Gender stereotypes and ideas about masculinity can often lead some parents and carers to assume certain roles in a family.
When fathers, for example, think that talking to young people about sex and consent is best left to someone else, it’s not just a missed opportunity – it can send a message to children about men’s attitudes to these important topics.
This article is about encouraging all parents/carers to get involved in conversations about sex, consent and respect even when sometimes they feel more comfortable leaving them to someone else.
These conversations shouldn’t just be about the ‘basics’ of sex education. It’s absolutely critical that young people are crystal clear about what consent and free agreement (i.e. consenting without being pressured or coerced by anyone) are, and learn the skills to negotiate respectfully, so that they can keep themselves and others as safe as possible.
Why should everyone be involved?
There are several reasons that all of us should be involved in conversations about sex...
- You model equality. When all parents and carers contribute to these conversations it shows young people that difficult social conversations are thought about and considered important by everyone – regardless of sex or gender. You are actively demonstrating that you take responsibility for these issues and consider them important.
- You keep your messages consistent. The topics of sex, consent and relationships can be confusing even when they are explained well. They get much more confusing if the messages are inconsistent. Where there’s more than one parent or carer you probably need to talk to each other about your approach and thoughts on a topic. Sometimes, opportunities to have these discussions arise unplanned, such as a when the family sees a high-profile rape case in the media. If this happens, try not to send confusing messages to young people. If there’s disagreement between adults, discuss it privately and have another conversation with the young person or people later to clarify any confusing comments.
- You show that supporting and raising young people is everyone’s job. Don’t leave all these conversations up to schools, the media, pornography or your children’s friends to explain. Good knowledge about sex, consent and relationships is one of the most important gifts you can give a child.
- You will learn more about the young people in your life, and they’ll learn more about you. These conversations will really show kids their parents and carers stand for respect and equality, and in turn deepen their respect for you.
When should I have 'the talk'?
It’s important to start having conversations early and have lots of them. It can be hard to cover everything in one talk, and your children will feel like they’re able to ask you questions if you often raise issues about gender, sex, sexuality and respect with them.
We all know that teenagers can be sensitive and embarrassed talking to parents or carers about sex and relationships, and may try to shut down or avoid these conversations. If parents/carers wait until they see the first signs of their child being in a relationship (e.g. long phone conversations, seeing them kissing someone) before they have this conversation, it can feel as though the talk is about discipline rather than education and support.
Ultimately, your family will decide who’s involved in what conversations and when. But remember, there are real benefits for the whole family and your kids’ future partners, when you start the discussions early, consistently, honestly and with everybody on board.