'Sex is a part of life': Sex education not prioritised due to lockdown

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Parents need to have clear and open channels of communication and boundaries when addressing sexual education.
Parents need to have clear and open channels of communication and boundaries when addressing sexual education.

Last year psychoanalyst and founder of Therapy Route, Enzo Sinisi, told Parent24 that "Properly prepared children are less likely to act without thinking or be taken advantage of."

The contentious Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) curriculum that was scheduled to start this year was aimed at preparing children for all eventualities, including gender-based violence, HIV infections and learner pregnancy.

Given the rise in the issues mentioned above, the Department of Education saw it appropriate to address these topics in the classroom, so that both young girls and boys learn together.

Parent disapproval 

However, the 2020 Life Orientation CSE curriculum had parents and educators up in arms over the "grossly insensitive" sex education material last year when it leaked, and a group called #LeaveOurKidsAlone was created, where parents actively expressed their disapproval of the CSE lesson plan for 2020.

Even though that was the case the CSE curriculum was set to begin this year, despite the division between teachers and parents.

The Minister even guaranteed disciplinary action against teachers who refused to teach this curriculum.

Due to Covid-19 lockdown much of the 2020 curriculum had to be taught by parents themselves, as a strategy to help their children to continue to learn despite the closure of schools.

This means that both parents and teachers may not have prioritised the CSE curriculum, due to the impact of Covid-19 infections and certain difficulties presented by online learning and Covid-19.

Read: 'Shifting the shame': Local wellness coach advises parents on what to do about their teen’s sexting

Spreading fallacies and fear 

Parent24 talked to Kristen Strahlendorf, educational psychologist  at the Family Tree Therapy Center, who explained her view on this controversial topic.

Strahlendorf says that parents may view the CSE curriculum as too advanced for their child's age or as a way to encourage sexual behaviour, but what they may be missing is that this is a way to prevent involvement in sexual behaviour without knowledge.

"Would you rather have your child be taught properly from a formal curriculum, as opposed to letting your children learn from social media or online sources or even worse, learn the incorrect facts from their peers?" she questions.

Whether we like it or not the television in our homes, the internet and the friendships our children form at school are doing more teaching about these things than we know as parents, she says. 

Strahlendorf explains, "Having the incorrect facts, spreading fallacies and fear can emotionally scar your child. These scars are long-lasting into adulthood and can easily create insecurities and anxiety. Sex is a part of life, but it needs to be approached with age-appropriate explanations."

Why is it difficult for parents to accept CSE?

One reason the new CSE curriculum was not received well by parents was due to some information being leaked out before the final CSE implementation.

This exposed CSE curriculum showed graphic images and topics that some believed to not be age-appropriate.

Parents voiced their concerns to keep this explicit content from their children, to maintain their innocence and naivety for as long as possible.

Strahlendorf agrees that this concern is valid, as what is seen, cannot be unseen. "These images and content may create future vulnerability."

Age-appropriate 

Remote and virtual learning during the pandemic has given parents the additional task of teaching their children age-appropriate sex education.

Strahlendorf believes that being current with your children goes a long way when it comes to sexual ed.

"Parents need to keep their finger on the pulse and be current with their children's learning, social dynamics and interactions. This is where parenting gets tough and the lines blurred," she says.

In addition, Kristen says that parents need to create a safe space for their children to speak openly about these things.

She says, "You need to create a safe and open environment for your children. Every age cohort is becoming more 'woke,' and parents need to be prepared and aware."

Must read: Why are teachers essential to children’s well-being? 

Preparation is key

"With the influence of TV in our homes and our children maturing earlier, preparation is key, especially when it comes to sexuality education," Strahlendorf warns.

Parents should address the question at an age-appropriate level when the child starts to ask about sex – this can be as early as six years old or younger.

"If your five or six-year-old is asking "Where do babies come from?" this is completely normal for their age," Strahlendorf says.

She also mentions, "Some minds are more inquisitive than others and some children may have been triggered by external factors - emotionally, physically or mentally."

"Parents need to try to isolate what these triggers are. Some triggers could be signs of other underlying issues present. Therefore, when your child asks about sex, you should answer their question."

It's also a good idea to start explaining to children who may be heading towards puberty, where their bodies will begin to change, and you want them to be prepared and ready, Strahlendorf explains.

Also read: Preteen girls are using code language to talk about sex: A psychologist advises local parents 

How can parents approach topics that are considered taboo?

In many traditional households, some topics around grooming, masturbation and sexual harassment are considered taboo and unspoken of.

Parents should address these topics by explaining in a factual and uncondemning fashion.

"These are all part of life, and we need to not shame our children for asking as if a feeling of shame and disgust is internalised, your child may not confide in you, and when there are serious issues, keep you in the dark," Strahlendorf says.

For those parents who cannot talk about these topics, encourage your children to speak to grandparents, older siblings, or a wise person in the community.

"It is important to note that certain aspects of sex and sexuality are appropriate or inappropriate based on certain cultural beliefs," she adds. 

A safe space

Sex education may have been last on the list of academic checks this year, but it is advisable to check in with your child, and not forget about sex education and its effects as we reintegrate back into the new normal, Strahlendorf warns.

As educators reintegrate into the classroom environment, pupils should have a safe space to converse regarding these topics, which is of paramount importance.

All teachers are equipped for the CSE curiculum, however, to increase trust and effectiveness, schools should assign a Life Orientation, Teacher or School Psychologist and Counsellor to deal with these topics.

This allows the conversation to be a bit more removed from the classroom environment and allows for a safe space in which to ask questions. This allows learners to not be stereotyped and to get the correct facts.

Strahlendorf emphasises that "Prevention is better than cure with the correct sex education knowledge with regards to learning age-appropriate sex ed. Parents need to have clear and open channels of communication and boundaries when it involves this topic."

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