SEX EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN-WHY, WHEN, BY WHOM AND HOW?
SEX EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN - WHY, WHEN, BY WHOM AND HOW?
Sex education for children has been a controversial subject, till a few years ago. Needless to say, in today’s scenario, it is imperative that utmost attention is paid to this aspect of parenting and education. Open communications with children about sex, like other vital aspects of life, is healthy and safer in the long run.
This does not necessarily mean it will be easy or without awkward moments. Sometimes some of the questions children ask could upset or embarrass adults who should try not to criticise, lecture, nag or be evasive. If they do so, children will not ask questions again. Patience is the key to opening doors to communication.
There is a pressing need for society to understand why, when, by whom and how, this is to be done.
A child’s exposure to sex and information about it begins much earlier than most parents imagine. Not talking to children about sex means, parents will have little control over what and how they learn about it.
Nowadays, the early age at which children are exposed to sexual images through social media, cinema and porn is terrifying and lends an added urgency to the need for proper sex education in time.
It is important to make children feel good about their sexuality from the beginning. This will make it easier for them to ask questions about it throughout their lives.
Very often straightforward questions by a five-year-old need a simple answer, not lengthy explanations. They are naturally curious when they see a pregnant woman or ask where babies come from, and not the mechanics of sex.
Withholding information about sex and sexuality will not keep children safe; it will only keep them ignorant.
Adolescents are usually very reserved. However, speaking about sex early opens up pathways to communication, so that they will approach parents when difficult or dangerous situations arise. Those who come from backgrounds that have a conservative outlook on sex education were found to be more sexually promiscuous than teenagers who are from families where information was readily available.
Earlier on sex was made out to be something terrifying that could lead to scandals, disaster and social ostracism. Most parents never discussed it with children. The rare ones who tried to do so, did so to instil fear of pregnancy or STD. Children were either talked down to or shouted at as if they had already committed some heinous offence and were threatened with dire consequences in ambiguous language. It was not educative, it was in warning tones that only confused and frightened children without understanding the reasons for it.
- Sex education should start in kindergarten; children need to learn the proper names of their body parts and be comfortable talking about them. Also, the difference between good touch and bad touch needs to be explained at the appropriate time.
Curiosity about sex is a natural step from learning about the body. Sex education helps kids understand about the body and helps them feel positive about their own bodies.
- Around standards four and five they need information about puberty and their changing bodies.
At the same time, the internet and TV boundaries should be laid down.
The harmful impact of bullying should also be handled at this time as many children are sexually harassed by other students and need to feel comfortable reaching out to teachers and parents. On the other hand, aggressive bullies need to be prevented from offensive or harmful activities, which with time can easily catapult into crimes like molestation and even rape.
The age at which children become sexually active nowadays, being as low as 12-13 years in certain cases, it is essential that they are educated about the physical changes that influence their emotional needs, with surging hormones creating changes in their bodies and physical needs.
- In class seven, eight and nine they are ready for information about reproduction, contraception, abstinence, H.I.V. and disease prevention, and the topic they are most interested in, i.e. healthy relationships.
Creating a foundation of correct sex education is the only way to ensure that young people will grow into sexually healthy adults and learn ways in which they can be good friends (the foundation for healthy intimate relationships later in life).
As parents and teachers, it becomes our duty to teach young people to lead healthy lives. They have the right to do so. Honest, timely, age-appropriate and comprehensive sex education is the foundation for helping them to become sexually healthy adults.
We must remember that sex education is an ongoing process; questions should be answered naturally and in an age-appropriate manner. A question on pregnancy from a five-year-old should be answered differently from when it is asked by an adolescent.
Curious children end up being better informed generally and self-confident children overcome peer pressure more easily. Teach them self-confidence by paying close attention to their queries. If a child never asks any questions, he/she has realised that this is a problematic topic for parents and therefore never broach the subject.
Inculcate a sense of self-confidence in your children. Young people who have positive feelings about sexuality are more likely to be able to protect themselves against STD, unintended pregnancies and sexual abuse.
Keep the doors of communication open so that the child feels free to approach parents with confidence and not turn to outsiders.
3) HOW AND BY WHOM
The sources from which a child picks up information is:
- home and parents,
- friends and classmates,
- media including books, society or life around them.
