A common query every mother inadvertently finds herself being confronted with is: “How are babies born?” While some blatantly ignore the question, others shy away from it, refusing to discuss it openly. Kanchan Roy was one such mum who found herself feeling awkward when her seven-year-old daughter raised the question. “And even as I was thinking of how to correctly answer her, she blurted that her friend told her about how the boys and girls had to have sex,” recalls a still flustered Kanchan. “But what worried me was that the moment my daughter noticed my shocked expression, she left the room immediately. That’s when I realised that I hadn’t handled the situation well enough. I guess I should have interacted more with her to know what she understood about it, but I wasn’t feeling comfortable because I was wondering if she would even understand these facts at such a young age.” Soon, however, Kanchan corrected her mistake and spoke to her daughter about the ‘facts of life’. Quite like Kanchan’s daughter, kids are naturally curious about the world around them, and tend to raise innumerable queries from a very early age. At such times, it’s best that parents ensure that their kids get the right knowledge from the right sources so that they grow up into sexually healthy people.
THE WONDER YEARS
While bringing up their daughters, most parents fail to understand how to validate and encourage a child’s sensibilities. Seldom do parents, for instance, encourage their children to enjoy simple joys like the fragrance of a flower, feeling the morning sunlight on her skin or just absorbing the sensations. It is such physical enjoyment that naturally evolves into sexuality at a later stage in everyone’s life. Experiencing a sensation is a very natural part of growing up. So when some parents squirm at the thought of having to answer questions on sex, it sends a wrong signal to their children that sexuality is an unnatural part of them, which is not the case. If a child touches his or her genitals, he or she is reprimanded by the parents—and that, there, is the first wrong step taken by them. But Dr Pavan Sonar, Mumbai-based consultant psychiatrist and sexologist, believes that the scenario is slowly changing, at least in the metros. “It is important that children hear these facts from their parents,” Dr Sonar observes. “Earlier, parents would make sex seem like something fearful and bad, relating it to morality. Now, however, more parents are talking about sexuality openly, although, strangely, still not about sex.”
Touch is a basic human sensory experience and the ability to receive and feel safe about a touch is as imperative in life as is experiencing the other forms of goodness around us. That is why sex education must begin at home. Kids need to be made aware of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ from a young age, even before they start schooling. According to experts, one of the best ways to deal with the most delicate phase of your daughter’s life is to approach it scientifically. “It is important to open channels of communication between your child and you; this will benefit both of you in the long run,” adds Dr Sonar. “Either parent must take the initiative to educate the children about their body parts, including (and especially) their genitals. For instance, as the child grows, explain each body part and refer to its anatomical name, without using slang words for private parts, like chi chi. This is the best way to educate your kids to respect their body. Moreover, this openness encourages them to report to their parents if anyone touches their private parts.” Dr Rajendra Sathe, a Pune-based sexologist, believes that parents should be receptive to the queries and changes in their kids. “If your daughter asks ‘sensitive’ questions, make it a point to answer them as matter-of-factly as possible, instead of avoiding or ridiculing her,” he advises. “In my practice, I have observed that most mothers have a lot of issues about sex themselves. Hence, the topic gets treated as ‘dirty’ talk.” That being said, Dr Sathe also believes that, if at any point, the parent is unable to address a certain query, it is best to admit to it and perhaps get a counsellor to properly address the child’s concern.
THE ADOLESCENT REBELLION
As a rule, no subject should be considered taboo at home. Indeed, subjects such as body parts, sex and vices should be openly discussed. Mumbai-based Mita Verma made it a point to introduce sex as an open discussion in the family. As a result, when her daughter Minakshi grew up and was to leave home for college, she didn’t think twice about asking her mother about safe sex. The sensible and smart mother that Mita was, she went a step ahead and explained to her daughter about risky behaviour, too, using the opportunity to educate her daughter about alcohol, smoking pot and other drugs. With all those hormones raging through their bloodstreams, teenage is a rebellion phase, and it’s common for most teenagers to resort to porn sites, online forums and older friends for information—none of which are essentially the best platforms for sexual knowledge. In fact, it is advisable that mothers talk to their kids about risky behaviours—a vital part of sex education—as soon as they enter teenage. Dr Sonar points out how the lack of knowledge about risky behaviour—like drinking alcohol or smoking cannabis, leading to altered sexual behaviour—can be detrimental to kids too. “Consuming alcohol due to peer pressure can lead to impaired judgement and kids indulging in risky activities like unprotected sex,” says Dr Sonar. “This, in turn, can lead to unwanted pregnancies, guilt, shame or even forceful sex, with the danger of sometimes being recorded in the act.”
THE IMAGE BOOSTERS
When it comes to sexuality, another very important aspect is to maintain a positive body image for your child. Most girls grow up following celebrities and stars as role models. And especially a few extra kilos on their body make them feel highly disappointed in themselves, as they connect it with being physically unattractive. Very often, mothers themselves tend to ridicule their daughters for being overweight, which can further lead to serious repercussions. It is important for mothers to be around for their daughters passing through such a phase in life, and facilitate a positive body image in them. If her extra kilos are a fitness concern, counseling her towards reducing her weight scientifically without de-motivating her is imperative. And while you are on it, encourage health and fitness, not thinness. Encourage her to understand the importance of maintaining harmony between her body and mind. This will make your daughter feel good about her body as well as her sexuality. But above all, be patient when it comes to her need for personal space and time. Understand that she is just trying to get used to her new phase of life as well as her rapidly changing body.
SELF-ESTEEM INTO SEXUALITY
Limited knowledge about one’s body and sexuality can later lead to emotional repercussions, like low selfesteem, which, in turn, leads children to feeling lonely, vulnerable and exposed to predators. Aware of their vulnerability, and yearning for attention and the feeling of being special, predators provide them with all of that, hoping to exploit them in the future, sometimes sexually. The emotional repercussions have other far-reaching consequences, too. “This is common in families where girls are not provided with sound knowledge and discouraged from experimenting with their bodies,” observes Dr Sathe. “Without a guilt-free understanding of how they can pleasure their bodies, these girls have a tough time during intercourse. Their inability to experience an orgasm often leads to a breakdown in relationships. Therefore, women especially must learn to let themselves free in their mind.” What most of us forget in the rush of creating leaders of our children is to teach them to experience life’s goodness and not just accomplish things. And as a parent, the best gift you can give your children is to educate them about sex and sexuality, the very integral aspects of their lives.