There is wisdom in teaching sex education

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 April, 2012, 12:00am


My Primary Six daughter is doing sex education at school, and I feel it's too early to be learning about this subject. I've tried to talk to her about it, but she's really embarrassed and just clams up. I don't want to pull her out of the lessons, as this would make her stand out in front of her friends.

I think you are wise to allow your daughter to be included in these lessons despite your reservations. Sex education is just another strand of the personal, social and health curriculum and a very important one at this age. Many Primary Six girls in particular have started to develop, and they need to be prepared for the dramatic changes - not just in their bodies, but also in their feelings and emotions.

As raging hormones start to kick in with the attendant emotional issues, children need to understand that these ups and downs are a normal part of life that happens to everyone. Puberty will be dramatic enough without tackling it in ignorance.

Teaching about good hygiene is also important. Physical issues tend to be the focus at this primary school stage, leaving other more adult areas of sex education to be tackled, usually at secondary school. This is sometimes an area of controversy, especially given that children reach levels of maturity at different ages and that more research tells us, overall, this is happening at a younger age nowadays.

Most international schools approach this subject very sensitively and with a great deal of thought and planning. Their approach will often include plenty of small-group discussion, which tends to reduce the embarrassment factor. It also gives less outgoing students the opportunity to ask questions. Answering student queries can also be aided by an anonymous question box. Student-friendly, specially designed resources such as books and DVDs can be used as stimuli for discussion and to illustrate important features either graphically or using appropriate representations.

Some schools choose to separate the boys from the girls for the lessons. This helps those who are embarrassed about discussing these things with peers of the opposite sex. But these sessions may still include the viewing and discussion of factors relating to the opposite sex as a vital part of giving pupils the full picture. This also encourages a wider perspective as well as encouraging empathy for others.

Parents may be invited for a preview of any DVDs and books that will be used for sex education so that they can be satisfied that the material is appropriate for their cultural or moral perspectives. This can help to reassure parents. It also gives an indication of what their children may want to discuss with them afterwards. If this is not the case, I'm sure the officials at your daughter's school would be willing answer any questions you might have.

Some parents have very open relationships with their children and can easily discuss any aspect of their child's development. But others are happy for schools to take the lead in this matter, as they find it awkward to discuss sexuality and the reproductive system. A few may feel that it is a private subject they would rather tackle themselves when it arises. But unfortunately for some children, this can be too late.

Just let your daughter know that you are there for her if she has any questions. Don't push her if she's reluctant to discuss the whole issue. You will probably find that she will take it all in her stride and will learn what she needs to know successfully, along with her peers.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong