Don't fear it; technology is a potential sex education ally

University Park, Pa. -- As mass media consumes America’s teenage population, parents and educators struggle to find answers on how to address sexual education in a technology-driven world. In a study conducted by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, teens ages 13 to 15 ranked ”entertainment media” as their top source for sexual information. Many experts and parents worry teens are getting the wrong messages.

In an effort to deal with these and similar factors that can lead to teen pregnancy, the Pennsylvania Coalition to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Penn State’s Department of Biobehavioral Health will be hosting their annual Teen Pregnancy Prevention Conference on April 26 to 27 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

Following this year’s theme, "Technology and Sexual Learning: Risks and Opportunities," the conference will focus on how modern technology can help provide accurate and supportive sexual learning. It will also encourage adults to promote healthy sexual development in teens and combat the negative forces that contribute to teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abusive relationships.

Keynote speaker Bill Taverner, director of The Center for Family Life Education at Planned Parenthood, will explore the new and emerging technologies and their potential as allies in sexuality education.

Taverner said he feels the Internet is both a source of instant information and trepidation for many parents who want to protect their children from harm. He said teens like to have a resource that can provide them with information without the anxiety that sometimes comes with asking an adult a question.

“We can ridicule the endless timewaster apps on cell phones, the Internet, and video games, or we can envision and create our own new sex ed apps,” said Taverner. “Every new technology that may seem intimidating has potential as an ally in sex ed.”

In addition to Taverner’s presentation, two other keynotes and 15 other sessions will explore related topics including "Smarter Sexual Health Education: Strategic Use of Technology," "Teens and Sexual Violence" and "What's so Funny? Using Humor to Teach Sex Ed."

Taverner said television remains one of the most powerful instruments in shaping teen attitudes about sex and sexuality. In fact, that same Kaiser Family Foundation study found that there was sexual content in 83 percent of the top 20 TV shows preferred by teens.

To explore these media issues in more depth, an all-day workshop, called “Don’t Touch That Dial! Sexuality and Media Literacy,” will be presented on April 27 by Patricia Barthalow Koch, professor of biobehavioral health.

For more information about the conference, visit http://www.outreach.psu.edu/programs/teen-pregnancy/index.html online. Anyone interested in attending can register online or mail the printable registration form by 5 p.m. April 16, or call 814-863-5100 to register after this date.

Penn State Conferences plans and manages more than 300 programs each year, with enrollments of nearly 45,000. Penn State Conferences is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010