YOUNG PEOPLE these days are exposed to information, lifestyles and issues that challenge the values they have been brought up with. It is not unusual for teenagers to test their parents’ author-ity, challenge traditions and beliefs and explore new ideas and lifestyles.
How parents respond to their teens is important, and while teenagers want to feel that they are given choices, they still need guidance and boundaries to feel secure.
At the centre of a hot debate recently was sexuality education. Parents are the first models of values, and should also be the first teachers in the school of life, including matters like sexuality. By talking to their teens about sex, parents can im-part the truth about sex and consequences of sexual behaviour and not leave teens to be blindly influenced by the abundant and sometimes inaccurate information about sex from various sources.
However, in a survey conducted among 1,383 male and female Secondary 2 to 4 students by a Christian volunteer welfare organisation (VWO) last year, only 18.1 per cent of the surveyed said they had spoken to adults about intimate issues. Of these, only 50 per cent had approached either parent to talk about these issues.
The survey said that when youth sense that adults feel uncomfortable talking to them, they are also less likely to feel comfortable speaking with adults.
Bringing it into the open
Sex education should not be seen as a topic in itself but as a component of com-mon family values, such as love, respect, responsibility, friendship and obedience to God. Viewed from this perspective, sex education really begins from childhood, when toddlers are made aware that God created them differently.
In the survey, 80.7 per cent of stu-dents also said sex education is important to them. Of the 93.8 per cent who reported having attended sex education programmes before, 44.2 per cent said the programmes were very effective while 48.5 per cent said the programmes were not effective at all.
How can parents effectively educate their teenagers about sexuality? We suggest the following:
1. Prepare for and understand changes in your teenager
As children enter adolescence, they become concerned about the changes in their bodies and whether these are normal. All this is part of their growing up and search for identity. Acknowledge these changes, assure them that what they are experiencing is normal and that others also have the same, valid concerns. You can also share some of the concerns you had at that age.
2. Maintain open conversations/discus-sions
If you have started sex education from childhood, maintain it with casual conversations and discussions when the children reach their teens – at appropriate times and places. If you have not, it is not too late to start.
You do not have to make an “ap-pointment” with your teen to talk about sex, but take the opportunity to begin conversations about it using scenarios from movies or programmes which you have watched together. You can start by asking them what they thought about a teen pregnancy or an unmarried couple engaging in sex.
Your teen may ask questions about Aids, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, contraception and other related topics. Try not to express shock at your teen’s knowledge and be prepared to discuss them openly. Read up in advance if necessary.
Refrain from brushing off questions with “you are too young to understand!” If teenagers perceive their questions are not welcome, they will get their answers elsewhere.
4. Provide guidance and support
Instil the value of “delayed gratifica-tion” by introducing them to healthy distractions, such as sports, outdoor activities or hobbies. Encouraging them to mix with peers whose values are similar to your family’s values also helps keep them away from temptation.
Share your Christian values and ex-pectations about relationships. Talk about how sex is one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind. Share with them that it is a sacred experience to be accompanied by the love and fidelity of marriage as it binds a married couple together emotion-ally, mentally, physically and spiritually.
5. Attend workshops
If you are having difficulties talking to your teens about sexuality, attend workshops or talks where you can learn ways to discuss sexuality confidently.
Take heart, parents, your teenag-ers’ issues and questions are all part of growing up. Teens who have seen their family’s values consistently lived out will cling to those values and be better able to resist unwholesome influences. As the Bible reminds us in Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
Mylene Koh is the Manager (Communications) and Mel Lee is the Assistant Manager (Communications) of the Methodist Welfare Services.
The MWS can help if you need parenting resource materials or advice, or assistance in managing family issues. Contact us at:
Covenant Family Service Centre*, Tel: 6282-8558
Daybreak Family Service Centre, Tel: 6756-4995
Kampong Kapor Family Service Centre, Tel: 6299-7662
Sembawang Family Service Centre, Tel: 6754-7050
Tampines Family Service Centre, Tel: 6787-2001
*You can also call Covenant FSC’s Parentline, the only hotline in Singapore manned fully by social workers and counsellors – 6289-8811 is operational Mondays through Fridays from 9 am to 5 pm.