Apt age to commence sex discussion in schools
By Nkiruka Ezedinugwu
SEX and everything pertaining to ‘it’ is sensitive and discussions around it used to be a no-go area for young kids. For children, the word, sex was something they should never hear or talk about. Even when, out of curiosity, they mistakenly asked questions about childbirth, conception, genitals and sex, parents, older siblings and every elderly person around would jointly scold and shout them down for daring to utter such ‘sacred’ words.
In those days also, when children ask questions about any sex related issues at homes or schools, many parents and teachers are fond of ending the children’s curiosity by simply telling them that they are too young to know about it, because they think that sex, as a subject, is only meant for adults and would make kids morally corrupt.
But in these modern times, where children, especially young girls have become somewhat endangered species, given the rising cases of child molestations and abuses, teaching children about sex, known as sex education has suddenly become a must for parents and indeed every stakeholder. But the big questions are, at what age should discussions around sex begin and what are the best ways to go about it?
On the right age to start discussing with children about sex and the right approach to it, Dr Evelyn Ezeh, a consultant paediatrician said: “The American Academy of Paediatrics once pointed out that right from infancy, children start having consciousness about their body, including touching their genitals when naked, which is a product of curiosity and not for sexual activities. Thus, when such children ask questions about such topics, parents are advised to answer them constructively, without saying too much.
“I think it is important for parents to begin sexual education for their children as early as possible. This is because no matter how sophisticated parental controls for internet access are, research shows that the average age children are now exposed to pornography is 13, with some children being exposed by age 7. Digging deeper, 60% of 11- to 13-year-olds are exposed to adult content by accident. And 93% of males and 64% of females under 18 have purposefully accessed pornography.
“All of these statistics correlate with ever growing rate of smartphone use in young people. With this in mind, the truism of “teach your children about sex as early as possible or the internet will” has never rung more true. With so much online content being thrown at children daily that could have adult themes, I think it is all the more important to have these conversations with our children earlier than we might be thinking.”
“Parents can initiate sex education between ages three and four when they can at least understand some basic things. A major focus for this age group is learning about boundaries and what is and is not appropriate when it comes to touching or being touched by other people. This is fundamental to consent, and it is crucial that even young children learn to ask before they touch someone else. Lessons around sharing, touch-based games like tickling, and asserting your own boundaries, such as telling a child when it is and it is not ok to climb onto your lap, all help to create a more intuitive understanding of consent”.
“At this age, kids can be very curious about each other’s bodies. It is important for parents to acknowledge this inquisitiveness and use it as an entry point to let them know that as kids, they have a say over their own bodies as this will also help with keeping them safe. While parents can skip the explicit details, now is when they should be telling their kids that others should never ask to or try to touch their genitals. It is important for parents to let their kids know they can tell them about inappropriate actions at any time, even if they have previously kept it a secret”.
“Parents need to make the discussion as simple as possible; they can start by mentioning the parts of the body that should not be touched. There is this children’s song that explains that there are some parts of the body that should not be touched. Parents can go as far as singing that song with them and identifying those areas. There are some basic simplified books by educationists to make this discussion easier and simplified.
“At this age also, children should be taught the basic things, like the fact that boys and girls are made differently by God. As simple as it is, while in preschool, they should be taught their body parts and the functions of each and why they should not allow anybody touch those parts of their bodies. Parents should at no time refer to genitals as ‘thing’; they should use the real name of the organs. Let them know those areas are called their private parts and should be private to them. Girls should also be taught that it is wrong for the opposite sex to put hands in their chest or back pockets.”
Again, speaking on how to talk to kids of six to eight years about sex, Mr Emmanuel Ubah said, “when they get to six and seven years of age, it will be important to discuss how to safely explore digital spaces, even if your child won’t be using the internet unsupervised for a few more years. Establish rules around talking to strangers and sharing photos online, as well as what to do if they come across something that makes them feel uncomfortable. While parents do not need to pre-emptively explain pornography to their kids, they should be prepared to have them stumble across it”.
“At this age, parents can also speak more explicitly to kids about sexual abuse. It is important for kids to know about this unfortunate reality in order to protect themselves or help a friend who experiences abuse. How detailed this talk gets really depends on individual child.
Talking about sex can go hand-in-hand with another key topic: puberty. When kids are around age seven or eight, this can be a simple discussion about how bodies change as we grow. For example, you could compare photos of when they were little with what they look like now. I recommend saving the more detailed puberty talk until just before the child or those in his or her peer group start experiencing it. Otherwise, it may seem like you are talking about an alien planet.”
Again, Nwafor Chinwe, a primary school teacher, in Udeozo Memorial Primary School, Awka, said, “in my own opinion, I think the appropriate age to start enlightening children on sex should be from seven years. This is because, as a teacher, I have seen and heard stories of little children involving themselves in all manner of sexual escapades amongst themselves or even with older ones, that actually beats my imagination. The other day in my class, (primary 5), I was leading my pupils through one of the comprehension passage in our English Studies textbook, and we came across the topic: “HIV/AIDS”. While reading the passage, we came across a sentence that reads, “To avoid contacting HIV, people, most especially children should avoid sex”, then I jokingly asked my pupils of age bracket 8-10 years, what is sex?, and to my greatest surprise, I got the weirdest answer I could ever imagine they could utter with all form of boldness. One of them, boldly said, that sex is what our parents did and gave birth to us, while the other child said, sex is that thing my mum and dad use to do when they close the door behind them and chase us out. You could imagine, what these children already know.
“ In most schools, sex education is not treated as a subject on its own, but it is subtly embedded in some subjects such as Basic Science and Technology, Guidance and Counseling, and in some pre-vocational studies.
I think it is very important to get them with the right knowledge about sex at this early stage, to avoid them being taught otherwise by their peers, or most pedophiles around and other perpetrators of evil within their environment.