FRANKLIN — Talking with kids about sex can be awkward for both children and parents. However, the Community Health Council has started a series of workshops at Horace Mann Middle School to help to ease the conversation.
Let's Be Honest, a parent workshop program led by Mindy Craver, senior community health and sexuality educator for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, aims to help parents of students in fifth to eighth grade to talk about values and healthy sexual behavior.
"Parents are just as shy about talking about sex and sexual behaviors," said Michele Kingsland-Smith, facilitator of the council and director of instructional services for Franklin schools. "(The program) is really about how to capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves to help guide their kids into making wise decisions."
In 2006, middle and high school students took an anonymous and optional adolescent health survey which asked about their risky behaviors in regard to bullying, substance abuse, sexuality and weapon use. The survey indicated cyber-bullying and bullying in general as top problems among students in sixth to 12th grade, and underage drinking a problem among high school students.
To combat these results, the council decided to hold a series of events to educate both students and parents on a variety of issues ranging from sex to substance abuse, among others.
"We were very active last year," Kingsland-Smith said, citing a visit to the school from national speaker and cyber-space lawyer Parry Aftab on cyber-bullying and panels of experts discussing drinking and substance abuse. With those issues addressed, the council is now offering this workshop to further help parents.
The survey, which is administered as a questionnaire every other year, is sponsored by the MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation.
Students in seventh to 12th grade took the survey again last fall and the council will present the findings to the School Committee in November, she said.
Last year, representatives from Planned Parenthood offered the council a free parent workshop on open and honest conversations with kids. When council members said they were interested, the council began a pilot program last May.
"Mindy Craver is absolutely phenomenal," Kingsland-Smith said, adding that there were 80 parents in the audience. "The parents loved it so much that at the end of the workshop when we asked if it was something they'd like to continue in the future, the applause was quite gratifying."
Tonight will be the first of five free workshops Craver will lead throughout the school year. Parents are invited to the school's auditorium from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to ask questions and participate in a detailed discussion.
"What she does is really personalize the the conversations. She doesn't have a set agenda, she relies on the need and the interest and the questions parents ask to build the evening's agenda," said Kingsland-Smith. "It's really lovely to see."
Craver will visit the school again on Nov. 10, Dec. 1, and two more dates which have not yet been determined.
"It's not just about sex, it's about valuing yourself," she said. "It's about building self image so kids don't feel pressured."