HHS Revises Web Site Aimed at Helping Parents Talk to Teens About Sex Education Issues After Groups Complain About BiasHHS has revised its Web site designed to help parents discuss sexual abstinence with their teenage children following criticism that the site provided biased and inaccurate information, the AP/Raleigh News & Observer reports (Freking, AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 5/11). The Web site -- 4parents.gov -- is one of several new communication tools developed by HHS' Office of Population Affairs and Administration for Children & Families to help parents talk to their teenage children about sexual abstinence. The site includes information on various health topics, statistics, conversation starters and interactive tools and also instructs parents to tell their teenage children to abstain from sex. In March, 145 advocacy groups -- including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States -- sent a letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt criticizing the Web site for inaccurate information (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/1).
Web Site Changes
The recent changes were made to the sexual orientation section of the Web site to address concerns by gay-rights advocates. The term "alternative lifestyle" was replaced with "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lifestyle" to address concerns that the Bush administration was "labeling sexual orientation as choice," according to the AP/News & Observer. In addition, the section advising parents of gay children to seek a family therapist who shares their values was amended to say "counselors and other health professionals may be helpful to both teens and parents when addressing difficult issues." Dr. Alma Golden, HHS deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, said the department was unaware that the term "alternative lifestyle" was an "area of sensitivity." Children who question their sexual orientation might feel isolated and depressed, and parents might feel uncomfortable discussing the issue, according to Golden, who said the department is trying to help parents to communicate better with their children. She added, "The point is to be sure you maintain a sense of acceptance, love and communication while these teens are dealing with these questions."
Golden said the "plan all along" was to review, update and expand the Web site as new information is made available, according to the AP/News & Observer. "Actually, we've got some very useful comments from multiple areas of the country that I think can be used to improve the overall Web site," she said. Focus groups originally helped HHS develop the Web site, according to Golden, who said that some of the advocacy groups' concerns "surprised her" because they had not "set off alarm bells" with the focus group participants, the AP/News & Observer reports. HRC President Joe Solmonese in a letter sent Wednesday to Leavitt wrote, "While the section could certainly still be strengthened, we are immensely grateful for the fact that some of the changes are marked improvements to the old text." However, SIECUS Vice President for Public Policy Bill Smith said the changes are "minimal" and that the department had not yet responded to some of the group's criticisms, according to the AP/News & Observer. "We're thankful for the change, but it's just a Band-Aid," he said (AP/Raleigh News & Observer, 5/11).