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Teaching kids about sex should not be a taboo. Sex education in India is necessary to help children navigate future relationships safely.
By Debjani Talapatra
Where did you first get your information about the birds and the bees? From friends who were as misinformed as you were? Or via suspect books and magazines? Let me guess which one it wasn’t. If you’ve been born and raised in India, I can bet with a fair amount of certainty that you didn’t find out about sex through a teacher at school or through a talk with your parents. Sex education in India over the last few years has stirred a lot of heated discussion and, sadly, pointless opposition in India.
While we may have managed to answer questions about sexuality through various channels and survived, teens today live in a different world – Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) always existed, but now there is AIDS too. Of course, there is always the risk of teenage pregnancy. Passing through a stage when curiosity and hormones run high, teaching kids about sex is not only advisable but a necessity – and ideally before they reach their teens.
Teaching kids about sex is essential to arm children with the skills needed to navigate the confusing and trying times of adolescence. Sex education should cover not only the basics of human reproduction and the changes brought about by puberty, but also the skills needed to deal with relationships and on the connections between physical and emotional intimacy. This helps in protecting them from being taken advantage of by sexual predators or peers who may pressurize them to have sex before they are ready to. Sex education also addresses issues such a birth control and the risks associated with unprotected sex and the various kinds of STDs.
Sadly though, in India, sex education is often thought of as a bad word and considered a potential corrupter of impressionable minds. The Government has banned sex education in government schools and the private schools that do have a sex education program tend not to cover all facets of the issue. Some girls’ schools talk only of menstruation and menstrual hygiene. Others preach abstinence as the only option. While these are by no means unimportant, they are not the best way to equip teens.
The first thing to remember is that – just because you’re not talking about it, doesn’t mean they are not thinking about it! Isn’t it better for you to have a frank and honest conversation with them rather than them learning about sex from the wrong channels?
…just because you’re not talking about it, doesn’t mean they are not thinking about it!
…just because you’re not talking about it, doesn’t mean they are not thinking about it!
While talking to your child about sex, timing is important. You don’t want to catch them too young when they still cannot really understand the information. Gayatri Modak, a practicing psychologist from Mumbai says, “Every parent knows their child best. Go with your instinct and gauge if your child is ready to talk. In case you sense resistance or embarrassment, don’t push it. Bring it up at a later date when the child is comfortable.”
Gayatri says that 11-12 is a good age to discuss sex in greater detail. However, don’t expect to have a single ‘big talk’ that covers the entire subject. Instead, you can talk about different aspects at appropriate ages. Gayatri recommends that the Good touch vs. Bad touch talk should have happened by a couple of years prior to this, for example. Even very small children can understand that no one should touch their private parts, while slightly older ones (6-8 years) will want to know more on where babies come from and why women’s bodies look different from girls’. Yet older kids will need more detailed information.
Though there are no rules set in stone and each child has different needs, these guidelines can be useful.
1. Stay calm and collected. If you seem embarrassed and flustered your child will pick up on it and that will hinder the conversation. If your own inhibitions prevent you from talking easily, try using an aid such as a good book on the birds and the bees that they can read with you and then ask questions
2. Encourage them to ask questions and make it a two-way conversation. As you go along, ask if there is something specific he/she wants to know. Also start with finding out how much he/she already knows
3. Be as honest as you can when answering any questions. Most importantly, don’t balk at any question no matter how much it shocks you
4. Having both parents present while talking about such issues gives the child the understanding that sex is nothing to be secretive about. However, if the child is uncomfortable and doesn’t talk freely in front of the parent of the opposite sex, it is best for the same sex parent to have the conversation one-on-one.
5. You might have had a similar conversation with an older child a couple of years back. But times change rather quickly, so what may have worked a couple of years back may not suit the needs of a tween today.
6. Talk to them at their level. This is especially true when talking to younger children about anatomical changes or explaining pregnancy. Use simple words that they will understand.
7. In the Indian context, most parents will be horrified at the thought of their child having pre-marital sex; however, remember that it is not always possible to control teenagers – instead, for their safety and welfare, it is important that they learn about birth control
8. They should also learn that having sex and being involved in relationships can be emotionally complex as well, and that they need not feel pressured into it, just because ‘everyone at school has a boyfriend’.
9. Have an open door and an open mind policy. Make sure that you talk about these issues from time to time. Convey to your child that they can come to you with any query or doubt and you will be available to them. Most importantly truly mean it.
The recent tragic death of 11 year old Sayoni Chatterjee from Mumbai is a case of how many parents react with panic to children experiencing the first flush of adolescent love. Sayoni killed herself after her mother read her personal diary which had details of her growing love for a classmate and decided to take it up at her school. An open and honest conversation, coupled with some empathy, would have perhaps led to a totally different outcome.
Open channels of communication, empathy and willingness to answer any question will help you and your child sail more easily through the oft-murky waters of adolescence and stay friends!
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