Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How's the 'sexual climate' of your child's school?

Every school has a physical, social and academic environment, and they can all relate to sexual health and safety. Here's how to access the 'sexual climate' of your child's school.

How's the 'sexual climate' of your child's school?

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Today's guest blogger is Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, a national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent. For more information, read her blog or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

Most of us pay no attention to the weather unless something extraordinary happens — a horrible storm, or a gloriously sunny day in the middle of winter. Likewise, most people pay no attention to the sexual climate in the places they spend their time each day until something doesn’t feel right. Maybe the jokes are just a little bit too risqué, displays of affection are too intense, or questionable photos are hanging over a colleague’s desk; something just feels creepy. A lot of adults relate this concept to their workplace, but few of us recognize that it also applies to our kids’ schools.

Kids spend most of their waking hours in school, and schools each have their own climate or “social feel".  A school’s “culture” would be its policies, procedures, rules and regulations, while school “climate” refers to how it actually feels to be in a school. This is a difficult concept for people who have spent time in few schools, but the differences can be vast. Researchers use variations in school climate to predict outcomes like academic achievement, rates of bullying, and sexual health and safety.

What is a healthy sexual climate?

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Every school has a physical, social, affective and academic environment, and they can all relate to sexual health and safety. Here are some examples of what we don’t want in the school climate:

  • Children terrified to change clothes in the locker room or walk through certain corridors;
  • A popular teacher texting favorite students;
  • Sexual slurs used with impunity; and
  • A bus driver whose hand brushes against a student’s butt as she exits.

On the other hand, here are some examples of what we hope for:

  • Faculty and staff who understand the psychosexual developmental stages of their students and have appropriate expectations;
  • An air of mutual respect between genders, between adults and students, between administration and staff and people of different sexual orientation;
  • Locker room and bathroom privacy with age-appropriate adult supervision; and
  • Parents who model and reinforce these ideals at home.

A school with a healthy sexual climate promotes tolerance and respect, and the faculty and staff respond quickly to real or perceived threats including rumor, innuendo and bullying.

Why is it important to understand sexual climate?

To eliminate student-staff sexual relationships: A 2004 report commissioned by the US Department of Education, still considered the most authoritative study on this topic  concluded that at least 5 percent of students report sexual contact with school personnel by the time they graduate. High-profile cases of student-teacher sexual relationships are making the news more frequently, but their incidence is not new at all. No parent wants to consider the awful possibility of their child in a sexual relationship with an adult charged with their care. A school with an unhealthy sexual climate can provide cover for predators disguised as a popular teacher or coach.

To improve learning: A school owes your child accurate, unbiased and age-appropriate education on topics where sex and sexuality have a role. Art and history, for example, join anatomy and physiology as topics requiring a healthy sexual climate for learning.

To stop bullying: No child can learn when he or she feels unsafe. An unhealthy sexual climate may show itself in girls who fear being fondled when walking through crowded halls, boys terrified of locker room antics or sexual-minority youth being targeted for bullying or physical violence.

What can a parent do?

Open communication with your children is important here, as it is with many parenting issues. Pay attention to how students and teachers speak and behave when you visit the school, and don’t just visit on parent-teacher days. Use this checklist  to help assess the sexual climate in your child's school and contact school officials if you have any concern.  Remember, the climate of any organization is determined by its members, and parents are very important members of a school community.


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Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Sarah Levin Allen, Ph.D., CBIS Assistant Professor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAAAI, FACAAI Associate Professor of Medicine in division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Mario Cruz, M.D. Pediatrician, Associate Director of Pediatric Residency Program at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children
Magee DeFelice, M.D. Division Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Chief of Pediatric Emergency Services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Registered Dietitian at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Jeanette Trella, Pharm.D Managing Director at The Poison Control Center at CHOP
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., ABPP Director of Integrated Health Care for American Psychological Association
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D. Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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