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Free Condoms for First Graders!

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Kate Tuttle: Didja hear? A crazy school district in wacko-liberal Massachusetts (in"gay capital"Provincetown, no less!) is going to be handing out condoms to kids as young as kindergarten-age -- and parents can't opt their kids out! It's the end of the world! At least, that's how the cable news shows were reporting it this week.

Condemnation of condom-mania was all over the airwaves, in response to the decision made by P-town's school committee. Even Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, hardly a raving conservative, expressed his disapproval. Late Thursday, the news came that,after a phone call from Governor Patrick,P-town's school superintendent, Beth Singer, is now asking her team to reassess the policy.

kid with a condom

I find this disappointing. As the mother of a teenager growing up in Massachusetts, the last thing I want is for political considerations -- including the fear of ridicule from professional pundits looking to score cheap points in a nonsensical culture war -- to threaten the ability of local school officials to provide students with the tools they need to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

Amidst all the outrage -- "First graders will be able to get condoms!" -- there's been a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding, along with the usual objections to any form of sex education or contraceptive/safe-sex counseling. Let's clear up the first part first: The main reasons the free-condom policy has no age minimum are logistical and logical.

Provincetown is a tiny place -- at least as far as its school kids are concerned. Primarily a gay-friendly and artsy summer beach town, it's full of tourists in the summertime, but its year-round population is just over 3,000. The high school is slated to close in the next few years; starting in the fall, high-school students will be blended in with kids from kindergarten to eighth grade in the same two buildings. Because health-related policies are typically building-specific, the only way to impose an age minimum on the condom distribution would be to write it into the policy -- a step that P-town's superintendent and her team were unwilling to make, since they know that kids are often having sex far younger than we would wish.

The part of the policy that nobody seems to have read before denouncing it states that any student asking for a free condom will need to go through a school nurse. Those people have built-in B.S. detectors -- there's no way a curious or silly first grader would be able to procure a free Trojan to use as a water balloon. Similarly, an early-bloomer fourth grader contemplating jumping into sexual activity too young would get a sympathetic, sane listener -- exactly what any parent would wish for. And what of an eighth grader who is seriously considering having sex for the first time? As a parent, I would hope that he or she would reconsider -- but barring that, damn straight I hope there's a condom involved.

One part of the proposal that has parents outraged is the fact that they can't opt out; they can't dictate that the schools refuse to help their children if they come seeking condoms. And you know what? That's exactly appropriate. Yes, parents are and always should be their children's first teachers and guides, and we all hope that our kids will come to us whenever they're about to make a big step. But kids don't always do that, and in many cases -- especially when parents are strict, rigid, moralistic -- they need to find other kind, empathetic adults who will listen to and help them.

To those who ask, incredulously, whether schools should also be able to dispense birth control pills without parental approval, I'd point out that condoms are an appliance, not a medication -- no hormones, no foul. Anyway, neither condoms nor birth control pills force kids to have sex, any more than seat belts in cars force drivers to get into wrecks.

The bottom line is, just as schools can't do anything to stop kids from having sex (sometimes earlier than anyone would hope), neither is there anything parents can do, really. In the end, this is a life choice a teenager will make on his or her own. Even if parents have done their job -- talking to their children about sex and sexuality; being clear about their own hopes and wishes and values -- after a certain point, it's truly out of our hands.

Parents who are realistic can admit that their children will likely begin having sex in high school (statistics say that most of us do), and those who are able to be open will already have talked to their kids about the need to use condoms. It's the kids whose parents haven't stepped up -- because of fear or denial or disapproval -- who will benefit most from the kind of policy P-town's schools are now being attacked for.

next: Kyron Horman's Parents Appear on 'Today' Show
22 comments so far | Post a comment now
chris June 25, 2010, 9:59 AM

This makes me very mad. The worst part is the fact that parents can not op out of this. I’m all for kids in middle school and high school having access to condoms but no way am I for giving them to kids in elementary. It seems more and more rights of parents are being taken away for us. I’m tired of feeling like I have less control to make decision for my kids.

Matt June 25, 2010, 10:03 AM

I completely agree with this article, I don’t have a problem with my oldest son(he’s a sophomore in high school) having sex with his girlfriend of 3 years, as long as they are safe, and he doesn’t pressure her, then I am fine with it.

calimommi June 25, 2010, 10:52 AM

If YOU want YOUR child to have condoms ~ put a bowl of them by YOUR front door. MY children are MY responsibility and I will judiciously fight for this right.

Kristen June 25, 2010, 12:06 PM

Calimommi, that’s great then why not take your kids out of school and then homeschool them like we do. The country needs things like this because of the stupid parents who don’t parent. I am 100% for this policy!!!! I hope more school systems will make condoms and sex education wide spread because as we all know from Bristol Palin, abstinence education does NOT work.

Jen June 25, 2010, 12:50 PM

This has no place in schools and parents have the right to be angry. But in the end it is the parent’s responsibility. It’s sad this reader told the other woman to homeschool referring that the school policy is correct. The school district is not correct. But also, homeschooling is safer for a student and the reader failed to mention that! They have no business to pass out condoms to any of the students. And this encourages children to have sex because if the SCHOOL can pass out condoms well it must be okay then! Parents must enforce what their children or teens can or can’t do. This article is saying parents have no say. I’m sorry that is NOT true. Parents who are responsible and care for their son or daughter impact them a LOT. It’s parents who don’t care or leave it up to a whacky school district to make decisions for their kids like this one mentioned often fail. Really really sad.

calimommi June 25, 2010, 2:21 PM

Kristen - I did/do homeschool. My 13 year old will begin 9th grade at the public high school & I will continue to homeschool my other 2 children.
The point is that parenting is full of personal choices. A choice you see as stupid is a choice nonetheless. I am not willing to go down that slippery slope of the government (which funds schools) infringing on my choices as a parent.

stef June 25, 2010, 3:36 PM

Lets face it: not all parents are comfortable with teaching their children about sex and not all children are comfortable going to their parents about it, which is why it should be done with schools.
This is also good because students who want to have sex will do it anyways, whether or not they have a condom, so why not make getting condoms accessible?
We can’t just ignore the fact that children know about and have sex earlier, so we can at least make it safer. (My six-year-old cousin “taught” me about sex after hearing it from another child in her class, so it is ignorant to think that children aren’t thinking about these things.)

