Talk to your children about sex, or someone else will!
In olden days, parents fed their curious children way-out stories on the process of procreation and skirt around the subject of sex education. Fast-track to today's world and the many avenues young children have to easily access this knowledge - with or without their parents' input.
The need to inject that voice of reason and balance is even more important now on parents' part to present all issues surrounding the topic in a meaningful discussion with their children.
For an insight into this topic, Family and Religion reached out to Dr Patreece Charles of the Phoenix Counselling Centre. Acknowledging that we are in an age where the Internet has opened the door to a wealth of knowledge, she shared that teenagers can so easily get caught in a web of danger.
It is that reason, she said, that it is very important for parents to be one step ahead and have 'the talk' with their children.
"They already know about the birds and the bees, probably even experimented. And although it is uncomfortable to deal with, parents must now go beyond that and talk protection and repercussions. But many won't, as they believe they are giving their children permission to have sex," she said.
Charles highlights that a child's curiosity about sex is a natural step towards learning about his or her body. Thus, she is encouraging parents to help their children to understand their body by engaging in age-appropriate conversations.
This, she suggests, will help them to feel positive about their own bodies.
"When parents talk with their children about sex, they should ensure that they are getting the right information. Parents should be a child's first source of information about sex. Understanding correct information can protect children from risky behaviour as they grow up," the counselling psychologist pointed out.
INSTILLING FAMILY VALUES
In addition to having 'the talk', it is also an opportunity to instil wholesome family values.
"For example, if you come from a family that believes sexual intercourse should be reserved for marriage, this can become a part of the discussions about sexuality. If the subject has never come up before, there is a significant risk that your child, now a teenager, will not be receptive to this message," shared Charles.
Parents who engage in this type of discussion, stressed Charles, will enjoy open communication, and their children will be more likely to speak with them about all the other trials of adolescence, such as depression, relationships, substance abuse, as well as sexual issues.
"Parents must be aware that their child's curiosity is normal and is a part of their human nature. Therefore, it's best that the parent be the one to satisfy their curiosity, rather than a friend who may not be well versed or truthful on the matter," Charles advised, emphasising that if parents do not teach their children about sex, they will learn about it from someone else.
She said that a child's exposure to information about sex begins much earlier than many parents imagine. Therefore, not speaking with children about sex means parents will have little control over what and how they learn about sex at school, at play, or from the media.
STARTING THE CONVERSATION
Addressing the discomfort some parents feel in actually starting the conversation, Charles said it is easiest when this comes out of a life experience, like seeing a pregnant woman or a baby. She advised that conversations should be age-appropriate, as younger children are not really interested in the act of sex, whereas those in middle childhood should have a basic understanding that some people are heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. They should also know what the role of sexuality is in relationships.
"Children should know about the basic social conventions of privacy, nudity, and respect for others in relationships," Charles shared. "Children should be taught the basics about puberty towards the end of this age span, as a number of children will experience some pubertal development before age 10," she added.
As it relates to teenagers, she said, they tend to value privacy, but if parents already started the process by talking to them in the earlier years, chances are likely to be increased that teens will approach parents when difficult or dangerous things come up. On the flip side, if a teen gets comfortable and starts sharing information that could prove a bit shocking or uncomfortable for parents, Charles said they should take a deep breath and actively listen to their child.
Charles counsels: "It may become uncomfortable. However, think about it: The fact that your child feels comfortable enough to come to you with their questions is a good thing, plus it gives you great insight into the thoughts and possible behaviour of your child. Don't shut them down, guide the conversation into a productive and respectful one."
In closing, Charles said although the media is full of sex and sexuality, it is usually depicted in the most sensational and superficial sense.
"Realistic portrayals of 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," Charles commented.