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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

The importance of educating parents to educate their children

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

In today’s digital and highly sexualised world, there is a pressing need for relationships and sex education (RSE). Recent media coverage and increased public awareness around some of the topics it covers – such as consent, sexual harassment and the impact of porn – as well as the fact that it will be mandatory in secondary schools as of September 2019 mean that RSE is on the national radar.

Discussion of sex and healthy relationships – whether it’s through the lens of safeguarding, risk and danger or from the vantage of encouraging positivity and pleasure – is considered essential by most parents but seen as threatening by those parents who withdraw their children from RSE lessons. This opt-out policy, which affords no means of ensuring that children’s rights to RSE are being met at home, is driven by the demands of a vocal minority.

Research shows that most parents – the silent majority – support RSE and actively want to talk openly with their children. But because they lack the knowledge, skills, language and confidence, the powerful potential of parents becoming RSE educators for their own children remains untapped.

The key is parental engagement. Parents need education and encouragement from school in order to reinforce at home the RSE topics that are covered in the classroom. They need to be educated not just about safeguarding their children but also about supporting them in their sexual development and engaging them in positive conversation around sex and sexuality.

School-supplied tools such as written materials and video resources are useful. But interactive learning – putting theory into practice and learning by doing – makes a lasting experiential impact.

Just as children thrive on collaboration with their peers, parents benefit from the opportunity to come together with adult peers to share experiences and learn from other people’s perspectives. Panel discussions or small discussion groups make excellent testing grounds where parents can practise saying awkward words, tackle difficult topics and begin to clarify the opinions, fears or tensions that hold them back.