‘But why do they need to start learning Sex Ed. at age 5?’
My friend’s question was perfectly reasonable and at times the thought of Sex Education fills parents with fear and dread but that’s not surprising is it? Sex is an adult theme and we want to protect our children from even the idea of such things. In Scotland Sex Education has been replaced by a more inclusive programme of ‘RSHP’ (Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood). It’s also one of the areas I have the remit to teach in my school.
Parent’s of children starting Primary 1 will receive an information leaflet about what the programme entails for their child at each stage. Friendships, family and body parts are some of the topics covered in primary 1 but I don’t believe we should start teaching our children when they start school, I think as a parent it’s our responsibility to start the teaching much younger.
As parent’s we celebrate when our children learn to clap their hands. We dance with them when they learn to touch their eyes, or their nose, or their elbow, or their toes. Yet when it’s time to teach them the name of their private parts we let them down. We give them completely made up names for one of the most essential parts of their body.
So why does it even matter? Why do they need to know the correct names for ALL of their body parts?
Teaching small children the correct names for their body parts removes playground confusion (well I must be wrong because my friends don’t call it THAT) and avoids the risk of any child confiding in a teacher about inappropriate touching and it being missed because the child is using the wrong terminology.
1 in 20 children the UK have been sexually abused*
1 in 20
Research has shown knowing the correct names for their body parts makes children less vulnerable to sexual abuse; offenders are less likely to target children who are comfortable with the right names for body parts and children who have been told about the kinds of touching that are not O.K. are less likely to become victims.
And while as a country we are great at being reactive to the stories or the news reports of sexual predators being jailed; waiving our virtual pitchforks in the air, the statistics on child sexual abuse are not changing because we are not being pro-active. We are not changing the way we talk to our kids and we are not giving them the skills to protect themselves because we, as adults, are embarrassed.
Of course, this alone isn’t enough to keep children safe but it is one of the first steps in developing open and factual dialogue with your young child.
Ultimately for their future, empowering children to identify their own body parts correctly helps them to develop a healthy, positive body image. Private parts are not dirty, or shameful, or something we should be embarrassed to talk about.
So, if your child’s washing in the bath tonight and you tell them to wash behind their ears, their belly and in between their toes. Use that time to introduce them to the word Vulva or Penis and open up that discussion.
For parents and teachers who would like to know more about the RSHP programme in Scotland, and how to support your child with this at home, there is now a website available from the Scottish Government
For more information on signs and safeguarding visit the NSPCC