Parents

Talking to your child about sex can feel uncomfortable, both for you and your child. But if you don’t have these conversations, who will? Would you trust someone else to teach your child about values, relationships, and self-respect? Sex education is tackled in schools however, your child might want to clarify things at home, or find that they still have questions which they were too embarrassed to ask in class.

 

 The aim of sex education is to help young people:

  • enjoy their sexuality
  • have sufficient skills and information to protect themselves and partners from disease, exploitation and unwanted pregnancies through negotiation and communication skills
  • develop a framework for moral decisions
  • behave responsibly in relationships
  • value themselves and others.

 

It is not only important that adolescents (or younger children) receive thorough sex education; it is also their right, as they need to learn how to protect themselves against abuse, exploitation, unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The aim of sex education is to provide lifelong knowledge and skills. Apart from imparting knowledge, it is also meant to influence overt behaviour and not just attitudes, so that people make informed decisions and feel confident and competent about acting on these decisions. It is difficult to act just on the merit of information, in order to be effective, sex education is dependent on the adolescent’s ability to communicate, negotiate and ask for sources of help and advice when needed.

 

Teenagers have different sources which give off messages regarding sexuality, school programmes, the media, peers and parents. All these sources can sometimes seem confusing and contradictory. Parents are in a unique position because they can guide their children gradually, according to the circumstances. They have the opportunity to build a trusting relationship with their child, so the child will feel free to speak openly with them. Also, parents can monitor a child’s cognitive development, and gauge when the best time to approach the subject would be. Parents are still highly influential despite if they are not so involved and do not have a close relationship with their child, or there is not sufficient communication between the two parties. For example, parental sexual behaviour, parental monitoring of the child’s behaviour and activities, and parental socio and economic status may all play a part in effecting an adolescent’s sexual behaviour.

 

Talking to your child about sex shouldn’t be a one-off event. It is too much information to take in one section. Also, having more than one conversation fosters better communication between you and them. They will find it easier to approach you with their questions if they feel you are open with them.

 

 There’s a lot to talk about: puberty and menstruation, reproduction – the “Where do babies come from” talk, contraception, and SAIs. Those are topics regarding the physical aspects of sex, but other topics you may wish to consider are privacy and sexual decision-making. You might not have all the answers, so it could be useful to get books about puberty and sex. Moreover, your conversations should also be about your child’s feelings, how do they feel about their body, about the dating, about safe sex. Discuss with them your values, and remember it’s a two-way conversation, encourage them to talk to you about what they think.

 

 Having these conversations early helps children’s development. For example, explaining the changes that happen in puberty before a child actually reaches this stage will help reduce anxiety and shame. It will also help them deal with peer pressure better. If they are prepared and know that it’s normal to feel pressured at times, they are more likely to stand up for themselves and make independent decisions, rather than be influenced by what friends tell them.

 

 Teenagers avoid talking to their parents because they do not want to taint their parents’ perception of themselves. However they still want their parents to be their primary sources of information. Also, an older child is more likely to feel awkward with a parent, and might assume that since their parents never mentioned it thus far, it’s not OK to talk to them about it.

 

 Parents often feel awkward talking about this subject, or feel they do not have enough information themselves to talk about it. A good starting point is to find out what will be covered at school and perhaps using that as a stepping stone to talk to your child before or after they cover it at school.