As a parent of an adolescent child or young person, is your first response to sexuality education “Help, I don’t know what I’m doing!” “How much do I tell them?” “They will learn what they need to know at school” “It isn’t happening for my child, so I don’t need to think or worry about it just yet.”
The pressure on a young person to perform is not only high within the education system, but also within their social peer groups.
As an adolescent girl at school, I can remember within my female peer group, the fine line between being in awe of the young woman who had done “it”, and thoughts that they had “gone too far”. Within the wider peer group that included boys, these young women were viewed as ‘sluts’, ‘easy game’, and the list goes on. Boys who engaged in sexual activity were viewed as ‘the stud’ and ‘cool’.
As parents, we may come to this stage of our children’s lives with concern. The concerns can be focussed on:
- The age that young people become sexually active – are they too young?
- Pregnancy risks;
- Sexually transmitted infection risks;
- Sexual assault.
The concerns of pregnancy risk are often expressed as “we need to get her on the pill.” “Make sure you use these condoms son.” In the expression of this concern, panic and fear often take over from exploring the feelings about the young person’s first sexual experience. For the young person, there are often feelings of disappointment, feelings about virginity, regret, positivity, experiences of abuse, same-sex-attracted young people, and conforming to the dominant heterosexual culture, to name but a few.
When viewing such experiences and feelings associated with young people’s sexuality, as parents we need to look deeper than taking comfort that sexuality education is in the safe hands of the education system and our child’s school. Giving the ‘talk’ or ‘advice’ about contraception, taking care of yourself, biology, or imparting values is not enough when young people are experiencing the pressures to ‘do it’ at a younger age. Young people need to be supported and guided by their parents and caregivers as they try to navigate their way through the many pressures, changes, social conformities, cultural messages, and often conflicting parental messages.
As domestic, family and sexual violence is given media airing in more recent times, young people and families may still hold beliefs that it won’t happen to them. Whilst there are some great Violence Prevention Programs out there, it is often left to schools to promote them within their already time-pressured curriculums.
Education about sexuality and violence prevention needs to be embraced from the individual, to the family, to the wider community. As individuals we need to sit with our discomfort, and have these conversations and discussions with our young people. The overarching themes for such onversations include:
- What is consent?
- How to communicate sexuality education;
- Exploring values, competing ideas and needs;
- What does an ethical intimate relationship look like?
- How do we challenge violence?
- How do we support victims of violence?
- How do we take care of ourselves, or how do our young people take care of themselves?
We can reflect on these themes and ask the questions as parents of young people, and offer them informed guidance and support as they negotiate the often bumpy road that is sexuality and intimate relationships.
If you are worried or concerned about how to have these conversations, or interested in seeking support for your adolescent child in negotiating this area of their life, please leave a comment and I will contact you via email.
Guest Author – Clare Sillence
B Soc Wk AMHSW