Sunday, June 04, 2006


Although I tend to be free with advice, it may nevertheless come as surpirse that I am a genuine advice columnist (true, it is for the Fort Fairfield Maine "alternative" paper, but a gig is a gig). Here are my latest columns. Feel free to send me questions, in fact this is the first column for which I don't have to make them up, a trend I'd like to continue.

Dear Aviva,
I am currently in a relationship with a man who is wonderful inmany ways -- funny, handy, good-looking, and generally kind, but he recently did something that really disappointed me. When my father was ill, my boyfriend did not seem to understand that I needed to be with him in the hospital. My boyfriend was angry at the time I spent away from him and intolerant of my time with my family. I am surprised because he is very family-oriented and we often spend time with his parents and brothers. I don't feel comfortable approaching him about this, but I can't forget his attitude, even though my father is home now and is much better. Should I forget about it or forget about him?
Sincerely, A Confused Girlfriend

Dear Confused,
It seems obvious that your boyfriend behaved badly. The questions are: (1) Why? and, (2) What does this mean for your relationship? Perhaps your boyfriend was jealous of the time you spent with your father. Maybe he is just a self-centered jerk. Or perhaps he freaks out when confronted with hospitals and illness. It sounds as if you don’t really know the answer.
Should you continue to date this guy or was his insensitive and demanding attitude a “deal breaker?” My late Aunt Frieda famously (at least it was famous in the family) quipped: “Everyone has faults; you need to find a man with the right faults.” No boyfriend will be perfect and whether you should end the relationship depends on what you need and value. Only you can determine which faults are intolerable.
Actually, the thing that struck me as most problematic was not his behaviour but rather the fact that you don’t think you can talk to him about it. In my opinion, you need to understand why he behaved as he did, and he needs to hear how you feel. I would be curious whether he accepts some criticism and whether he tries to change.
Everyone makes mistakes. But if your boyfriend can’t tolerate an honest discussion of how he hurt and disappointed you, that for me would be a deal breaker.

What is your advice on how to handle the public school’s showing graphic sex videos to 10 and 11 year-olds?
A Concerned Parent in Fort Kent, Maine

Dear Concerned,
Your Editor, David Deschesne, has kept me informed about the controversy concerning the Human Growth and Development curriculum at St. Francis. As an indication of the graphic nature of the videos, my porn filter rejected David’s first email describing the video.

That said, I think there are really two questions here. (Hmm, there may be a theme to my answers – see the two questions organizaton above). First, what is the right way to introduce ten and eleven-year-olds to issues of sex and sexual maturity? Second, what are the rights and responsibilities of parents and educators in trying to perform this delicate and sensitive task?

I must emphasize that I haven’t seen the video. Also, unlike some people opposed to the curriculum, I don’t necessarily think that talking about erections, ejaculations, and wet dreams is a problem. The graphic depiction of a male penis in full erection, however, might be overwhelming for kids that young. The very explicit nature of the film seems to be, in the words of my best-friend, Ruthie, TMI (too much information).

The danger, however, is even graver, if such information comes too late. By age twelve, many boys are having nocturnal emissions, aka wet dreams. Boys need to hear about them from responsible adults and be reassured that such things are normal and signs of a healthy, developing body. My three boys all knew in advance about wet dreams, and their occurrence was no big deal. They informed me by starting to wash their own sheets and pajamas.

Girls are in similar need of information. My grandmother was terrified when she received her first period at age eleven – no one thought to talk to her about it and she thought she was in serious danger when she started to bleed. It was a negative experience she could recall seventy years, two children and five grandchildren later. I know of twelve year olds who have gotten pregnant. So, the ten-to eleven year-old set is a crucial audience for information about sex.

Sex ed is simply vital and, in our day, life-saving. Responsible people, however, can disagree about how explicit it should be and at what ages information should be dispensed. I do believe this is a job for public education and that we cannot count on parents alone to relay all the info. Parents can be too embarrassed, or may themselves not have fully accurate information. Parents also may under- or over-estimate the amount of information and detail their kids can handle. My inclination is to trust our trained educators on this.

But let’s face it, this is not a debate about reading methods or whether the kids should have math drills. With such a sensitive topic as sex, with its relationship to health and morality, the school system must act in partnership with parents, affording parents full respect.

I can understand the frustration of educators who can’t be expected to run every aspect of a state-wide curriculum by each parent. However, a take-it-or leave-it approach to sex ed does not seem fruitful. Parents must be involved because sex ed is not just about information. It is also about morality, religion, and behaviour outside the classroom.

I recommend that parents not enter the school during school hours – that is disruptive to learning and subverts the authority of the school. Instead, the administration should offer some time after school for parents to view the video and the other materials associated with this curriculum. This will help parents prepare their kids for the information to follow, and improve the kids’ experience. If parents feel very strongly that the video is inappropriate, their children should be excused; but then the parents have a heavy burden of making sure their children do not suffer emotionally or physically because they lack crucial information.


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