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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

Sol Gordon On Sex Education - For Parents

Tuesday November 11, 2003

Dr. Sol Gordon is Professor Emeritus of Child and Family Studies at Syracuse University and former director of the University's Institute for Family Research and Education. He is renowned for his insight, humor and frank approaches to matters of sexuality, family studies, relationships, religious fanaticism, At-Risk Youth and suicide prevention, among other topics.

He has authored many splendid books, including Why Love is Not Enough, The Teenage Survival Book and How Can You Tell If You're Really in Love? He is a popular guest on TV, including Oprah, 60 Minutes and The Today Show. Most impressive of all, he is a long-term subscriber to the Ardell Wellness Report.

I interviewed Sol a while back about ideas as expressed in How Can You Tell If You're Really In Love? This interview can be found in the interviews section of the Wellness Center at - go to

Today, I want to summarize a few of Sol's ideas about topics addressed in his books, speeches and in the course of extensive political actions, only a few of which I got around to in the earlier interview.

All of Sol's work in animated by certain underlying, repeated themes, which he expresses in varied contexts. For instance, Sol insists parents must provide moral guidelines or basic standards of good behavior. These are of value even when young people do things parents wish they would not do. As most recognize, adolescents usually choose to engage in sex without their parents' consent. Of course the parent would prefer no sexual encounters, but the reality is parents don't always get their wishes in these regards--and effective communication of sound moral guidelines will boost the chances that experiments are not disastrous.

Examples of the standards Sol promotes are:

  1. No one has the right to exploit another person's body, commercially or sexually. 
  2. No one has the right to bring unwanted children into the world.
  3. No one has the right to spread disease. If infected, get medical treatment fast.

As with other healthy choices, modeling is the best way to help children develop healthy attitudes about sex. Sol makes these points:

Sex is a subject many are uncomfortable discussing in a meaningful way, especially with children. As he often notes, sex is perhaps the only area of human life where some believe ignorance is preferable to knowledge. People who feel good about themselves are not available for exploitation and do not exploit others. Children who feel loved, secure and capable are more likely to make responsible, informed decisions. Promoting self-esteem among at-risk children requires that we be creative AND that we know these children.

It's impossible to summarize the thinking of a man with a million great ideas about so many topics, but here are fourteen of them. As the author of the book 14 Days to Wellness, I'm partial to a 14 point summary, addressed to discussions of sexuality but applicable to all interactions with young people.

  1. It's never too soon to start.
  2. It's never too late.
  3. Don't wait for them to start asking questions. Parents assume that if a child wants to know something, he will ask.
  4. Keep it simple. If the child has more questions, he is welcome to ask again. And always, always, thank the child for asking you.
  5. Pick a relaxed setting. Look for less formal situations, such as driving in the car, or doing chores. Relax, be matter-of-fact, and don't be afraid to laugh.
  6. It's not a one-time thing. 
  7. It's okay to be nervous. Most parents are uncomfortable talking about sensitive topics. You could say something like "This is very difficult for me, because my mother never talked to me about it. But it's too important not to discuss."
  8. You don't have to have all the answers. 
  9. Make it personal, but not too much. Intimate details generally are not necessary; what's more important is that the child learns that you went through many of the same experiences. 
  10. Watch for "teachable moments." 
  11. About those "bombshells." If you're caught off-guard, you can buy time by responding, "Gosh, that's interesting. Where did you hear about that?" Consider: If a child has the capacity to ask the question, he deserves some sort of response.
  12. Give 'em the benefit of the doubt. For example, suppose your son mentions that a girl at school is pregnant. If you start saying terrible things about the girl, your son will get the message of how you would treat him in that situation--making it more likely that he will conceal things from you.
  13. Keep the door open. Failure to do so could drive the kid to someone else. Your child needs to know that he or she can come to you for anything--that you will love him and stand by him no matter what. The more trouble a child is in, the more he needs his parents.
  14. Be a role model. This may be the highest payoff of a wellness lifestyle. The non-verbal lessons the child observes are the most persuasive. Kids, particularly teens, are very perceptive. You can talk all you want about things like respect and abstinence, but it is highly unlikely that your children will follow guidelines you yourself do not observe. As we all know, children learn by example; the best way to get your kids to practice healthy sexuality is for you to practice it yourself.

Be well. Look on the bright side--especially if you are the parent of one or more adolescents!

Domain: purpose
Subdomain: relationships

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