When is the right time to talk to your children about sex? The British government has come up with a new strategy to fight teenage pregnancy after the controversial story of 13-year-old father Alfie Patten stirred a nationwide debate. Britain has currently the highest pregnancy rate in Western Europe.
According to the government's latest advice, the cutoff age is no later than 13 years old.
A pamphlet titled "Talking to Your Teenager About Sex and Relationships" encourages parents to educate their children about sex without telling them what is right or wrong.
The pamphlet states, "Discussing your values with your teenagers will help them to form their own. Remember, though, that trying to convince them of what's right and wrong may discourage them from being open."
Promoting a more open attitude toward the topic, the pamphlet encourages parents to support their "teenager to visit their local clinic or GP, so they can make a choice that's right for them. Why not offer to go with your daughter or encourage them to take a friend? Or if you have a teenage son, suggest he talk to his girlfriend about and visit a clinic with her."
This pamphlet is part of the government's new teenage pregnancy strategy and will be available in pharmacies around the United Kingdom starting March 5. There will also be nearly $772,000 made available to the Family Planning Association to train professionals to "help parents talk to their children about sex and relationships."
"Make talking about sex a part of everyday life," states the government Web site. "Start when your child is young; don't wait until they reach puberty, as that can make it awkward. Use everyday media to start conversations."
If parents take the last part of this advice, they will have a lot to talk about, for sure. The case that triggered this campaign is that of 13-year-old Alfie Patten, who reportedly became father of baby Maisie with his girlfriend Chantelle Steadman, 15.
Alfie Patten is at the age the U.K. government advises parents to start talking about sexual health. But parents should "try to accept that your teenager will probably not have the same values as you when it comes to sex, and that such differences are an inevitable part of them growing up."
But not everyone in Great Britain agrees with the governments approach. Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute said, "The idea that the government is telling families not to pass on their values is outrageous.
"Preserving children's innocence is a worthy goal," Calvert said. "We would like to see more of that kind of language rather than this amoral approach where parents are encouraged to present their children with a smorgasbord of sexual activities and leave them to make up their own minds."
National sexual health adviser spokeswoman Jules Hillier takes the governmental advice a step further and says, "We should start talking to our children and educate them as soon as they start asking questions, even before they go to primary school." The compulsory age for children in Britain to enter primary school is at 5 years old.
While Hillier agrees with the government that talking to children about sex is an important weapon in the fight against teenage pregnany, she emphasized that U.K. parents are still very shy in talking about sex to their children and that "the government will not be able to change that through campaigning. We need a cultural shift in order to change that."