The Detroit News July 14, 2007

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Mom Arranges Statewide Sex-Ed Lessons for Parents

Farmington Hills woman coordinates program to help them discuss the topic with their middle school kids. By Kendra Snyder

If someone had said, ‘Barb, what do you want to do in the future?’ I couldn’t have written this,” says Barb Flis, appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm as coordinator of the Talk Early & Talk Often℠ program.

FARMINGTON HILLS, MICHIGAN – Like most parents, Barb Flis was embarrassed to talk about sex with her children. Now, the Farmington Hills resident is teaching other parents how to do it. “Think about your kid, and if you don’t have that conversation, you’re leaving them unarmed,” she said.

Flis recently was appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to coordinate the Talk Early, Talk Often℠ program, which aims to make parents of middle school students more comfortable discussing sex with their children.

Starting this fall, the pilot program will send facilitators across the state to conduct 60 free, 90-minute workshops.

For Flis, 52, a mother of two, it’s a program she never envisioned leading.

“If someone had said, ‘Barb, what do you want to do in the future?’ I couldn’t have written this,” she said.

The key of the program is to teach parents to stay calm and listen to their children’s questions and concerns about sex, Flis said.

The workshops, which use role-playing, will put participants in groups of three, with one acting as the child, one as the parent and the third as an observer.

“When a child asks, ‘Mom, can I get pregnant the first time I have sex?’ the natural thing for a parent is their alarm goes off,” Flis said.

“What we really want to do is hit the snooze and probe into their question. We want the parents to say, ‘That’s an interesting question, why would you ask that?’ If your alarm clock goes off, the child’s not going to want to ask that question, or anything like it, again.”

Troy parent Lynn Hipp’s three daughters already have been through the Troy school district’s sex education program. But Hipp said she would have felt more comfortable if the parent program was available when her children were young.

“It would have been nice to have something, so you don’t feel so like, ‘Gee, what do I say now,’ ” she said, adding that there’s still the need for school sex education programs because “sometimes, (children) don’t listen to parents.”

Flis said the goal is to attract at least 1,500 parents to the workshops, but she hopes the number will be closer to 3,000.

The governor’s program falls in line with the position of the National Parent-Teacher Association, which has its own initiative encouraging parents to start early with sex education.

“It’s something needed,” said National PTA spokesman James Martinez. “The well- being of children is primarily the responsibility of the home.”

Flis became interested in children’s health issues in the late 1980s, when her two daughters were in elementary school in Northville. Her involvement with school sex education started when her oldest daughter, now 25, was in middle school.

“I thought it wouldn’t be a bad thing to learn about this,” Flis said. Through the education department, she’s held sex education workshops for parents since 1999 to explain sex education taught in the classroom and how to address the topic at home.

But Flis said she wasn’t always public speaker material.

“I was an observer for so many years,” she said. “When you’re not holding Ph.D. degrees and you don’t feel qualified, you don’t always speak. It took me a long time to find my voice.

“I thought, ‘are you going to overcome this discomfort, or are you going to be inhibitive and not talk about it?’ ”

Flis chose to talk.

“Our babies don’t keep,” Flis said. “That’s the difference in attitude between parents and everyone else. We want them to have it now, because they don’t get to repeat being 7, or being 13.”

You can reach Kendra Snyder at or ksnyder@detnews.com.

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