When STI’s Arise

[Insert entire research paper] because why not?

20 October 15 there was a community meeting with OPS over its Human Growth and Development program. The intention was to include the community in the decision process that would affect their children in the area. I have never thought to imagine a day where I would witness a room full of adults booing at a professional, especially one that only had the intention of sharing results of research. Most who attended had been pulled to attend by the issues with Planned Parenthood on the media and the propaganda created by churches to act against these issues. The prime issue being comprehensive sex education. I was shocked to hear adults, who claimed to be a part of a solution, throwing tantrums over not being able to see a presentation that was given to a crowd of 1,500 instead of its predicted 300. I witnessed adults congregate, claiming for the betterment of Nebraska, attack children who uttered their sexuality, and lash out at those who bid for peace. What breaks my heart the most is that the those who were being most hostile claimed all of their actions in the name of Jesus, although their unruly behavior fails to align what Christmas stands for. Douglas county is currently in a STI epidemic and the behaviors of “Nebraskans for Founders Values” and those who follow them is not helping to fight back against it. Health Professionals, parents, teens, kids, and babies are put in a state of danger when this STI epidemic could all be avoided by proper education. Douglas County is unnecessarily feeling the affects of the lack of STI awareness due to the high rates of STIs in the area. If local communities came together to realize that the truth of our soaring STI rates, create a culture that would be safe for open conversations, and provide the necessary education for the community then there could be a huge turning change in the safety of health in Nebraska. In order to effect change in the community we must first look at how we have gotten to where we are today.

History

Being it that schools are the educational facilities for academic and social education sexual health, or human growth and development, become implemented into schools in addition to the usual curriculum. This progression is illustrated in, “The History of Sexuality Education”, written by Priscilla Pardini for RethinkingSchools.org, “In 1940, the U.S. Public Health Service strongly advocated sexuality education in the schools, labeling it an ‘urgent need.’ In 1953, the American School Health Association launched a nationwide program in family life education.” Even then there was very heavy opposition, “The first wave of organized opposition, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, took the form of attacks aimed at barring any form of sex ed in school. Sex education programs were described by the Christian Crusade and other conservative groups as ‘smut’ and ‘raw sex.’ The John Birch Society termed the effort to teach about sexuality ‘a filthy Communist plot.’ Phyllis Schlafly, leader of the far-right Eagle Forum, argued that sexuality education resulted in an increase in sexual activity among teens.” This description appears to show how history can repeat itself if people are not armed with awareness. The reactions seen at the OPS meeting mirror those of this historical opposition and it is seen that there will be negative effects to follow. When AIDs epidemic hit in the mid 1980s that’s when a huge change came to sexual health education, changing from predominantly abstinence-only teachings to comprehensive sex education, “In 1986, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued a report calling for comprehensive AIDS and sexuality education in public schools, beginning as early as the third grade. ‘There is now no doubt that we need sex education in schools and that it [should] include information on heterosexual and homosexual relationships,’ Koop wrote in his report. “‘The need is critical and the price of neglect is high.’” The kickback from comprehensive sex education, was mostly lead by the fear of children learning about homosexuality. At the time, AIDs was related to homosexuality and homosexuality was related to risky behaviors such as sexual deviancy. The concerning piece of it all is that sexual deviance extends farther than the homosexual spectrum and comprehensive sex education, a program to create a wholesome awareness that will include those who do not fall into abstinence, was meant to catch all who fell into risky behaviors. With growing concerns of increase in known STIs and emerging STIs, such as, Mycoplasma Genitalium (MG), we are in need to make adaptations again.

