Sex education among minors is a gray area for many parents. In some places it is considered taboo and the role is a preserve for paternal aunts.
But in a day when the extended family is not as dominant as it used to be, would you talk to your child about sex or would you rather be summoned because your child knows so much? writes Esther Namirimu
My son knows too much about sex
Alice Kwagala was invited to her ten-year-old son’s school to discuss something many parents hope they will never have to deal with. It had come to the school’s notice that the boy knew a little too much about sex.
Jonah (not real name) had been conducting sex education seminars for his friends during break time and also at lunch time. He was so popular that even pupils from the upper classes listened to him.
For a Christian school, this was not a subject for open talk.
The matter came to light after one pupil asked her mother if she uses condoms for protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Realising how much the girl knew, the mother was furious and reported the matter to the head teacher demanding immediate action.
“When the head teacher introduced the subject of our meeting, I was embarrassed. I was afraid that the teachers were thinking that I am the one who tells my son these things,” Kwagala recalls.
“I wanted to beat him up, but I was cautioned against it. I had to allow Jonah to open up.”
Jonah said he had always seen adverts about cross generational sex and he was curious to learn more about it. In addition, he had picked up a family planning booklet during a visit to the clinic and had hidden it in his schoolbag.
He revealed that he would read it in private, but he also wanted to show his friends the dangers of early and unprotected sex.
To everyone’s shock, the boy had the right answers to every question he was asked and he spoke with an adult’s confidence.
Kwagala blames herself for the fact that her son is informed about the dangers of sex. He made friends with adults online, whom he would ask anything he wanted to know that he feared to discuss with his parents.
“He is a bright child with good grades and I never have to remind him to do his homework. I never suspected he was diverting his time elsewhere. He confessed he always does his homework fast so as to have time to browse the internet.
He also claimed to have 15 Facebook accounts that show that he is a rich man who is over 35 years of age in order to attract women to chat with,” Kwagala narrates.
The head teacher advised me to take Jonah to a boarding school, but the school counsellor said boarding school before counselling would make matters worse.
The counsellor also noted that Jonah had not done anything wrong, but his IQ was high for his age. She also blamed me for allowing my son the freedom to use the internet unsupervised.
She also said if I had taken time to answer all the questions that lingered in Jonah’s mind, he would not have gone seeking answers for himself in the wrong places.
I also decided not to allow him watch soap operas, since they played a big part in my son’s life.
I try to spend the weekends with him to bond and build trust, as well as keep a watchful eye on him.
Together with his head teacher and counsellor, we came up with ways to keep Jonah busy through club activities such as swimming, playing a guitar, debate and also engaged him in environment conservation activities.
That way he would be occupied and tired by the time he returned home, only to do his homework, take his supper and go to bed.
The school counsellor also visits Jonah at home every Sunday and they have some discussions. My son has since improved. Of course he already knows too much, but he also knows how to use that information.
I was relieved to learn from the counsellor that he had not engaged in any sexual activities.
EXPERT'S VIEW: Who is the right person to teach about sex?
Dear Mama Tendo,
I appreciate your parenting advice in Sunday Vision. My question is: Who is the right person to talk to a young girl in primary school about body changes, sex and boys? Is it the mother, grandmother or an aunt?
Dear Fred, a growing child does need information and knowledge about sexual issues and development. As to who gives them this information, it is much a matter of relationship.
For instance, if the grandmother is the person that the girl relates with most easily, then it is good for the grandmother to pass on this information.
Traditionally, it is supposed to be the aunt who initiates the sexual development talk, but things have changed. It is also a challenge if the aunt’s values are not in sync with the family’s values.
On the other hand, if the aunt has not been in close proximity with the child, there may be no rapport existing between the two.
Sexual development and sexual matters must be discussed with someone a child can freely express themselves with and ask vital questions if need be.
However, the better approach is to create an atmosphere where children are given age-appropriate information.
The nature of information given should be continually updated as the child grows. This can be done progressively in the home where both father and mother are playing a vital role.
Fathers also play an important role in this area since they are the first male the daughter interacts with at close level. A good father-daughter relationship is often a safe guard against promiscuity.
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If your child is not asking, someone is giving them answers
Gaston Byamugisha, a counsellor with Kyambogo University, notes that many people have mixed feelings about talking to children about sex. But ‘sex education’ can start as soon as the child starts asking questions.
Usually, a child would want to know the difference between males and females, where children come from and why daddy and mummy share a bed, among other questions.
“Once you talk to them when they are young, as they become teenagers, they build on what you have been explaining to form their beliefs. So it is better to explain the issues as they arise and give factual answers at whatever age,” Byamugisha says.
A parent or guardian should be prepared with age-appropriate answers to random questions like: Why is auntie’s tummy big? What is a condom?
“The problem is with the way adults answer their children’s questions. Because parents feel embarrassed talking about sex with their children, and sometimes think they are only protecting them, they give wrong answers.
They forget that such information sticks in a child’s mind,” Byamugisha notes, adding that giving children the right information prepares them for the future.
“As children mature into puberty, they get into relationships. This becomes even more confusing and can be dangerous,” he warns.
He says the information that a child can have differs according to the child’s age.
For instance, toddlers will only be interested in why they are different from the opposite sex, while children in their teens need information tailored to provide details of sexual intercourse and related precautions.
Byamugisha says children are different individuals and do not grow at the same pace.
“Do it when they ask. If you do not, they will talk to different people like peers. School answers a lot of questions and the teachers are impartial and give answers as they are. So if your child is not asking, then someone else is answering,” he says.
Who should talk to them?
Byamugisha says parents should be the first to talk to children about sex before anyone else.
He says this builds trust, so every time the child has questions the parent is the first person they approach.
He notes that children spend more time at school with their teachers, so teachers can also give this advice.
“When a child asks a question, that should mark the beginning. Sometimes, as a parent you may not know that what you are giving is sex education until a child later comes to you with a modified question like; “Why are you my mum and why is dad my father?” Answer them as their intellectual development unfolds.”
If you do not address it
“The questions will not go away. That means they will get the answers from other sources and mostly their peers who are also not well-informed.
I heard about boys who lied to girls that if they had sex while standing, they would not get pregnant. This misconception was spread to other teenagers,” Byamugisha says.
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