Say goodbye to the birds and the bees

Talking to your children about sex and relationships can be a daunting prospect but, while it might be tempting to put it off, it’s best to start sooner rather than later.

It’s time for the birds and the bees chat to be replaced by open and honest conversations – not just about sex, but about relationship skills like managing emotions, resolving arguments, and listening to other points of view [1].

Try to purge your mind of any negative memories from your own childhood. Even if your sex education was a big awkward talk; or a pamphlet on the sins of the flesh left conspicuously on your bed; or just years of silence, it doesn’t have to be like that for your children.

Relationships education is changing

The school curriculum is changing. What used to be SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) is becoming RSE (Relationships and Sex Education). Your child will still learn about sex but within the context of understanding relationships, which will help them recognise the good and bad relationships in their lives.

Relationships education is likely to include information about a variety of relationship types, including friendships. There is a compelling case for children learning skills to help them talk about their feelings and be more aware of the quality of their relationships [1]. This change comes at a valuable time, as more children are reporting being unhappy with their friendships [2].

Schools are already doing more to teach about online safety, including sexting, cyberbullying and pornography. Young people are spending more time online [3] [4] and, as a result, they may be facing sex and relationship challenges that you never had to deal with. The Department for Education will give schools more guidance about the new RSE curriculum soon and learning about this as a parent too can help you support your child in making safe, sensible choices as they get older.

What parents and children think

In light of these developments, we teamed up with youth charity The Mix to ask children and parents what topics they’d like to see covered in relationships and sex education. The top five most important topics listed by parents and carers were:

  1. Staying safe online
  2. Bullying and cyberbullying
  3. Being aware of who knows what is being shared online
  4. What makes a good and not so good friendship
  5. Abusive relationships

Bullying and abusive relationships were also particularly important topics for young people who wanted to know more about recognising – and getting out of – bad relationships.

Overall, nearly 90% of parents agreed that sex education would be improved by including relationships education [1].

Talking about relationships and sex

The coming RSE lessons in schools will be a good opportunity for you to learn together and build on your child’s learning by starting your own conversations at home. While it might seem tricky or embarrassing, it’s best to talk openly and honestly. The more open you are, the more confident and competent your children are likely to be in their own relationships [5].

It’s often easier to talk about sex and relationships by taking advantage of opportunities to talk, like using an issue they’ve experienced at school, a storyline on TV, or a pregnant friend. Don’t wait until they’re already going through puberty, and don’t plan a big ‘sit down’ conversation. Think of it as an ongoing conversation that can be returned to as needed [5].

When your child shows curiosity, answer their questions honestly, but don’t feel you need to expand in great detail beyond what they ask. A good guideline to bear in mind is that if your child is asking you a question, they’re ready to learn the answer.

If you find it difficult, you might want to look into a course like Speakeasy, which was set up to help parents feel more confident talking to their children about sex, and to make them more aware of opportunities to do so [6]. If you can’t find a course near you, there are lots of helpful tips on the FPA website.

Working with your child’s school

Many of the parents who took our survey were keen to play a part in their children’s relationships education [1]. Young people are also more willing than in previous generations to talk to their parents about things that matter to them [2], but it’s easier to get these conversations in early, while children are still young. As they get older, children and young people tend to lean away from parents and teachers, preferring to learn from peers, or by looking things up online [1].

RSE is more effective when schools and parents work together [7]. Making yourself aware of what’s on the RSE curriculum when it launches can help you think about how you might approach conversations at home, perhaps building on topics that are being taught in school [6].

So, keep your eyes and ears open for the new curriculum details in 2019 and, in the meantime, follow our blogs for expert information about relationships.

References

[1] OnePlusOne (2018). Relationships and Sex Education: A submission to the Department for Education.

[2] Office for National Statistics (2018) ‘Children’s Well-Being and Social Relationships, UK - Office for National Statistics’. Retrieved online from the Office for National Statistics website: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/measuringnationalwellbeing/march2018.

[3] Ofcom (2017) Internet use and attitudes: 2017 Metrics Bulletin. Retrieved online from the Ofcom website: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/105507/internet-use-attitudes-bulletin-2017.pdf

[4] Frifth, E. (2017) Social media and children’s mental health: a review of the evidence. Education Policy Institute. Retrieved online from the Education Policy Institute website: https://epi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Social-Media_Mental-Health_EPI-Report.pdf

[5] Wilson, Ellen K., Barbara T. Dalberth, Helen P. Koo, and Jennifer C. Gard. (2010) ‘Parents’ Perspectives on Talking to Preteenage Children About Sex’. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 42 (1): 56–63.

[6] Kesterton, D. and Coleman, L. (2010) 'Speakeasy: a UK-wide initiative raising parents'confidence and ability to talk about sex and relationships with their children', Sex Education, 10: 4, 437-448.

[7] Pound, P., Denford, S., Shucksmith, J., Tanton, C., Johnson, A. M., Owen, J., Hutten, R., Mohan, L., Bonell, C., Abraham, C., and Campbell, R. (2017) What is best practice in sex and relationship education? A synthesis of evidence, including stakeholders’ views. BMJ Open, 7: e014791.  doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014791

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