Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 14th 2015 Contents June 14, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
WOW MAGAZINE | 7
| FAMILY |
By Shari Ross and Dr Makini McGuire
A CHILD'S EDUCATION is a parent's responsibility. They
teach them to walk, talk and dress; they teach them man-
ners and what behaviour is appropriate. This teaching be-
gins from the moment the child is born and continues
throughout their young life. One of the most important
things that a parent can teach a child about is sex and sex-
ual health. Why, then, is it so hard for parents to have this
discussion with their children? Why do parents delay or,
worse, leave it up to others, including the media, to teach
children about it?
Research in psychology has revealed that there are three
main reasons that parents are reluctant to talk to their
children about sex. The first is that there may be commu-
nication issues between the parent and child. As children
get older, generational gaps in language can occur because
of less time spent in meaningful conversation with the
child and a growing preference for maintaining relation-
ships with friends rather than with parental figures. Par-
ents can overcome this by spending more time with their
children, especially one on one or 'special time'.
This can include trips to the mall or playing a game out-
side, whatever your child enjoys. Parents must engage in
active listening during these moments. This involves re-
phrasing what your child has said in your own words in
order to confirm what you have heard and ensure that you
both understand what is being said. It also means that the
intention is to genuinely learn more about your child, not
to use the information obtained as punishment material.
The second reason that parents are reluctant to talk to
their children about sex is a lack of proper information.
They don't know what to say; when to say it or how, what
information is too much and what is appropriate for which
age. As a general guideline, sex education can take place
as early as preschool and should continue throughout the
teenage years. Research has found that talking with your
children about sex does not 'give them ideas' or lead to
early engagement in sexual activity. In fact, quite the op-
posite; children who have learned about sex from their
parents are likely to delay sexual initiation, practice absti-
nence and safer sex, and are less likely to have teenage
pregnancies and STIs.
Although having one main discussion about sexual health
is important, it is good to use "teachable moments" to talk
to your children. These are spontaneous, real life moments
where sexualized messages occur and can be discussed.
For example, while watching a sex scene during a movie.
In order to use this teachable moment, a parent might say
to his teenaged son, "Those two really like each other and
are getting very intimate. What do you think about that?
Your father and I would like that when you like someone
that much, that you wait until you're married before hav-
ing sex with her."
So, what is appropriate for each age group? For preschool
to lower primary school-aged children, topics such as the
proper names of body parts, the difference between boys'
and girls' bodies, and a general description of how a
woman gets pregnant, are appropriate. An example of this
description can be, "When mummy and daddy lay in bed
they put their bodies together and mommy's egg joins
with a seed from daddy and then a baby starts to grow."
For children that are older primary school age, parents can
discuss respecting your body as well as the bodies of oth-
ers, having feelings for another person, and masturbation
and how parents feel about its appropriateness. For sec-
ondary school-aged children topics such as contraception,
STIs, abstinence and pregnancy are important to discuss.
Equally important is waiting for the right person and
knowing when is the right time to begin having inter-
The last and perhaps most important reason parents
delay is because of embarrassment. Sex is an awkward
topic because of its taboo and value-laden nature. At first,
it will be uncomfortable, but over time, it will become eas-
ier. Both parents and children are uncomfortable with this
topic. Most important is to start the conversation, keep it
open and ongoing. Active listening helps to show our chil-
dren that we are paying attention and are interested in
what they have to say. This builds trust and helps us to
know our children better which helps make the conversa-
Remember, start the conversation as early as possible,
keep the lines of communication open, listen actively to
what your child has to say, take advantage of those teach-
able moments, and don't worry; it will get easier over time.
• Shari Ross is a US-trained counselling psychologist
specialising in individuals, couples and families.
• Dr Makini McGuire is a medical doctor and event manager.
Request a topic at www.thisdoctorcares.info
"Children who have
learned about sex from
their parents are likely to
delay sexual initiation,
practice abstinence and
safer sex, and are less
likely to have teenage
pregnancies and STIs."
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