Every parent agrees that education is crucial for their children. But, when it comes to sex education, most parents still find it taboo.
In the first two months of the year, the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) received 223 reports on child sexual abuse, of which the majority of the victims were boys.
KPAI commissioner Retno Listyarsi said most of the cases occurred at educational institutions. What was more shocking was that the majority of the perpetrators were teachers, who were expected to act as role models for their students and their schools.
The abusers used a variety of methods to lure their victims, such as convincing them of ruqyah (that evil forces were in their bodies), eliciting their help and even using the threat of punishment.
The taboo surrounding sex education should be eliminated as soon as possible, as the idea is outdated in the contemporary reality: There is real urgency for developing strong awareness to protect our future generations.
Sex education means arming children with the proper understanding of gender equality and tolerance. It also teaches children to be able to set their own boundaries, particularly regarding their physical space. Sex education aims to prevent children from engaging in sexual behavior beyond their age, by recognizing what is right and what is wrong.
The more knowledgable children are about their own bodies and sexuality, the better they will be able to protect themselves from unwanted advances, even from authority figures.
Here are some tips on how to start approaching sex education with your children:
1. Don’t wait until children get older
Sex education can be started from the time children are 3 years old, or whenever we start toilet training. We don’t need to wait until children get older or until they start asking about sex and sexuality. It is better that parents initiate the subject, rather than wait for their children to do so.
For example, we can use toilet training as an opportunity to introduce children to the intimate parts of their body. Teach them the names of each part of their genital organs, using the biological names. If your child is a boy, use “penis”, not titit or burung. If your child is a girl, use “vagina”, not dompet or other alternative monikers.
Parents should be confident and firm in their approach. Don’t show any hesitation, whether in verbal or nonverbal language. If we are hesitant in our explanations, children may find it difficult to trust what are telling them.
Remember that explaining “what” is important, but “how” we explain it is key to the child’s understanding the information.
2. Respond positively to children’s questions
When children suddenly ask about sex or sexuality, we might be shocked and react by trying to ignore them – or worse, by scolding them. Instead of protecting them, these kinds of negative responses make children withdraw from us.
The appropriate response when children ask about sex is to be open and positive. Respond to their question with a smile and openness so that they feel comfortable in asking us. It is also important to let them know that we are happy to have an open discussion with them about sex.
Remind them also to ask more questions if they want to, and show that we are happy to talk about sex with them. Doing so will help children feel safe, and tells them they can come to us, their parents, whenever they have a question about sex or sexuality.
3. My body belongs to me
The most basic thing we can teach children is which parts of their body others can touch and which parts others cannot touch. Even toddlers can understand this.
Since most children love to sing, we can use song as a teaching tool. The song, “Sentuhan Boleh, Sentuhan Tidak Boleh” (OK to Touch, Not OK to Touch), and the accompanying dance, which is available on YouTube, is recommended.
In addition, explain to your children that no one may touch their mouth, chest, penis/vagina or buttocks. Parents may touch these parts, but only for helping them bathe. Doctors may also touch these parts, but only when their parents are present, and only as part of a medical checkup.
It is also important to encourage children to practice saying “no” and call their parents for help whenever they feel something is wrong or when a stranger approaches them.
4. Encourage children to speak up
We can teach children that they have the right to speak up when someone harasses them indirectly. Indirect harassment includes verbal and online speech as well as physical gestures that are intended to “tease” or as a “joke”. Remind them that they should feel comfortable about their body. If someone humiliates or “jokes” about them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should say “no” and call for help immediately. This will help them learn to respect themselves, sooner rather than later.
5. Respect their choices
When we are with our children in public or visiting relatives or friends, there will come a moment when others may want to embrace them or show other forms of physical affection. Many children don’t have any problems with this, but some children may not like to be touched at all.
We must respect this and explain their choices to our relatives or friends, as politely as we can. Doing so will not only help boost our children’s confidence, but will also help protect them against any unwanted advances from within our private circles.
6. Keep your eyes & ears open
Potential abusers may not be an “outsider”, and may be someone we know.
I had a friend who was sexually abused when she was still in elementary school. Shockingly, the perpetrator was her brother-in-law. She didn’t dare tell her parents at the time.
As time went by, she tried to tell her elder sister that her husband had abused her many years ago. She also tried to tell her parents. Instead of getting support, sadly, her elder sister scolded her, accusing her of making up the story.
The family should have been her primary support system, but what my friend got was the opposite. Even though things are better today, she tells me that she still can’t forget her worst memory of being sexually abused. She is still traumatized, although she is learning to forgive her brother-in-law and heal herself.
7. Standing up for others
Not only do we need to encourage our children to speak up when they feel uncomfortable or have received unwanted attention of a sexual nature, we should also encourage them to do the same when they see someone else in a similar situation. This is called “bystander intervention”.
We can teach them through simulating a situation or environment, but also through example, so they can learn how to respect others as well. (dev/kes)
Risma Yunita is a freelance teacher who is currently working with the Abhiseva Community, which focuses on preventing child sexual abuse. She also loves reading books and craft-making. Check out her Instagram @rismayw