So, it is these sources that one should target to make this education a healthy one.
Parents should be a child’s first source of information about sex.
If parents do not talk to their children about sex, they will miss the opportunity to instil family values in a child, as children will turn elsewhere to find answers to their questions. Get your own information and facts correct. If you do not know certain answers, say that you are not sure, read up and go back with the correct answers.
Remember, you are their role model. Model the lessons you want to teach your children through your own behaviour, expectations and messages. Children learn more from what they see you doing rather from what you say.
Children are not always able to distinguish between facts and beliefs. Do not let your personal belief system influence what you answer to a factual question. While this is a chance to teach your values do not give your version, when asked for facts, give facts, Answer what is asked, without going into unnecessary details and don’t jump to conclusions about your children’s sexual activities. Their questions may arise from something they heard from classmates or friends, not because they are experimenting themselves.
When parents talk with their children about sex, they can make sure that they are getting the right information. Correct information can protect children from risky behaviour as they grow up.
Sex education also provides an opportunity to instil your family values in your kids. For example, if you come from a family that believes intercourse should be saved for marriage, this can be part of the discussions about sexuality. If the subject has never come up before, there is a high risk that your child, now a teenager, will not be receptive to this message.
Introducing a conversation about sex early, and continuing that conversation as the child grows is the best sex education strategy. Then parents can avoid giving one big and likely uncomfortable talk when the child reaches adolescence (and will have already gathered information and misinformation from their friends). These conversations are easiest when they come at a time related to life experience, like seeing a pregnant woman or a newborn baby.
If open communication is comfortable, kids are more likely to speak with parents about all the other trials of adolescence, such as depression, relationships, bullying, the abuse of drugs and alcohol, as well as sexual issues.
Parents should not rely on the school system to teach sex education. Depending on where you live, sex education may not even be available, as is the case in most schools in India. If your child is taught sex education at school, review it with your child. Ask them what they learned.
What a child learns from random sources or friends will be incomplete and incorrect. It may also be demeaning or even dangerous.
Let your children know that you are proud of them and that they are lovable. It will help to build their self-esteem. This is all the more important today when more and more people wish to come out in the open about their sexual orientation when words like gay, transgender or lesbians are used commonly. Also, make it clear to them that it is normal for everyone to be different and that you do not find their questions strange in any way.
It would be comfortable for the child as well if parents can keep their sense of humor intact and not broach the subject hesitatingly but in a friendly manner.
When talk of introducing sex education in schools in India had just started, there were political leaders who objected to it, saying it went against our culture. In a country which is one of the most overpopulated countries in the world, in the country where Kamasutra was a written as part of society’s culture, in a country where the Yoni and Lingam are worshipped and where temple engravings depict all forms of sex, is it not hypocritical to try and keep a lid on the subject of sex- on something that is an inborn instinct and need, a human need which influences man’s journey of life most of all, besides the hunger for food and the need of shelter?
When sex education in schools becomes a norm, it will augment what children learn at home and prevent the pitfall of children learning from peers or the internet. Porn will fill the vacuum when sex education is politicized and withheld from our classrooms. What could be worse than this?
In the West, schools covered topics such as anatomy of reproductive organs, reproduction, pregnancy and Aids prevention, including topics dealing with the pressures and emotional consequences of sexual activity, talking to parents or partners about sexual health issues and getting medical help. In India, the range of topics covered is still very limited and needs to be restructured.
Sex education in public schools is often aimed at abstinence and students are denied the information they need when they do choose to become sexually active.
Although the media openly portrays sex and sexuality, it is in the most sensational and titillating manner. Realistic relationships and sexuality are rare. More often, issues around sex and sexuality appear either without any context or without any emotional or relationship component. Moreover, the risks of sexual activity are often hyped beyond the point teens will believe.
Studies show that children exposed to sexual images in the media, are more likely to engage in sexual behaviours at a younger age. The rising graph of sexual crimes and aberrant behavior among the young age group is evidence of the harmful influence of the social media. However actual sex education does NOT lead to promiscuity. Children who receive sex education at home are actually less likely to engage in risky sexual activity.
So make time for your children and get talking before it is too late.
Dr. Sunil Kaushal18/12/2018