HINSDALE, IL — Remote learning has transformed how schools handle sex education.
During the pandemic, students spent more time online, further isolated from social, emotional, and mental health. But experts say the internet should not be the source of sexual education for kids, and the current health crisis has complicated the issue.
When it comes to sex education, like most parents, Laura Burns doesn’t want her 5th grader clicking around on the internet.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to sex ed and things that they might be really curious about, there's way more misinformation than good and true information, in my opinion,” said Burns.
Her 11-year-old daughter, Katie, is now at an age when children start to become curious.
“If I feel uncomfortable, I might think about it, but I mostly still go to my mom,” said Katie Burns said.
“I also realize that she's getting to the point where it may become uncomfortable to ask me something,” said Laura Burns.
According to one study conducted at the outset of the COVID outbreak, half of 11 to 13-year-olds reported having seen pornography in some way. Nearly two-thirds of them said they had done so to learn about sex generally.
“The average age of first exposure to some sort of online pornography is 9,” said Katie Gallagher, director of education for Candor Health Education.
Originally a health museum for more than half a century, the nonprofit Candor Health Education has taught health, sex education, and drug prevention to students from 4th to 8th grade.
Gallagher points out with social isolation and increased time spent online, the pandemic has only compounded the issue.
“Kids are going to see this now. We have to make sure that we they know what to do when they do, and they have the right places to go and the right information,” said Gallagher.
Over the last few years, the nonprofit's outreach programming has had to shift, accelerated by remote schooling.
“We saw that it was not going to be a possibility this year, and we spent all of last summer really reworking our programs so that we could offer various virtual delivery models,” said Gallagher.
Katie Burns recently went through the new learning system with her mom at her side.
“I thought it was going to make it a bit uncomfortable and impersonal,” said Laura Burns. “And I actually found it to be the exact opposite.”
“They went deeper, and I understood things differently and more clearly,” said daughter Katie.
And while experts say sexual education should not come from the internet, the future of its delivery will likely end up becoming more virtual and online.