What is the best way to talk to kids about the birds and the bees? When it is about sexuality education, conversations without the taboos work best.
I remember a time from my childhood when all of us were excitedly waiting for a new addition in the family. Excitement grew as days passed. The day had arrived, quite suddenly. I remember my Dad telling me that my little brother had arrived. I remember Dad starting our Bajaj scooter to take me to the hospital to meet little brother and mom. I was excited. Until I reached the hospital and saw my mom on bed looking worn out. I kept wondering that if God had come to drop-off my brother, what made mom fall ill?
I don’t recollect asking anyone about mom. Neither do I remember receiving any lesson on ‘How babies are born’. I don’t know how the myth in my head about God dropping off babies to hospital was busted. But realising that my parents went through the process to bring me into this world made me squirm. I believe my troubled relationship with sexuality started way back then.
However, it did not end there. It was worsened in grade four by one of my friends, who told me that girls bleed every month. I told her to stop lying. She ‘mother promised’ that she was telling the truth. I said, “Ok. May be only girls from your community have this problem”.
Both of us spent the rest of the afternoon in silence, terrified, not knowing who to ask if girls only from a particular community bled month after month. Silence prevailed until, of course, one day when the answer found its way to us. We had the answer when we started menstruating.
Our parents and teachers spent all their time and effort telling us about Akbar and trigonometry while we remained oblivious to our own selves. Asking too many questions meant being disrespectful. So silence prevailed all along.
However, not for too long. I soon discovered the ‘banned’ magazines in my mom’s dresser. I came across the Q&A sections in those magazines. Those were most interesting because real people were asking real problems. I found myself gasping and thinking, “Does this really happen?” The answers unfolded all the mysteries. That is the only sex education I have ever received. Except on another occasion when the lady who helped with chores at home told me that women stop menstruating when they got pregnant. Magazines and unsolicited knowledge was empowering. I had felt that I knew it all.
Except that I did not know much. With age and google, I realised that I needed to unlearn a lot of things. I set out on a journey of busting myths for myself and this was a difficult journey. Denial felt comfortable. Acceptance needed work. For long, I would choose the former.
Until the day when Ameen Haque, my mentor and founder of Storywallahs, decided to share his thoughts with me. I sat there wide-eyed, like a child, devouring all the stories he told. All the memories, good and bad, came rushing to me. Especially a particular one from college when a group of nuns visited our classroom and told us that there were holes in condoms.
So many memories, which even I did not know was buried deep under, started surfacing. That was the power of stories. Ameen told me that we had to create a curriculum on Sex Education for adolescents. The best part – it was to be a story based curriculum.
I believe a curriculum like this is needed because children do not have access to correct facts. Their source of knowledge is either Google or their friends. Google search sometimes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. When faced with a serious question/ confusion, a friend in the same age group is often sailing in the same boat and would not be of much help. This is where parents and teachers need to step in.
But how? I remember my red-faced teachers from my biology classes. Which meant that this was an uphill task. It was not easy. We have always concentrated on the need for educating teenagers about sexuality. However, completely missing out on equipping parents and educators with the right tool.
Most of you must be thinking that we created a tech based tool (an app of sorts) to solve this problem. No, we did not create an app. In fact we did not have to create anything at all. Because the tool was there with us all along. The right tool is ‘A CONVERSATION’.
Conversations are dwindling everywhere, and we had to think of ideas to foster conversation between parents/ teachers and teens. If a simple conversation was tough, talking about something taboo would be tougher. That is when the second tool came to our rescue ‘STORIES’.
Simply telling stories had it’s own difficulties – like:
- Teens might already know a lot more about the subject than parents/ teachers.
- Teens will verify most things you tell them on Google.
- Teens do not like being spoken down to.
- How does one get to know their side of the story?
- Sex education is lot more than safe sex, STDs/ STIs and sexual abuse.
To make stories work, this is what we decided to do. While telling a story, stop midway. Stop where the problem in the story is at its zenith. Stop there and ask questions that will help your listeners reflect. Ensure that your questions are open ended that must steer your listeners towards the end of the story. Remember – it is a story and there is no right or wrong. Remember – there can be more than one ending.
When I started my research, what surveys revealed were a tad bit shocking. What was worse is that I found most people point fingers at technology or blame parents for everything. Take for instance the recent suicide in Bombay allegedly because of the Blue Whale challenge or the news reports about children as young as thirteen taking to drugs. These facts are alarming. The blame on technology and parents has become more serious.
But I find myself asking if we should deny technology to our teens. Is it even possible to do so? Are we being fair by blaming technology and parents? Why can’t teenagers be allowed to navigate life without unnecessary pressure and judgements?
It can be made possible if we equip teenagers with the faculty of thinking before making a decision. They need guidance to make informed choices. Why can’t we, as their parents and teachers, do this?
Until we stop making choices and taking decisions for them, our children will be left with few options but to secretly experiment and satiate their curiosity. Unless we remove the judgements and filth from our minds, biology classes will continue to have red faced teachers and giggling students. Maybe CONVERSATION is the only path to change.
Author: Sangeeta Goel, Storyteller
Storywallahs is an organization that believes in the power of storytelling. We have developed a story-based curriculum on sex education for teenagers. To know more please write to us at email@example.com.
This article was first published on Women’s Web.
Image source: Flickr, for representational purposes only.