Click here for shortcuts to regional language blogs and city-specific events.
In the wake of various sexual abuse crime against children, I kept worrying about my child’s safety. How to teach her about sex education and at what age was another worry for me. Our education system has included sex education in their curriculum which is a great relief for parents like me. From first year of preschool itself, the teachers are making children aware about good and bad touch. But I used to think is it too early to start with sex education?
Then I came across a very good article written by Swati Popat Vats who is a well-known educator, a teaching expert and parenting guru. She is also director of preschool chains Podar Jumbo Kids. In her article, she explained the importance of age-appropriate sex education. She talked about how parent should teach children about sex education at various stages. She used reference from German educationist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner's definition of what children need at each stage of life.
According to his philosophy, between 0 and 7 years, children learn best and mainly learn from imitation; from 7 to 14 they learn from authority that means they need supervision, constant monitoring and a firm hand in rules and regulations, and 14 onwards, they need and thrive on independence.
If we observe children of various ages around us, his philosophy appears to be reality.
Age 0 to 7 years
From my preschool going daughter’s conversation, I can guess that she is aware of the difference between girls and boys from the manner they both use washroom. That means children become aware of their sex organs during their preschool years itself. Also, this age group is more vulnerable for sexual abuse as they don’t understand about the crimes being done to them if not made aware of.
So, it becomes extremely important to teach about sex education to children from very young age. Their preschool teachers are doing their bit to educate them. Then it turns out to be parents’ responsibility to ascertain these teachings in children’s mind. They should be taught about safe and unsafe touch with help of stories or by showing them videos about sexual awareness. These days many such videos are available online.
Children in this age group are fast learners and great imitators. They learn from observing other’s behaviour. If kids ask questions about body parts or chuckle while watching kissing scenes on television, parents should not show embarrassment over it. Parents should explain them that hugging, kissing on cheek are fine with kids but they should not allow anyone to kiss on lips. Parents should make them understand that its fine for grown-ups to kiss on lips if they like each other but kids should not indulge in such activities. Parents should be positive and informative in their response to show emotions like kissing or hugging in positive light.
Swati Popat Vats emphasized in her article about developing a positive image about their genitals in children below 7 years. They should be taught about 'genital manners' like:
Age 7 to 14 yrs
Children in this age group experience various bodily changes. They also become more curious about opposite gender.
Once my relative’s 9 year old son came to play with my kid. After playing when they got bored, he asked for my mobile phone to watch cartoons. He was trying to be alone while watching the videos and had turned off the voice. I did not find anything suspicious about his behaviour at that time as he is very well behaved kid and also shy by nature. Later in the day when I saw his search history on my phone, I was shocked. He was searching for videos to know about girls and their private parts. But it was surprising to see that these kids are aware of the resources to find out answers to their questions at such a young age. My child was just 4 years old, so I did not bother to use any password or block any site.
In this online era, plenty of resources are available with right as well as wrong information. But the above incident made me realised that it has become vital for parents to convey the right information to the kids at the right age. Otherwise they can use their own resources to satisfy their curiosity. Parents should monitor what they are watching, reading and talking to friends. Using password and blocking certain websites are also useful for supervision.
Age 14 and above
Children in this age group like to be treated as adults and not kids. Parents should make them feel independent by putting responsibility of their actions on them. Parents should watch over them but should not interfere. Parents should interact with their children’s friend circle. This is also the right age to talk about sexual diseases, masturbation, AIDS & HIV and pregnancy & condoms.
Swati Popat Vats emphasised on giving focused attention on sexual understanding and sex education to children throughout their growing years. So by the time they reach the age of puberty of 14 years they should have a healthy concept of sex. They would be able to understand that sex is another need of the body, but a need that cannot be treated as lightly as hunger etc. It is a need that should be understood, something that one has to take responsibility for. When parents do not give children a healthy outlook about sex, the three-letter word is replaced with the four-letter word 'porn', which may not be such a healthy alternative. Parents should be accountable for removing the ugliness in sex and make it a controlled and healthy aspect of their kid's lives.
Parents are required to be reliable and trusted source of information for their kids.