The writer, Fred Schwartz, asks--quite reasonably, I thought--that if kids are going to drink anyway, why don't we teach them "safe drinking"?
It's not the main point of the article; it's kind of a throwaway statement--but it's an interesting one, and it's one I wish I would have thought of myself.
For years--decades--we've been told that kids must have detailed sex education because "they're going to do it anyway, and wouldn't you rather they know about disease and pregnancy?" Expecting kids to abstain from sex is "unrealistic", we are told.
...yet when it comes to experimentation with intoxicants and tobacco, we expect kids to abstain completely, and no one is critical of the expectation even though teens are basically hard-wired to take risks. (Like, I don't know, a 16-year-old kid thinking he won't have any trouble driving home later tonight, even after he downs that six-pack of Schlitz he snitched from his uncle's garage.)
Schwartz says, "...when it comes to beer and Skittles, our schools preach total abstinence and practice zero tolerance; when it comes to sex, they hand out condoms."
What the hell. Kids are going to try alcohol anyway, so why don't we hand out beer at school?
The thing that gets me about that argument is that it's not even "reducto ad absurdum", really. By handing out condoms at school we are telling kids, "Here, go ahead, have sex!" We really are. "No, really--go right ahead. We'll keep you supplied with all the contraceptives you need, just for God's sake use them when you have sex, okay?"
So if we have to hand out contraceptives to kids because they're just going to have sex anyway and there's nothing we can possibly do to prevent it--if they are that incapable of self-control, how can we possibly expect them to have enough self-control that they choose not to drink alcohol, smoke, and try drugs? If it's up to our schools to teach our kids about safe sex because they'll do it anyway, then it must be up to our schools to teach our kids about safe drunkenness for the same reason. "Have sex but use a condom!" "Get drunk but use a designated driver!"
"But," you say, "it's illegal for kids to have drugs and smokes and alcohol!"
How many stories have you read, in the past year alone, about a teenager--say, 16 years old--getting arrested for having sex with someone much younger? The legal system says that's "child molestation" and/or "statutory rape" even though both participants are minors--in other words it's ILLEGAL. It really only depends on whether anyone feels like pressing charges.
I recall a story from not very long ago about a young man, aged 16 or 17, getting arrested for having sex with his girlfriend, aged 15 or 16. Charge: statutory rape.
And what about all the teachers have sex with their students? What the hell?
My point is, kids and sex are already in questionable legal territory. Most of the time we ignore it--can safely ignore the legality issue--because it's teenagers going out with teenagers, and most of the time the law is applied with some modicum of good sense. (Most of the time. The statutory rape case I mentioned above is not necessarily "reasonable"--it's an extreme data point--but it's not outside the bounds of the law, either.)
It can be argued--and I think it can be argued reasonably--that if "kids are going to do it anyway", and if the answer to that is to make sure "it" is practiced safely, then we ought to let them do whatever the flipping hell they want to do. If that argument is valid for sex, when the dangers of teen sex are well-known and well-documented, then I fail to see why the argument is invalid when it comes to alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. "They're going to do it anyway!"
For all of that, I am not--and never have been--a proponent of "abstinence only" sex education. No. I believe in explaining everything to the kids. Tell them about STDs--all of them--and explain how and why they're bad, and explain to them that even if you can be cured of the bacterial ones, someone who has a bacterial STD is X much more likely also to have a viral one.
Explain how babies happen. Explain what happens to teenagers who have babies. Explain what it means to have a baby when you're 19 and would love to go out to some concert, but you can't get anyone to look after the baby, so you get to stay home while all your friends go out and have a good time. (Programs which make kids take care of a faux baby are particularly effective, I'm told, if properly run.)
Explain how contraceptives work. Make sure the kids understand what the failure rates mean--not in raw numbers but in real-world terms. (Have 'em roll dice.)
Throughout all of this, you explain to the kids they are better off waiting until they are older. You don't tell them "Don't have sex!" You don't tell them, "We know you can't help it, so here are condoms and pills and Planned Parenthood discount coupons!" No, you just tell them the facts and explain the consequences of being sexually active.
And really, for this, your target audience is the girls. You make sure they understand that they will bear the majority of the burden of sex if things go wrong: she'll be the one that gets pregnant, she'll be the one that has to get the abortion or raise the baby. The guy can just run away from the problem, but she can't...and females are hard-wired to take this into consideration. If the girl says "no", by and large, the sex doesn't happen.*
"Abstinence-only" is only going to make kids more curious. I think it could be argued that can apply to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, too.
* Let me deal with the issue of rape and "date rape" as a footnote to this. If the guy rapes the girl because she won't "put out", he deserves to go to jail because he's a thug. If he "date rapes" her, the same rules apply.
Unless the argument is that boys are all potential rapists, and promiscuity is the only way to keep them from raping the girls...and having seen some examples of feminist orthodoxy, that viewpoint would not surprise me. But it's bullshit, and what person would find that an acceptable solution for rape anyway? "Well, the boys are just going to rape you if you don't have sex with them, so you might as well let him have sex with you and get him to wear a condom...."