How parents can talk to their children about sexual education.

Q: Lucy (10) and Ben (12) are great kids, and get on well with Ian and I, but puberty is approaching. I want to keep the channels of communication open between us, but I know teenagers often shut their parents out. I would love it if they felt they could talk to us if something concerns them, especially in the area of sexuality, but I feel pretty ignorant and at a loss about modern sex – sexual orientation, porn, STIs, sexting and so on. How can I get better informed, and springboard this kind of conversation?

A: Recent research indicates that it is hard to over-estimate the importance of the role parents and guardians play in their adolescent children's sexual education and development. The "tween" years (10-13) are crucial when it comes to forming trust and a free flow of communication. If this connection has not been made by the time the child is 16, you have probably lost them.

Also revealed is the high level of fear, doubt, and unpreparedness most parents feel about fulfilling this important role. They are unsure about how to raise the subject, how much, or how little to tell, whether or not to share personal experiences, and so on. They also feel insecure about their ability to give accurate information in today's complex and ever-changing, social climate.

This is a dilemma that counselling psychologist and clinical sexologist, Sarah Calleja, kept encountering.

"My clients who were parents/carers/educators of tweens complained there were no suitable resources to support them in having conversations about confronting sexual issues with their tweens, and challenged me with, 'You're meant to be the bloody expert – you write something!'"

 
Two teenage girls looking at a mobile phone.

Two teenage girls looking at a mobile phone.

 

To this end, she decided to donate her time, and expertise to setting up a resource to assist in this process. In collaboration with Swinburne University, a free, interactive webpage has now been developed.

Initially the Parents, Tweens and Sex App (PTS) was an app for the iPad, and was a finalist in the 2013 Premier's Design Awards. Subsequently, in 2017, it was updated, and the website can now be used on all platforms. ptsapp.com.au

PTS is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all aspects of human sexuality. Rather, it is a gentle introduction to challenging topics that uses the technology tweens are using to inspire conversations with their parents. Calleja reassures parents that having these discussions doesn't give children permission to have sex, Rather, "it gives them information to help them choose action to behave responsibly and make informed choices that are based on their ethics and values".

The content focuses on addressing sexual issues that are not covered in standard sexuality education material, including challenging relationship issues, provocative sexual material in the media and on the web, and sexual situations that threaten the emotional and physical health of tweens. Calleja says that it "leads the way as a new educational tool for parents to guide their tweens and can be used as needed, depending on the topic of interest at the time".

The website provides video narratives, interactive quizzes and facts that raise questions that naturally convert to conversation starters, packaged in an engaging and responsive design.

As Calleja says: "These days kids are asking about designer vaginas, and what pronouns they require the public to use to respect their sexual identity.

"Tweens prefer parents to be the 'go-to person' to discuss sexual issues. PTS allows discussion of complex issues in a way that is safe. You can choose the topic that interests you, read the stories and do the quizzes to get the information you need to start talking."

My suggestion would be that you and Ian visit the PTS website and explore it together, so that you have some idea of the kind of conversations that may arise. You can then discuss how you want to proceed. Would it be best for Ian to talk to Ben, and you, to Lucy? Maybe another dynamic would work better in your family. There is no right or wrong approach. Go with what feels right for you.

About Last Night

Date: 24-03-2019

About Last Night Blogs are written by Maureen Mathews, published by Fairfax media. Maureen is the original owner of Bliss for Women. The current Bliss Team is excited to Maureen share her knowledge on our new site. It is fantastic to have Maureen as one of our regular expert contributors. If you wish to ask Maureen a question you can can send an email to hello@blissforwomen.com.au using About Last Night in the subject of the email.

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