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IMFC issues study on sex education as Ontario revises its curriculum

By Deborah Gyapong

Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) has some tips for provinces such as Ontario that are considering revising their sex education curriculum.

The IMFC, an Ottawa-based think-tank on public policy related to the family, has released a study that stresses the important role parents play in any sex education revision.

It recommended the Ministry of Education: “engage with concerned parents”; “respect parental rights”; “measure and evaluate curriculum outcomes”; and “support parental choice in education.”

Ontario has announced it will introduce material in 2015 it had withdrawn in 2010 when the new material provoked a massive pushback from parents. The IMFC study examined the flawed way the Ontario government tried to introduce the 2010 curriculum, without adequately communicating with parents.

“Poor communication put already concerned parents on the defensive creating an atmosphere of distrust,” the IMFC said.

The Ontario government also failed to anticipate parental reaction to introducing certain topics to students at younger ages, such as anal and oral sex in Grade 7, or masturbation in Grade 6, the study said. It also addressed gender formation in Grade 3.

The IMFC reported the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry advises parents to respond to an individual child’s needs and curiosity level, “offering no more or less information than their child is asking for and is able to understand.”

“As any parent knows, readiness can differ from child to child even in the same family,” IMFC said. “Universal provincial curriculum has limited flexibility to suit the sensitivity of each child.”

The IMFC stressed the role of parents as the child’s “primary sex educator.”

Studies show a high degree of parental involvement is key to the success of sexual education programs, it said.

It also cited studies showing how key the role of parents is in helping shape a teenager’s decisions about engaging in sexual activity. Only four to five per cent of teens in one study said school provided the dominant influence.

“The evidence shows that parents create a social climate in their home that influences beliefs and behaviours that help teens transition toward autonomous adulthood,” the IMFC said. “Sexuality education cannot merely acknowledge parents, but must engage them in this role.”

The IMFC said the claim of the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association that the 1998 Ontario sex ed curriculum is putting students’ health at risk is “hard to substantiate.”

The think-tank also examined studies that looked into the effectiveness of sex education programs, and found “sexual health knowledge does not necessarily correlate with safer sexual behaviour.”

“Developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld points out that teen sex is rarely just about sex,” the study said. “It is often more about control, power, the drive to be desired and accepted and ultimately about seeking the deep human need for attachment.”

Neufeld warns that teens who engage in early sexual activity become emotional numb, the IMFC said. “He argues that much of the blatant talk about sexuality among teens today has little to do with openness of progress, but is a sign of the loss of intimacy and vulnerability needed for intimate bonding.”

Good parental relations have the biggest impact on child and teen development, the IMFC said, but parents often underestimate how important their role is. “A parenting style that is warm and supportive with clear communication and appropriate supervision helps young people thrive,” the study said.

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