond appropriately by giving them the facts without judgment. The impact is clear: today, a teen can walk into my office with an appointment to access the services they need. They know what their rights are. They are taking the first initiative in their own health care.
My students can identify the nine steps to put on a condom. They are comfortable having conversations about safety and consent. When we address them as the young adults they are, when we show that we care about them and trust them, we encourage healthy decision-making.
We want parents to play an active role in their student’s sex education and talk to their kids about these issues. To be sure, these conversations can be awkward. Some parents worry that kids are losing their innocence too fast.
As a member of the medical field as well as an educator, I know that science-based sex ed ultimately helps young people keep their bodies and minds healthy – which helps them succeed in school. The reality is that some students just do not have the support they need at home.
Adults need to understand that 2017 is not 1950. Our students have moved progressively forward, and we need to keep up with them. Young people should be exposed to an honest and inclusive curriculum because it benefits everyone. They need to know about their contraceptive options and how to access them. We know that LGBTQ-inclusive curricula fight stigma and bullying.
Today, we are meeting kids where they are – and our students really need this information. I am proud to be part of how our state is cultivating, enriching and supporting the future leaders by helping ensure they are prepared to lead healthy lives and treat others with respect and dignity.
Christina Lallas of Selma is a licensed vocational nurse and nurse technician and the wife and mother of two young adults. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.