MJ June 26, 2010, 7:18 AM

all of the girls i knew who had sex at an early age were taught abstinence only, and knew very little about sex :(\
high school, junior high, sure i get it, but elementary?? that is a bit insane,poor parents are going to find tons of disgusting water balloons all over their yards, how ridiculous.

MJ June 26, 2010, 7:20 AM

and what is up with the ”gay capitol no less” remark, i have little patience for homophobes and find that part of the article very offensive.

ambur June 26, 2010, 7:21 PM

Ya know, it’s understandable for a parent to be upset at first. I mean I read the headline of this article and thought “well that’s a little disturbing” but after reading and thinking about it I completely agree. There’s girls out there getting pregnant at 9,10, 11 years old and why? Because of some parents like the ones commenting who don’t want their kids having them. So where do they go for protection?? Oh wait, nowhere, THAT’S HOW THEY ENDED UP PREGNANT! The reality of it is that these things happen. you can talk to your kids til you’re blue in the face. Lock them up like prisoners and in the end they’ll probably still find a way to do what they want especially since you try so hard to keep them from doing it. I might be a young mom but that doesn’t make me stupid. I plan on educating my daughter about sex and telling her how I waited til I was 19 and how I wished I still waited longer. I plan on telling her about condoms and other contraceptives but in the end there’s only so much I can do and/or say and I pray to God when the day comes for her to jump it to bed with some guy or even some girl, whichever her preference, I hope they use protection. She’s eight months and so innocent right now but what happens when the world we live in sucks her in?? I hope I’m there and can help her keep her head on straight but honestly i’d rather my daughter come to me and say “mom, I had sex and we used protection.” Rather than “mom, I’m pregnant with an STD. No we didn’t use condoms.” As parents we want to teach our kids how to walk through this life sensibly but there’s only so much control we have over that. They are their own people and only they can choose their path. All we can do is guide them. So stop being in denial about reality. Stop wanting to control everything. Your kids aren’t tv’s, they’re human beings. There’s only so much you can control. What happens when they go off to college. All the things you sheltered them from will be revealed to them. Ugh some of you really irritated me with your negative comments. I think this is something good and like some of you have already said, I also hope this spreads to all schools.

ambur June 26, 2010, 7:26 PM

To MJ I completely agree. That remark made me mad. Especially considering I’ve got a sister and a brother and a few friends who are homosexual and bisexual.

michelle June 28, 2010, 10:11 AM

People are just wrong when they say that making condoms available somehow encourages kids to have sex, and that the school will somehow force them into early sexual activity. Evidence shows that this is not true. Parents and peers have the biggest influence on kids’ behavior, not schools. And parents are obviously not doing such a great job, because look at the teen pregnancy rate in the US. People, your kids are having sex because you did not have enough honest discussions with them growing up and you let them learn from and be pressured by their peers. Me? I actually had good parents who discussed things with me at a pretty early age and emphasized good decision-making skills. The result? I went to NYC public schools with comprehensive sex ed starting in grade 7 and condoms given out free, and guess what, I and most of my friends didn’t have sex till college.

Anonymous June 29, 2010, 9:26 AM

This article is well written and makes its points clearly (apart from the gay part). For all of you who are outraged and talk about what good parents would be doing and complain that parents are perhaps not open enough with their children, just stop a minute and ask yourselves this:

Did you always agree with your parents when you were growing up? Did you always behave as they wished? Did you always listen to and accept their advice?

I doubt it. As much as parents want to control and influence their children, we must all remember that children are their own people with their own thoughts and ideas. They will not always do as you wish, and so you have to hope that in the moments that you’re not the person they turn to, the person they do turn to, such as the school nurse mentioned in the article, is a person who can give them the guidance and safety tips they need.

Incidentally, my sex life is something I have never discussed with either parent. What goes on in the bedroom is between me, my partner, and, once, a doctor who gave me the morning after pill (yes, we used a condom but it burst). I knew what to do, where to go, and also that it was a private matter.

So please, respect the privacy of your children. Talk to them about sex all you need to, be as open with them as you wish, but this school is doing something good, something that may directly influence the rates of teenage pregnancy in this town, and something that the parents of these children may one day ultimately be thankful for.

kate tuttle June 30, 2010, 6:57 AM

Sorry if I offended — the comment about Provincetown being a “gay capitol” was part of my imitation of how right-wingers on cable TV were spinning the story. Just like my part about the “wacko liberal” stuff.

Provincetown IS a very gay-friendly town and that is one of the things I love most about it. I’m very, very sorry my attempt at humor/irony totally missed.

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Mystery September 11, 2010, 1:50 PM

i am 10 and iwould never let my child have sex ad have condoms its not safe condoms can break and god forbid but you never now when you can get HIV

Lex October 7, 2010, 6:40 AM

When you feel like your children are thinking about it, buy some condoms and give them to them, so when they feel like they are ready, they can be safe about it and don’t have to be embarrassed about asking you for them in the future.

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