I am writing in response to the Commentary: Why child sexual abuse can often be a sustained, hushed up ordeal over many years.
We fully agree on the need for greater sexuality awareness and education, starting with the parents. This is why Focus on the Family Singapore has been equipping parents to talk to their children about sexuality for almost 20 years. It has been an uphill task to marry our Asian tradition that treats such topics as taboo, with the influence of Western culture that tends to over-expose our children.
In one of our ongoing studies1 with about 5,000 parents and 6,500 young people (aged 13-29) to date, 79% of the young people think that parents have the primary responsibility of teaching a child about sex and sexuality. However only about 13% of them indicated having open conversations with their parent(s) on this topic and only 25% of them said that they can turn to their parent(s) for help if they are facing a sexual issue. This figure has not shifted significantly—if at all—in the last 5 years. Much more definitely needs to be done.
Conversely, in the same study, 40% of the 4,000 parents with young children and teenagers report talking about sex and sexuality with their children. This could either mean that younger parents are beginning to engage their children on sexuality, or there is a gap between the parents' actions and their children's perception of adequate or effective engagement.
Sexuality education needs to start from young. Parents can teach toddlers the proper names for their body parts, and explain bodily differences between boys and girls. As children grow up, parents can talk about how babies are made, discuss issues like inappropriate touch, and teach physical boundaries. By the time our children enter adolescence, parents should have touched on heavier issues like pornography, premarital sex and abortion.
Conversations with our children about sex and sexuality have to be friendly and firm, ongoing and consistent. These conversations do not always need to be planned lest they appear forced and become awkward, but they do need to be intentional using teachable moments and making time to allow our children to give their opinions and views. Towards this end, parents can refer to locally developed age-appropriate Conversation Guides that we regularly publish, including our latest one on sexual abuse.
Such conversations are especially important in the teenage phase when our children’s bodies and brains are developing rapidly. A youth-centric sexuality education programme takes into account that the emotional or limbic brain develops faster than the thinking or rational brain. Developing sexual intelligence in young people helps them make smart sexual decisions that benefit them and others, both in the short-term and the long run. Poor sexual decisions can have long-lasting ramifications, for example, research has shown teenage sexual activity to be an independent risk factor for depression and suicide attempts, and to even reduce marital satisfaction.
Parents—who have their child’s best interests at heart and know them best—are the best people to teach children about sexuality, which must cover the aspects of health, relationship as well as values. Children have the most to gain when their parents are confident and comfortable in speaking to them about sexuality, in the context of their own family values and in the safety of a loving parent-child relationship.
Whole Life Inventory 2016-2018
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