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Family Life Education - Family Life Education During Adolescence

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Family life education for adolescents addresses two important kinds of needs: (1) their current normative needs associated with changing physical, sexual, cognitive, social, and emotional developments, and (2) their anticipatory or future family-related needs to help prepare them for adult roles and responsibilities in marriage and parenting. Important family life content includes understanding one's self and others; building self-esteem; making choices about sexuality; forming, maintaining, and ending relationships; taking responsibility for one's actions; understanding family roles and responsibilities; and improving communication skills (Hennon and Arcus 1993). Programs differ in the emphasis placed on this content, with some focusing on personal development themes and others giving greater attention to marriage and family relationships.

The assumption underlying anticipatory family education is that if adolescents are prepared for their potential future family roles, then their adult life experiences in these roles will be more successful (Hennon and Arcus 1993). As most adolescents have not yet selected a marital partner, anticipatory education for marriage emphasizes acquiring knowledge about marriage and intimate relationships, improving relationship skills, and exploring personal attitudes and values regarding marriage, marital expectations, and marital roles (Stahmann and Salts 1993). Anticipatory education for parenthood helps adolescents acquire knowledge about child development and different patterns of child rearing and sometimes includes the study and observation of children (Brock, Oertwein, and Coufal 1993). These programs are most successful when they also include the precursors of successful parenting—self-understanding and the development of interpersonal relationship skills (de Lissovoy 1978).

In the United States and Canada, most family life education programs for adolescents are found in schools, although some may also be offered through youth organizations, community agencies, and churches. Programs vary considerably in their content and approach, in whether they are required or elective, and in which department they may be offered (typically Home Economics, Guidance and Counseling, Social Studies, or Health). Information about program effectiveness is limited but suggests that programs may be successful in helping students acquire knowledge and skills but have little impact on attitudes and values (Hennon and Arcus 1993). Many programs are hampered by the lack of time allocated to them, the lack of educational resources, and limitations in preparing family life teachers.

In Japan, family life goals at the upper-secondary level include understanding human development and daily life, understanding the meaning of families, family and community connections, learning knowledge and skills for daily life, and creating family and community life cooperatively between men and women (Ministry of Education 2000). This content, taught in the Home Economics department, has been mandated for girls since 1960 and for both girls and boys since 1989. Secondary school subjects called Life Environment Studies and Morals may also teach content related to human development, interpersonal relationships, family interaction, ethics, and family and society.

Human relations topics in Australian secondary schools may either be integrated into established subject areas (typically Health Education, Social Studies, or Home Economics) or presented as an independent subject such as Personal Development, Life Skills, or Human Relations (Wolcott 1987). Curriculum guidelines vary among the states and territories, and because these guidelines are "suggestive," some family life topics may receive little if any attention.

Beginning in 2002, citizenship, which includes respecting individual differences and the development of good relationships, will become a statutory subject taught in all state schools in the United Kingdom (Blunkett 1999). For the first time, relationship skills and different kinds of relationships, such as marriage and parenthood, will be taught to all students from age eleven on. Although citizenship is a statutory subject, each individual school will determine how the content is to be taught and by whom. This curricular development is being supported by other U.K. agencies such as Marriage Care, which provides flexible-use teaching units emphasizing good communication skills for use with twelve- to twenty-year-olds through their project Foundations for a Good Life.

In Jamaica, education for family in secondary schools has typically been offered by Home Economics (Hodelin 1999). Originally, this education was based on nineteenth-century educational views exported from the United Kingdom to the English-speaking Caribbean and, depending on social class, tended to emphasize either preparation for domestic responsibilities as wife/mother or preparation for vocational domestic service. A reconceptualization of the Home Economics Curriculum in the 1990s emphasized the betterment of family life and provides a Caribbean-relevant curriculum relevant for both male and female secondary students.

The biological onset of puberty highlights the universal need for sexuality education for adolescents, and sexuality education/family planning education receives considerable attention worldwide, prompted by global concerns about adolescent pregnancy and parenthood and the emergence of HIV/AIDS as a health and social issue. A comparative study of family life education, sex education, and human sexuality conducted by UNESCO identified the need to broaden traditional population education to include topics such as reproductive health, the status and empowerment of women, intergenerational relationships, and problem-solving skills in order to improve family and social welfare (Blanchard 1995). In the United States and Canada, most schools provide some form of sexuality education for adolescents, although many curricular guides are out-of-date and programs are not comprehensive, omitting topics such as communication and decision making, personal values and responsibility, and reducing risk-taking behaviors (Engel, Saracino, and Bergen 1993). Efforts to expand and improve family life/sexuality education have been reported in many countries and regions, including Russia (Popova 1996), India (Sathe 1994; Nayak and Bose 1997), Africa (Centre for Development and Population Activities 1997), and New Zealand (Duncan and Bergen 1997). Despite many differences in these programs, educators promote a broad rather than narrow approach to sexuality education, although implementation may be difficult because of resistance from parents and from political and religious leaders.


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