Teaching children the facts of sex and sexual development needs to be done with care, sensitivity and in a holistic manner. Coping with changes in sexual development is an issue every child must face, and the challenge is even more critical for children during their early formative years. Educators and parents must therefore regard sexuality as part of human drives and needs that must be correctly channelled.
The necessity for giving correct information about sexual development to children is of paramount importance. Children nowadays are exposed to knowledge about sex through the mass media (often with gory details), books, through the Internet and also from their peers, and if they are not taught to differentiate between what is appropriate and what is not, they might end up exhibiting inappropriate behaviour. No parents will ever want their children to obtain information on sexual development from the gutter.
Parents can impart knowledge of sex to their children but such information needs to be tailored to the child’s level of understanding — in this case, the mental age, which may not correspond to the child’s chronological age. Children are very innocent and can easily be victims of sexual abuse in the hands of unscrupulous adults. The child may not even realize that he is being used as an object to gratify the deviant sexual needs of adults.
One important area is the need to inform children as to what constitutes ‘appropriate and inappropriate touching’. The importance of giving such awareness to children is stressed on parents. The child needs to know who is allowed to touch him or her and when, and where; what a doctor can touch, situations the child should avoid, and how best to stop inappropriate conduct in the classroom.
Parents themselves need to be aware that inappropriate touching could also happen between relatives. For instance, parents usually tell their children to ‘beware of strangers’, yet studies have shown that in child sexual abuse cases, the majority of abusers are in fact known to the child, or are members of the child’s own family.
As with other children in society, children require open lines of communication with their parents. This would include openness in discussing issues connected with sex. If any untoward physical contact has occurred they should be comfortable in telling their parents about it, instead of being too ashamed or too afraid to reveal details.
Sex education is important because one cannot expect teenagers to follow rules blindly without knowing why they must follow them. One of the subjects they should be educated about is why they should abstain from sex until after marriage.Many people oppose sex education for children because they think that ‘once you tell them about it, they will go out and abuse it.’ It is significant to note that in Switzerland, sex education is taught in kindergartens and that country has the lowest number of teenage pregnancies in the world. What is vitally important is that children be taught responsible sexual behaviour from the time they are ready for such instruction. A sound sexual education will save the child untold stress from guilt, fear, remorse and retribution in the future.