Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Have the Uncomfortable Conversation with your child

Published:Sunday | October 8, 2017 | 12:00 AMJody-Anne Lawrence

Parenting is no easy feat, and when it comes to the issue of sex, it is a sensitive issue that many parents are not sure how to approach. Some avoid it altogether, but that can cause more harm than good.

One mother to a teenage daughter, Cortia Bingham-McKenzie, admits that while her daughter is in her early teens, sex is a touchy issue, having being raised in a time where the subject of sex with one's child was taboo. This socialisation originally influenced her parenting technique.

With time and education, she realised that this may not be the best approach. She ascribes a lot to observational learning and the fact that a parent's lifestyle influence's a child's actions. Creating a stable environment and showing them the terms under which sex occurs, is one way to help a child to understand sexual behaviour.

One should also not ignore the impact of social media, other forms of media and friends have on their children. These are sometimes difficult to monitor, so for Bingham-McKenzie, it is important to have open, non-judgemental conversations with one's child. This will sometimes allow for them to come to you when they might be going through some of their changes instead of going to a friend. "You cannot allow yourself to get angry. Be a friend, but at the same time you need to maintain boundaries as a parent," she tells Outlook.

The fear and the reality, Bingham-Mckenzie notes, is that without communication, and only restrictions, the children will just hide their rebellion.




Relationship specialist and sexologist Dr Sidney McGill advises that parents should not overreact when these discussions occur.

" Do not overreact! You should have a close relationship with your child so that he or she hides only a few secrets from you. Ask questions about his or her sexual activities, and wait for answers, even if you must patiently wait for them," he tells Outlook.

He notes that it is OK to state one's disappointment and set further restrictions if their actions are very disappointing, and restrict freedom for a period. If the offence is one that is deemed serious, getting a respectful third party involved is a great option. Also, one's actions of discipline should not be taken out during a moment of rage or anger.

He notes that separate from the initial 'birds and the bees' talk about sex, parents should revisit the talk as the child gets older. When the child is in the nine- to 12-year-old age group, you should teach them secondary sexual characteristics and signs of approaching sexual maturity in both genders placing emphasis on sexual morality. During each stage, he advises highlighting personal responsibilities.

On Bingham-McKenzie's approach to learnt behaviour, McGill agrees. "A child will learn a lot more from interpreting how the parent relates to persons of the opposite sex. The relationship between mother and father is an important lesson in sexual relations for the child."

He advises that when talking about sex, speak of sexual responsibility and include all the dangers, which include sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and the preoccupation with sex to the detriment of academic excellence.

He concludes that while parents cannot monitor everything a child is exposed to through social media, they should try to control how much they use it, especially at home, so that they develop more pro-social skills.