- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Then Again COLUMN:

A week ago, the bizarre story of 13-year-old Alphie Patten landed on the front pages of Britain´s tabloid press, subsequently circulating around the globe. Even Britons, known for bawdy humor and infamous sex scandals, were shocked by the news that a boy could have fathered a child.

Even more outrageous than the freakish photo of man-child and baby is the revelation that the precocious sex life enjoyed by Alphie and his 15-year-old girlfriend was well known to their parents.

How exactly did Britain, the center of the British Empire, become an urban jungle for emerging sexuality that has not been seen since 1980’s “The Blue Lagoon”?

This week’s online edition of the Daily Mail offers the answer, and for those of us in the U.S., perhaps a cautionary tale. In a story entitled, “Parents should NOT tell their children what is ‘right or wrong’ about having sex, ministers say,” leaders of Britain´s Department of Children, Schools and Family say that parents ought not attempt to persuade their children of any moral beliefs about sex, but instead should simply serve as information sources on contraception.

”But, while parents are warned against giving moral guidance, they are encouraged to get their children to use condoms and other contraception from the age of 13,” the article says.

Never mind that the age of consent for sexual activity in Britain is 16. The government offers free and universal contraception to children as young as 13 without their parents´ knowledge.

Handing out condoms like Halloween candy isn´t working to stem the tide of teen pregnancy in Britain. In fact, 2007 figures showed pregnancy among teens in Britain was on the rise, a trend that apparently surprised the government, which predicted a decline.

Alphie’s now famous fatherhood shouldn´t come as a surprise, not in a country where the government distributes leaflets for parents that say, “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.”

It would seem the goal of “openness” trumps the goal of developing a moral compass in young Britons. Should parents also not impose their beliefs about stealing, lying, cheating and murder on the grounds that might dissuade their youngsters from seeking mummy and daddy’s best advice for breaking and entering, or embezzling from an employer, or offing the nanny?

If the job of parents is not to convince children of what´s right and wrong, what else is there?

Advocates in Britain - and in the U.S. as well - seem fixated on avoiding the goals of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, as if these risks alone define the argument against teen sex.

Yet statistics prove that adolescents who engage in a precocious sex life overwhelmingly regret the choice to become sexually active as teens, not because of pregnancy or disease but because of the toll such a choice takes on their spirits and their souls.

It’s time for parents on both sides of the pond to stop listening to so-called experts and government leaders, whose advice defies common sense and gut instinct and endless reams of research.

Instead, we need to do the real work of parenting: Teach what´s right and wrong.

Visit Marybeth Hicks at marybethhicks.com.

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