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Coalition works to give parents tools for talking with their teens about sex

Julie Rote presents a program on the topic of media and pop culture during a session presented this week by the Coalition for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building. The coalition's new curriculum is aimed at preparing parents for healthy discussions. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR -- It's not easy to discuss sexuality with youth.

It may come as a surprise, but youth want their parents -- not their peers or school -- to be their primary source of information on the topic, said Mary Holstad, community outreach coordinator for the Kandiyohi County-based Coalition for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality.

Parents in Kandiyohi County can take advantage of a new curriculum offered by the coalition that is aimed at preparing parents for healthy discussions with their kids on the topic of sexuality.

Holstad, along with Julie Rote, sexual assault advocacy coordinator at Shelter House in Willmar, presented an educational session this week from the new "It's That Easy" curriculum to a group of area foster parents at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building.

The focus of the particular presentation was media and pop culture, one of many topics covered within the program.

Rote opened the session by passing around glossy entertainment and fashion magazines to parents, with the question: What is the media trying to get out to kids?

After paging through magazines, all parents agreed: sex sells, and the media is targeting this toward youth.

"Do you see what our kids are being bombarded with?" Rote asked. "We need to continually remind our kids that this isn't reality."

The session continued with more interactive exercises for parents and open discussions on ways in which parents can turn sexuality in the media -- specifically on television and online -- into a teachable moment for youth.

"There is a resistance for parents to talk about this," Holstad said. "We have to be able to talk to our children and express our own values so our kids have a chance to form their own."

Teenage pregnancies and the teen birth rate have been on the rise in Minnesota since 2005, with Kandiyohi County having one of the higher teenage pregnancy rates in the state.

In the past, the coalition has focused its efforts on educating youth about healthy sexuality. The coalition has recently turned its efforts to empowering parents, which is why the "It's That Easy" curriculum was implemented in 2009.

The curriculum is based upon the belief that families need to understand their own values and expectations regarding sexual health and behavior choices so that they can help young people gain the tools they need to make responsible decisions. Funding for the program is made possible by the Rice Health Foundation and Kandiyohi County Health Services.

Since 2009, four people have been trained in the curriculum, including two Spanish-speaking instructors. Presentations have been given to various community groups and organizations. All presentations involve interactive exercises with parents and open discussion.

Parents or groups interested in hosting a free session can reach the Coalition for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality at 320-212-1715.