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Sex, Teens and the Age of Consent

Kids as young as 12 can be engaged in some type of sexual practice, says a Globe columnist. Parents need to know the prevailing teen culture to help kids stay on the straight and narrow.

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente likes to shock. She has written more than once in the past few months about how many teens are engaged in sex at young ages. When she wrote a column a few months ago about 12-year-olds engaging in oral sex, it sure shocked me. I have kids that age! Aaack!

… a "close in age" exception that allows kids as young as 12 to legally engage in sexual activity …

There's plenty of press on this issue. Consider the following:

"Oral sex considered racy by teens"

"Teens view oral sex as safer choice: study"

Hard to believe this kind of news story is in major media outlets. Harder to believe this kind of thing is actually going on. Parents really do need to know the prevailing teen culture if we are to help our kids stay on the straight and narrow.

According to the more official studies, rates of teens engaged in sexual activity have not really increased in the last decade. But those teens that do engage in sexual activity do so more frequently. And the result is that the rates of sexually transmitted diseases are increasing. And, sadly, teens lose out on God's intention for sexuality when they engage in promiscuity.

But the official studies only ask teens 15 to 19. Wente says that kids as young as 12 are engaging in at least some sexual practices.

This leads to the question, why is the Canadian age of consent for sexual activity so low? The official age is 14 but there is a "close in age" exception that allows kids as young as 12 to legally engage in sexual activity as long as they are within two years in age.

Despite the fact that 80 percent of Canadians say they want the age of consent raised, the federal government has so far refused to take action on this. And that is not all. The Ontario Provincial Police Child Pornography Unit, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Child Find, Beyond Borders and UNICEF have all supported raising the age of consent.

When Martin Cauchon was Justice Minister, he said that the government did not want to criminalize young people who were experimenting with sex. Current Justice Minister Irwin Cotler made a similar argument in recent weeks. But a close in age exception (and the possibility of broadening it) makes this a terribly weak argument for keeping Canada's age of consent among the lowest in the world.

Meanwhile, across Canada 14-year-olds are being lured by sexual predators, and there is nothing their parents can do about it. There have been cases in Ottawa, Moncton and Fort Saskatchewan just within the last year. Cases like these reveal how the current age of consent laws inhibit parents' ability to guard their children from harmful predators, stripping children of the protection they need and deserve—even from themselves.

The Christian community would likely agree that 12 and 13 year-olds should not be engaging in sexual experimentation. We would therefore be quite happy if the close in age exception were eliminated for this age group. But our government is much too libertarian to accept this kind of restriction. Two recent initiatives to raise the age of consent to age 16 were soundly defeated in the House of Commons.

But enough about public policy. That is a battle we will continue to fight, but it is not all that we can do.

According to studies, the most important thing parents can do is to talk to their kids about sex. Be open and honest with your children and keep an open door for them to talk to you. Share your values with your kids. When our children become teenagers, it is no longer enough to say, "Jesus says so." We need to be prepared to walk through the biblical principles with our kids, and show them that God's way is the best way for us to live. Sex is not for "committed relationships." It is for marriage.

So tonight, make sure you have dinner with your kids (if you have them) and talk about things like sex and teens. Make sure they don't choke on their peas!

And for those who need a little help getting started on this journey with your teens, I recommend Josh McDowell's book, Right from Wrong. It is tried and true.

There is much to be said on this topic, and there are many studies and resources to draw on. The important thing is for Christians not to hide from this issue but address it head on.

Janet Epp Buckingham is director of Law and Public Policy and general legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Ottawa.




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