On a recent visit to Europe, I had the good fortune to participate in a study tour, focusing on teenage sexuality, sex-education in the schools, the impact of the media, and parent-child communication. While teen sexual activity, pregnancy rates, HIV and STI statistics are exceedingly high in the United States; the Netherlands, Germany and France all maintain a much healthier standard. While these European teens are not only beginning sexual activity a year later than our teens, on an average, the reason for their better health seems to me fairly obvious better mental health. These teens are being groomed with self-respect
from a very young age.
In the Netherlands, I am struck by the honesty and integrity of parents and educators who believe that if a child is old enough to ask a question, he is old enough to get an answer. While these answers are age appropriate, children tend to develop healthier body images
, better communication skills and the feeling that no topic is taboo when they are encouraged to ask questions. As this exchange boosts a child's confidence and trust, it also builds his self-esteem. And while life skills classes are an integral part of the school curriculum, one of the many lessons children learn in these classes is how to build and nurture a relationship and how to be a responsible friend. How's that for an education...
Germany's media campaigns in the area of safe sex are brilliant. Prominent athletes and politicians often endorse commercials promoting condom use. The commercials are witty, sexy, bold, edgey, and speak directly to a young audience of hormonal hipsters. By addressing, and not repressing their sexuality, these advertisers are successfully attracting their demographic while simultaneously educating youth about disease prevention
. Teaching a young mind to respect his or her young body is teaching self-esteem. And, as we all know, self esteem is fostered by education and communication.
France, much like the Netherlands and Germany has normalized sex in a way that allows teenagers a healthy dialogue between parents and teens, educators and students and the media and its audience. The European attitude recognizes that emotional maturity goes hand in hand with sexuality. Casual or recreational sex often comes with a hefty price tag and while teenagers will always be curious, they should also be prepared with both the physical and spiritual tools to handle their growing libidos. These European teens clearly appreciate that knowledge is power. Their parents are an integral component in their growth, teaching them to not only care for themselves, but to be responsible for their friends and partners. With condom demonstrations in sex-education class, convenient and confidential clinics available to young adults, and the world's most famous city of love, France boasts a sophisticated and responsible teen population with far less incidence of sexually transmitted disease than the US. Now, isn't that romantic?
One day, these European teens will look back with gratitude. They are receiving valuable life lessons. While learning about responsibility, they are earning their self-respect. They are experiencing, first hand, the magic that occurs when you are empowered with knowledge and support... when your parents are not only your friends- but also your educators and moral examples, when your government enlists in the wellness of your mind, body and spirit, and your friends take an active role in bettering your life.