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Allow kids to talk about sexuality – expert

Tracey Clelland, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

You don’t have to be an expert in sexuality education to help your child make sense of relationships and sex, says University of Canterbury’s (UC) Health Sciences lecturer Tracy Clelland.

Tracy spoke to 60 parents of 11 to 14-year-olds for her PhD research, and found that young people are learning about sexuality from many sources, besides school-based sexuality education, such as billboards, friends, news, social media, and everyday interactions.  “Schools play a role in sexuality education but so do parents and wider whanau,” she says.

“Parents play a part in supporting young people to develop a strong sense of self and healthy relationships. They play an important role in opening up critical conversations about the realities of relationships – rather than telling young people what to do, we should allow them to talk openly about sexuality topics relevant to their lives.”

Indian parents, who volunteered for the research, discussed how knowledge about the body was often “secretive”. “They discussed how it is often “uncomfortable” to talk about sexual matters with their children,” Tracey told The Global Indian magazine.

One such parent, Puneet, attended the focus group because she wanted to encourage parents to talk about sexual topics and make sure schools and families worked together. The shame of not knowing what was happening to her body as a young girl was a particular impetus for encouraging other Indian parents to talk with their children.

“With my daughter, I don’t want her to have all those myths or beliefs what I had in the past,” Puneet said. “I want her to be fully knowledgeable and go into relationships with an open mind so that she knows what she’s going to do and how it’s going to affect her. I don’t want her to have shame.”

Puneet has spoken with other Indian families living in New Zealand and encouraged them to “give knowledge in advance”. She hopes this will support newly married couples to feel less embarrassed about their bodies and build healthy relationships.”

“Don’t try to protect young people from the complexity, irrationality and joy of relationships. “Protection often shuts down the opportunity to engage with young people and contributes to young people feeling like they will be judged. If we want young people to think critically about issues like consent, pornography and gender, then parents play a part in supporting young people to do this.”

Tracy Clelland, University of Canterbury’s (UC) Health Sciences lecturer

Parents may need to first revisit their own sexuality education experiences, especially if they invoke uncomfortable or awkward memories, says Tracy

“Parents need to stop thinking of sexuality education as about the biological aspects of sex and embrace a holistic approach.”

“As a sexuality educator at UC for 12 years, teaching sexuality education with 19 to 22-year-old students, most of their discussion is around love, the complexity of relationships and the joy of relationships. For younger people one of the common questions is ‘how do I know if they like me?’”

Tracy’s own experiences with her teenagers have been positive.

“There is a lot of joy in talking about the realities of sexuality and relationships with your children. Allowing your children to share their opinions builds communication in families.”