Present Day

There is a need for the community to have a culture that promotes open conversation so that we can take steps forward together in the families, health professionals, and school districts of Douglas County. To many viewers it was shocking how the OPS meeting turned out. It almost seems that Douglas County’s STI epidemic has become accepted as just another part of Omaha. Where is the urgency? In the KETV report “STD rates surge in Douglas County”, “…the chlamydia rate reached an all time high in 2014: 3,390 reported cases — a 5 percent increase from 2013. Cases of gonorrhea are up by 15 percent and syphilis cases are up by 23 percent. The biggest concern for many on the Douglas County Board of Health is that the rates continue to rise for one age group — people 20-24 years old.” Commissioner Chris Rodgers comments on this concern, “At this point, we’ve got to go back and assess, because at age 20-24 you are an adult making solid decisions.” Although those at the 20-24 ages are expected to make solid decisions not everyone is prepared or skilled to know how. Something along with the way how our previous and current sexual health education was set up did not do it job effectively, there were too many gaps made available to fall through for those who did not fit within their programs expectations The proof is in the statistics. But it’s not too late, we can still reach Douglas Counties youth through working together as a community to educate families, health professionals, and school districts.

Contributing to the Present Problem

A part of the problem is young adults engaging in risky behaviors. What are some of the causes for our young adults to be engaged in risky behaviors? On the lifestyle website, Livestrong, Flora Richards-Gustafson writes “Reasons Teens Engage in Risky Behavior”. Richards-Gustafson starts off with the statement, “The teen brain is hardwired to take risks even if a young person knows about the associated dangers.” Which leads into her lead points, “The Teen Brain” being the first of the four. Under the point “The Teen Brain”, something important to the development of our youth is acknowledged,

Adolescence is when the limbic system and forebrain begin to develop. This development shifts a teen’s concrete thoughts into more abstract ones. While the limbic system develops during the early teen years, maturity of the frontal lobe doesn’t occur until a teen is in his 20s, according to McNeely and Blanchard. The limbic system is the reward center of the brain, and the frontal lobe guides impulse control and the understanding of long-term consequences. Consequently, teens don’t completely understand the full extent of consequences associated with risky behaviors. They also gain more satisfaction from taking risks than adults, especially if the desired outcome occurs.

The following three other points “Testing Boundaries”, “The Search For Self”, “Wanting to Fit In” are all significantly influenced by this development. Kids, at this age, are going from a non-critical mind to a critical mind. The ability to understand more abstract thoughts is newly being developed. There is a need for the community to guide them, within the family and working in partnership with the school system.

What Can Be Learned

    Our community is in need of better social influences. At HealthyPeople.gov there is a new topic titled “Adolescent Health”. In the overview, it acknowledges that STIs and HIV is a public health issue that starts during adolescence (15-19) and young adulthood (20-24). The topic goes on the explain that, “Because they are in developmental transition, adolescents and young adults are particularly sensitive to environmental—that is, contextual or surrounding—influences. Environmental factors, including family, peer group, school, neighborhood, policies, and societal cues, can either support or challenge young people’s health and well-being. Addressing the positive development of young people facilitates their adoption of healthy behaviors and helps to ensure a healthy and productive future adult population.”  The environment that we build for our children will determine the safety of their health and future. In Understanding Adolescent Health it explains that, “The leading causes of illness and death among adolescents and young adults are largely preventable. Health outcomes for adolescents and young adults are grounded in their social environments and are frequently mediated by their behaviors. Behaviors of young people are influenced at the individual, peer, family, school, community, and societal levels.” First and foremost, Douglas County needs a more positive involved family structure to prepare children for what they can encounter from school and the community. Within Family, “Parents who provide supervision and are involved with their adolescents’ activities are promoting a safe environment in which to explore opportunities.” We must be mindful of more than just sexual health education in the schools to help guide our children on a long term productive path, family is needed to enhance experiences so that positive growth can be attained. Within School, “The school social environment affects students’ attendance, academic achievement, and behavior. A safe and healthy school environment promotes student engagement and protects against risky behaviors and dropping out.” Lastly, if we are truly determined to protect our children it would be best to provide them guidance on media that will nourish them into a better future. The community as a whole is responsible for creating the culture that will guide children to knowing what material will best provide for them. Within Media Exposure, “Adolescents who are exposed to media portrayals of violence, sexual content, smoking, and drinking are at risk for adopting these behaviors.” All of these points tie back to the concept that parenting and family involvement really does matter. What kind of culture have we created for our kids to develop in, and are we seeing the results of it?

