Recently a permission slip came home from my daughter's middle school about something called the Maryland Youth Tobacco and Risk Behavior Survey. I looked at the form briefly. It said I could opt out and return the form. It said I could contact the school if I had any questions. If I didn't return the form, she would take the survey.
My father died of COPD/emphysema, as did both of my grandparents: all lifelong smokers. I took one look at the permission slip and interpreted it to mean "a survey on risk behaviors for future tobacco use." Great! I thought. Get 'em while they're young. Awesome.
I was wrong.
My daughter came home from school saying, "We had to take this survey and it was weird."
"Oh, yes. The tobacco survey. How was it weird?"
"It wasn't just about smoking, mom. It was about drugs and alcohol and sex and suicide..." And she kept on going, as teenagers do. "It was ninety questions."
Oh. Did I not read that form as well as I should have?
I still would have wanted her to take it, but I would have talked with her about it first, so she wouldn't be put on the spot like that. Ugh. She also felt that the construction of the survey was very poor.
- "Have you had sexual intercourse?" No.
- "How old were you when you first had sexual intercourse?" Wait, I already said no.
- "Did you or your partner use a condom when you had sexual intercourse?" What part of no do you not understand?
Here is a parent response from The Baltimore Sun about this survey. I don't necessarily agree that our kids are "too young" to take this survey, but I think it's bothersome that it is an "opt-out" survey, and that its title is extremely misleading. I got the feeling that, with this particular survey, "If you know, you know." And I didn't.
I also think it is hilarious in light of our recent uproar on the Board of Education about mentioning the word "condom" in a dinner meeting of the Board. Surely students present had either: taken this survey, multiple times, OR heard it discussed as a part of BOE business. And if their parents were of the sort to opt out of this survey in order to shield their children from these issues--how well-prepared are they to understand these issues at the Board level?
'Tis a puzzlement.
At the moment, this is what I think.
- The survey is poorly constructed and needs to be re-written.
- The title is extremely misleading.
- The opt-out procedure will undoubtedly skew the response pool.
- We need much, much more education and discussion in our schools about sex and other risk behaviors so that we don't have to "shield" our kids from a survey like this.
This survey should be given if it provides useful data that will really help our kids. Does it? And it should be administered in a way that respects the students and their families. I'm not sure about that last one at all.
Maybe talking about this on World AIDS Day will get the discussion going.