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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Proof positive: how the Children’s Commissioner report validates parents talking openly

Two adult hands holding a paper doll family that is holding hands
In hand: parents have a lot to learn from young people on how to talk openly at home. Image: Children’s Commissioner

Stop press! The idea of parents talking openly with their children about sex and relationships topics – which is what Outspoken Sex Ed has always been about – recently made headlines with a new Children’s Commissioner report based on young people’s advice for parents.

The report Things I Wish My Parents Had Known – about what young people aged 16 to 21 have experienced around online sexual harassment, porn, sexting, editing photos, body image and sexualised bullying plus their tips for parents on how to talk about these topics at home – was launched on 16 December 2021 by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, a former head teacher. In Talking to your child about online sexual harassment: A guide for parents – which links to the report and a parent poster – she writes:

“Most children want support on sexualised bullying and peer‑on‑peer abuse to come from their parents. Parents sometimes feel uncomfortable because of the sexualised nature of the topics and because their children know more about technology than they do. But things that might feel uncomfortable to begin with will feel less so over time.

“The overriding message is: talk early, talk often. You might be surprised how early our young people felt parents need to start the conversation.

“Children want to talk to their parents about these issues. We know this because they’ve told us. Children want their mums and dads to create a safe, judgment‑free space to talk. Parents and carers need to grasp the nettle as they support their children”

Parents often lack the skills, resources and confidence to have open, honest conversations with their kids about sex and relationships. But it’s vital to teach yourself to become more comfortable in tackling tricky topics so you can model that everyday ease for your child.

It is also vital, as this report strikingly shows, to listen to your child. Our kids are the experts on their digital-native lives, and we need to learn from hearing about their lived experiences.

Evidence on the importance of listening to young people – which is crucial in parents talking openly with their children, in a sort of reverse mentoring – bears this out. For example:

  • Everyone’s Invited – the site started by student Soma Sara that hosts thousands (now 54,000+) of young people’s testimonies about sexual abuse involving schools – precipitated a review by Ofsted inspectors in June 2021

  • Parental openness and engagement with their kids around sex and relationships plays a large part in making the Dutch approach to sex education so successful

  • Young people want to talk to their parents about sex-ed topics – as the Sex Education Forum has long maintained, parents are, after schools, their preferred source

  • In 2000 the government’s Sex And Relationship Education Guidance even namechecked parents as being their children’s sex educators

So it’s fantastic that the Things I Wish My Parents Had Known report provides up-to-date evidence and more validation of parents being the missing link in their children’s sex ed.

It’s official: talking openly with your child about sex and relationships is one of the most important jobs in the world! That’s the premise of Outspoken – and that talking openly helps with safeguarding, improves mental health and strengthens the parent-child connection. The lived-experience advice in the Children’s Commissioner report clues us parents up on what young people think we should know – and how they suggest we talk openly at home about the often-sexualised online pressures that our kids are living through.

To see our favourite highlights from that Things I Wish My Parents Had Known report, go to our blog post on young people’s tips for parents on talking openly.

Let’s hear it for the kids! And let’s hear it from them…

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