Finding Solutions

In the midst of the warlike scene that came about during the OPS meeting, you can find answers to a long going community problem. In the meeting, the majority of the people who had arrived were the minority who felt the most unheard. Some would insist that there will always be a minority and that there is no use in speaking to their favor, but this should not be the issue when their wants and needs could benefit the majority as well. Amongst the loud yelling there are pleads for more communication. Virginia Department of Education “Collaborative Family-School Relationships for Children’s Learning: Beliefs and Practices”, an overview of how the interaction between schools and parents benefit bringing out the potential in children based off of the based on the work of Sandra L. Christenson of University of Minnesota. According to the writing, “Dr. Christenson served as a consultant to the Virginia Department of Education, Office of Student Services, Office of Special Education during 2001-2002.” Under Chapter 3, “Fostering Positive Family-School Working Relationships”, Researcher, Joyce Epstein has described types of family-school involvement that foster productive working relationships. “Types of Family-School Involvement” is only one of the many visuals illustrating the importance of Family-School collaboration. In the previous chapter, “Understanding Past Practices and Influences” Virginia’s Department of Education states, “Parent involvement must be a significant part of any discussion about a student’s needs.” Many parents may feel that the figuring out how to best parent on their own can be frustrating and a lone effort. There are programs for parents who are open to experienced guidance, one of these programs being from Boys Town. Boys Town provides Common Sense Parenting classes, “Professionally trained parent trainers teach the course and provide instruction, consultation, and support.” Common Sense Parenting classes help parents:

    • Build strong, healthy relationships
    • Correct and change problem behavior
    • Minimize problems that disrupt family life
    • Raise responsible, caring children
    • Communicate effectively
    • Avoid power struggles
    • Control your emotions
    • Balance discipline with affection
  • Praise a child’s good behavior

The responsibility lays on both sides.

“Collaborative Family-School Relationships for Children’s Learning: Beliefs and Practices” should be used as a guide and example of parents stepping up to be involved with their children before they feel things have gotten out of hand. With that, I propose that school systems should provide a more active program to reach out to parents as well. Douglas County schools could create an employment position that has the specific job of being the bridge between schools and parents. This would be a job focusing on connecting family-school collaboration for both in and after-school involvement. Not only would this open doors to employment opportunities but this would be a good effort to reconnect schools with the community of families within Douglas. This also meets the needs of providing effective communication to diverse families who may struggle with being involved with their kids due to language and culture barriers. Some may argue that although they, as parents, have the want to be involved with their children they do not have the time. That being the reason for the after-school involvement of the program. It would provide, in communication with parents, a safe space that provides positive mentorship and opportunities for children to grow. This would truly be a community effort to raise our children, providing a wholesome space that would guide our children away from risky behaviors.

Following, I propose that the community invest in long-term health development education for our children as well. Being it that the goal is to develop functional adults, the more awareness we provide for the children of Douglas County the more they are able to make responsible decisions. In focus for Douglas County’s communities to grow together. There needs to be a practice of civility. The reactions at the OPS meeting, evolving into a mob mentality, should be an example of what we cease to tolerate. Through civility, Douglas County can have open conversations between its communities allowing each of us to further realize the similarities of the wants of the community. Through these realizations, Douglas country can begin to make larger strides in progress that will show no effect in receding. The STI epidemic needs to be met now, before it gets worse, and that can only happen if we’re moving together. The belief, within the community, that we all want different things has only caused hindrance and our children are who pays the price.

Douglas County has the ability to counterattack this STI epidemic in a way that will touch every part of the community.