What is one of the most important elements that is missing from your children’s sex education? What’s missing is you – their parent.
Although we live in a highly sexualised culture, it rarely comes naturally to talk openly with our children about challenging issues like porn, sexting, unwanted touching, body image, pleasure and consent. But research consistently shows that both parents and children want to communicate with each other about these and other sex-ed subjects.
Your children look to you as a moral compass. Often they’re navigating the pressures and negative messaging they’ve internalised from the media, social media, their peers and the internet.
“Becoming part of the conversation inspires you to spark conversation at home.”
Your engagement with your children’s relationships and sex-education learning can play a fundamental part in improving their confidence, self-esteem, mental health, emotional wellbeing, critical thinking, decision-making, and ultimately their ability to enjoy healthy sexual experiences and fulfilling relationships.
How do you strengthen your children’s resilience? Talking with them openly is key.
On the one hand you might think nothing of encouraging them with sports or art, helping them with homework, teaching them to cook. But do you, on the other hand, prioritise or take responsibility for confronting sex-ed issues so that openness is integral to your children’s experience of growing up?
For me having a pre-teen daughter and teenage son brings all of this into sharp relief.
I’m from America, so being direct and up front comes with the territory. I grew up in San Francisco during the radical 1960s and self-help-era 70s, when the Summer of Love, the Pill and books like Our Bodies Our Selves and The Joy of Sex were part of the cultural landscape. It all fuelled my interest in frank communication between parents and children – which is a vital, overlooked component of children’s sex education.
Many parents limit communication around sex-ed issues to references to their children’s changing bodies. They tend to shy away from talking about their children’s emerging sexuality or their growing awareness of sex-ed issues, as well as the emotions behind it all.
That’s understandable: perhaps they aren’t equipped with the skills, language or confidence to talk honestly, matter-of-factly, about sex-ed subjects because that kind of conversation didn’t feature during their childhoods.
But you can make a point of changing the conversation with your children. Explore difficult and off-limits subjects and they’ll come to feel less foreign, less loaded. Challenge yourself to see frequent but short talks about tricky sex-ed subjects as being part of an ongoing, everyday process, and it will become second nature…
- Actively bring up issues instead of reactively waiting for your children to ask questions
- Test-drive awkward words out loud or with another adult
- Choose your moment – maybe when you’re on the move so you won’t have to make eye contact, or brazen it out at the dinner table
- As a way in, talk about a third party – use something that happened to someone else as a springboard for discussion; ask if an issue has come up at school; hook conversation onto themes brought up by news stories
Tackling sex-ed topics entails revisiting how our own formative experiences – from sex education to sexual activity to the assumptions that were conditioned into us – inform our current stance and values.
You don’t have to go it alone. It’s useful to define where you stand relative to other people’s parenting stories and values. Coming together with other parents to compare notes, hear different perspectives and exchange experiences is eye opening, emboldening.
Attending a panel discussion means that being in the relative anonymity of a large audience shares out the awkwardness – you’re all in it together – while small parent-discussion groups are rewarding because of the interactiveness.
It can be embarrassing saying something revelatory to someone you know. Equally, it can be intimidating to relay a personal anecdote to a total stranger. But either way you’re learning experientially and testing the waters – it’s a trial run for taking the plunge to talk openly with your children.
Becoming part of the conversation inspires you to spark conversation at home. It’s a catalyst for talking with children and young people about healthy and LGBT-inclusive relationships, respect, enthusiastic mutual consent and becoming a critical thinker – all of which are at the heart of relationships and sex education (RSE).
RSE will increasingly make headlines in the run-up to September 2019, when it becomes mandatory in secondary schools and relationships education becomes mandatory in primary schools.
Before then you can make it all kick off at home. As the vital missing piece in the puzzle of your children’s relationships and sex-education learning, start discussing and demystifying sex-ed topics here and now. You’ll be shoring up your children’s resilience and wellbeing. That you are modelling openness and confidence will give them confidence. The compelling end result is that you will be strengthening your connection with your children over time.
Dare to talk openly with your children.
Don’t decide to not go there.