It's a parent's responsibility not to rely on a blanket approach to what constitutes age-appropriate information, writes Lee Suckling.
If you're a parent now, your sex education at school was probably abysmal. You would have learned about erections, "babymaking", and were maybe given the chance to put a condom on a banana. Then you would have been sent packing.
Sex ed (now called sexuality education) has improved in schools, but according to a 2018 Educational Review Office report it's no better now in New Zealand than it was a decade ago.
A recent GeoPoll survey found that a third of high-school pupils prefer to get their sexuality education from social media over school or parents. It's less embarrassing and more easily accessible, or so they think.
In New Zealand, individual school boards get to decide what goes into sexuality education, and what stays out. This is based on consultation with a school's community, so if you're in a conservative area, it's likely your local school is leaving out quite a lot.
As such, parents might be failing to fill in the gaps in their kids' sex ed at home.
Parents need to sign their permission for sexuality education in this country, and are told in very basic terms what their kids will learn. However, they won't be told what's actively being left out, to what extent aspects of sexuality are emphasised (and de-emphasised), and how an individual teacher's bias will come into play.
So, all parents of under 18s: you need to talk to your kids about the sexuality education they receive at school. It's your responsibility not to rely on a blanket approach to what constitutes age-appropriate information. Don't rely on someone else. You should be making sure your children get well-rounded information on sexuality, and have the ability to ask questions and reflect.
Sex ed in schools is generally the subject of a lot of laughs. Pre-teens and adolescents think concepts like periods and penetration are wildly entertaining; they're prime territory for joke-making. It's also not easy in this kind of environment to ask serious questions about non-traditional sexuality (e.g. homosexuality and gender issues) for fear of being bullied later about it.
I can't provide you with a definitive list of what kids should be learning about sex, and neither can schools. This can be uncovered (and tailored) at home through conversation; even if your children would prefer just to go online and save everyone from the awkward conversation.
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It will be embarrassing at first – for you and for your kids. But it's also necessary. The responsibility for a comprehensive education on human sexuality shouldn't be farmed out to schools and social media alone.
So while you're at it, discuss with them what your children are learning about sex on the internet, too. Is it accurate? Is it open-minded? Is it cognisant with modern ideals of consent? Other questions to ask are things like what are they learning from pornography, sexting, and Instagram. How does this inform kids' views on self-worth, gender dynamics, and body image?
Through these sorts of conversations, young people can learn to take a critical eye to sexuality information and not take everything at face value. This is so vital because sex ed shouldn't all come from one place. People need varying views presented to them from different sources.
Now we are adults, we can see that our sex ed left much to be desired. There's so much we didn't learn. But it's 2019 and today's young people are deserving of an open space outside of the classroom to release taboos and normalise them. I believe this space is best incorporated over the dinner table or on the couch at home – without fear, guilt, shame, or censored attitudes. Sex ed might have failed us. Let's not allow it to fail again by encouraging the easy notion that it is somebody else's job.