Monday September 1 2014

Don’t shy away from talking about sex with your children

By Martha Akello

Gone are the times when we sent our children to far off places or relatives for sex education. Times demand that we take the bull by its horns and be the parents we are supposed to be. I was particularly impressed recently when I read results from a baseline survey by Straight Talk foundation and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), where 66 per cent of young people interviewed in Mubende and Kampala said they preferred to get sex education from their parents. This was such an exciting revealation!

Many times, I hear people say, “I cannot talk about sex with my children.” Sex is part of life and we cannot ignore the issues of sex in the lives of our children. Whether we talk about sex with our children or not, they will in one way or the other learn something about it from elsewhere anyway.

But this is risky as you may never know what they are being told. Your children can easily get wrong information and values. Your children’s friends are not good sources of information or values about sex.

You, the parent are the best person to do the talking
Sex is all around the place; on T-shirts, the lyrics in the songs they listen to, the videos they may be watching, magazines and the gossip around the place, etc. When we ignore the issues of sex in our children’s lives, then we shall deal with bigger issues such as the burden of teenage pregnancy, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections including HIV.

The notion that sex education will encourage children to start experimenting with sex or that talking to children about sex deprives them of their ‘innocence’ is just hearsay. On the contrary, research from around the world clearly indicates that sex education rarely, if ever, leads to early sexual initiation. Sex education can lead to delayed and more responsible sexual behaviour.

Getting the right information that is scientifically accurate and non-judgemental, is something all children and young people need.

As parents, the most important part of sex education is the love we show our children. Loved children are not likely to look for ‘love’ in risky sexual relationships. Most times they bond with you and fear to disappoint you the parent and so they will have the courage to avoid or get out of a risky sexual relationship.

Children who spend time with their parents feel loved. They feel good about themselves and have high self esteem. Such children are less likely to take risks. Spending time with children involves listening and letting them talk. Create a free atmosphere for them to ask and get clarifications on matters of sex.

By doing this, you will know what they are doing and thinking, you will hear their problems and questions and you will get the chance to provide them with sex education. If you notice they have the wrong information, you have the opportunity to correct it. Most of our children no longer feel loved and listened to because we are too busy to spend time and talk to them. Because of this, they end up looking outside the homes for love and attention. That is where they get problems.

Many people ask, what is the right time to start talking about sex? Start talking when children are young. Do not wait until a pregnancy has happened or the child has a sexually transmitted infection. Answer questions as they come up but most importantly give simple answers. The opportunity to talk can present at anytime. It can be as you do work together at home. Remember children do not like to be lectured, try and make it a conversation.

Encourage the children to give their opinion about the subject. A child who asks questions will have less problems. Quiet ones often get into trouble because they cannot even say no to sex or ask for help.

Children learn by copying. Faithfulness among partners, husbands and wives is important. Have clear values and communicate them to your children. If you are unfaithful, you are teaching your children that sex is a game. Be a good role model to your children. Meet their basic needs. Explain to them the difference between what they need and what they want. Many children end up pregnant because of small gifts they get from the opposite sex. This is unfortunate.

Most importantly, let us encourage our children to stay in school longer and complete. School is the safest place for children to be and it keeps them away from many of the risks that they would otherwise face when not in school such as early marriage.

It is every parent/guardians responsibility to protect their children; the responsibility should not be left to teachers and others. Do your part and lay a foundation for your child, then teachers, health workers and other sources of accurate information can build on this.

Ms Akello works with Straight Talk Foundation.