TThe past few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of public debate on the issue of violence against women and girls, following the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house in early 2000. this month.
A torrent of pain and anger from the women, who shared stories of abuse, led the government to announce a program of better street lighting and CCTV, as well as a much-ridiculed policy of placing plainclothes policemen in bars to keep women safe.
Experts suggest those policies are little more than sticky plaster, but organizations working in the sector agree that well-funded and comprehensive relationships and sex education (CSR) are a crucial preventative measure.
In September, relationship education became compulsory in all primary schools and CSR became compulsory in secondary schools in England. While parents can choose to exclude children under the age of 15 from specific sex ed classes, all children in primary and secondary schools must follow the new curriculum.
Research from the Sex Education Forum suggest it works – and that children who receive good CSR are more likely to report abuse, delay sex, have consensual sex, use contraception and have fewer unintended pregnancies.
So what is relationship education like, and how can parents start meaningful conversations with their children on such difficult topics? We asked four experts for advice.
When to start
ASAP in an age-appropriate way is consensus. “If you don’t start when they’re little, you can’t teach about sex and relationships effectively,” says Jenny Barksfield, deputy executive director of the PSHE Association. “You cannot start teaching about consent effectively when someone is 14 or 15 years old if they have never learned to ask permission before drinking or touching someone.”
From the first year, parents can supplement relationship education by teaching children about boundaries, respect, consent and their own agency, says Barksfield. That can be as simple as discussing how everyone’s body is private to them and giving children the right words to talk about their body parts.
“Children need to learn to name their body parts accurately, because that helps them stay safe,” she says. “If they can name parts of the body and they know they have authority over them, they can talk to people and report things and be understood.”
Seek advice on what is appropriate for your age if you are unsure, he adds Charlene douglas, a relationship therapist: “You can cause lasting harm if you scare a child. Find out about ways to talk about these issues without fear ”.
Talk to your child’s school
“Schools that are doing this really well are proactively engaging and communicating with parents, like having parent nights and workshops,” says Barksfield.
“It works best when there is a partnership between schools and parents; if what you have been learning in the classroom is reinforced by the conversations you have at home, that is when it will be most effective.”
Douglas encourages parents concerned about the best way to approach the subject of sex to speak with teachers. “Most high schools now have a counselor in place, or at least access to a counselor,” he says. “That helps you have those conversations in an emotionally safe environment.”
It’s not about ‘him chat ‘
Lucy Emmerson, Director of the Sex Education Forum She says the idea of ”the talk,” perhaps about menstruation for girls and safe sex for boys, doesn’t help. Instead, encourage parents to talk little and often about sex and relationships. This could be by using distancing techniques, such as picture books with younger children or by talking about stories in dramas, billboards, or advertisements with older children.
With teens, clinical psychologist Dr. Elly Hanson suggests asking open-ended questions rather than imposing the law. “What can be helpful is talking about someone else’s experience, not looking directly at their behavior,” he says, adding, “The physical version of that is having a conversation in the car, which is often much easier.”
Don’t be afraid and embrace the ‘uncomfortable’
“Even if it feels a little scary, the alternative is scarier, which is discovering something later that you didn’t know about,” says Emmerson. “Taking the first step as an adult and asking questions and inviting conversation will be safer for everyone in the long run.”
Hansons says that acknowledging that a conversation is awkward can help. “We push ourselves to have all the right words and say things the right way, but sometimes a little awkwardness can be a really good thing.”
Porn is often “the elephant in the room” and is left out of conservations about sex and healthy relationships, Hanson says. “People tend to focus on the idea that pornography is unrealistic, but it is much more than that: it is a manual on violence against girls and women,” she says.
Recent research revealed that parents vastly underestimated the amount of pornography their children viewed, while the majority of children viewed pornography that was disruptive or overly aggressive to them.
Internet service providers can block all devices, and that decision can be a starting point for conversations, Hanson says. “Putting a barrier in the way makes it at least more difficult.”
He also suggests talking to young people about the business model of porn websites and says online courses can help guide conversations. Talking openly about this can help children make their own decisions: “Nobody likes to be taken for a cup,” he says.
Don’t ignore gender inequality
“Gender and power dynamics should be a common thread throughout relationships and sex education,” says Emmerson, who suggests looking at – and challenging – stereotypes in the media about masculinity and femininity.
Studies show that caregivers talk more to girls about relationships, sex and growth, she says. “Children miss out on conversations with adults because parents are more reluctant to have those conversations with children. But, you know, arguably they need it even more. The burden of information and responsibility cannot fall on the girls to take care of all this. “
Hanson suggests exploring how to challenge the sexism or bullying and sexual harassment they may encounter at school, within their peer groups, without using fear or blame as a tactic. “If young men just feel guilty about being men, it is not fair and it does not help,” he says.
Instead, we should talk about what good sex looks like. “Talking about chemistry, connection, mutual appreciation, versus using someone else’s body for sexual pleasure and checking the consent box; This is not just about preventing violence, but about having satisfying sexual experiences for everyone, ”he says.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism