‘Parents are the first and most important sexual health educators of children.’ If this statement makes you a little uncomfortable, rest assured – you are not alone!
Anita Forward and Donna Dawe, sexual health consultants with Eastern Health’s Health Promotion Division, explain that it is normal for parents to feel uncomfortable talking about sexual health topics with their children.
As part of their work, Anita and Donna have heard the concerns and struggles of many parents around this issue, things like:
‘My child gets embarrassed and does not want to talk about it,’ or ‘I am not sure my child wants to hear the information from me!’
Why is it difficult for parents and caregivers?
There are a variety of reasons. Many parents have never received any sexual health education themselves, either from their own parents or in school. As a result, they don’t feel equipped to broach this topic with their children.
Some parents feel their children will get this information in school, so they don’t feel the need to talk about it at home.
Others are overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available on the Internet, and they just do not know what is credible and what is not.
However difficult, Anita and Donna stress how important it is for parents to be the primary educators when it comes to matters of body changes and puberty.
“Messages received from television, social media and peers can negatively influence children’s understanding of normal sexual and reproductive health,” says Anita.
“It is important for parents to teach their children about their family values. Children look to their parents for guidance on these important topics.
“As a parent or caregiver, you don’t have to be an expert. But it is crucial for you to set an open and honest space for conversations, where your children are encouraged to raise questions or bring their concerns to you safely.”
How can parents broach the subject?
“Start early,” says Donna.
“Between birth and two years of age as speech develops, teaching children proper names for body parts is a great place to start.
“Help your children name the parts of their body, for example, ‘this is your nose…your knee…your penis…your vagina…your foot, etc.’
Using the right words for genitals helps avoid confusion, and it also helps to prepare parents and children to use these words for important conversations when children are older,” says Donna.
For older kids, “start talking about puberty when your child is 8 or 9 years old,” says Anita.
“Share your own experiences of puberty with your child. It’s OK to laugh and have fun with it. Hearing about how you felt during puberty can be comforting and reassuring for your child.
“Sharing your own experiences also promotes opportunities for conversations about puberty and sexual health now and the future.”
This week, February 12-18, is National Sexual and Reproductive Health Week, and Eastern Health’s sexual health promotion consultants have developed online resources to help parents talk to their kids about sexual and reproductive health.
“Through local focus groups and surveys, parents told us they wanted credible information they can access online, with their children. In response we’ve developed educational resources that include fact sheets and videos for both parents and kids!” says Anita.
To check out these resources and more, please visit:
“We have seen that most parents want to provide sexual health information to their children, but are unsure where to go for help,” says Donna. “We hope that by making these resources available, parents are better prepared to have ‘The Talk’ with their children, and to help them become more informed and healthier teenagers.” ■
This story was written by Melisa Valverde, digital communication manager, and co-authored by Anita Forward and Donna Dawe, sexual health consultants with Eastern Health.