Experts: Schools have role but sex education begins at home

Parents here are finding it difficult to speak to their teenage children about the birds and the bees, but family experts stress that fathers and mothers are in the best position to impart correct sex knowledge to their children.

This comes even as more teenage boys are paying for sex, according to a Straits Times report on April 10. The findings have raised questions on whether more should be done to educate teenagers on sex education.

Contributors to The Straits Times Forum page last month warned of the psychological and physical damage that could be caused by casual sex among teens, and called for parents to consider the importance of discussing sex with adolescents.

Parents who The Straits Times spoke to said they felt responsible in educating their children about sex, but said they were often hindered by the awkwardness of the topic.

Business owner Wayne Tan, 46, who has two children aged six and 13, said: "I know I shouldn't wait too long to broach the topic, but I am unsure how to go about doing it such that it doesn't become uncomfortable for both of us."

AWKWARD TOPIC

I know I shouldn't wait too long to broach the topic, but I am unsure how to go about doing it such that it doesn't become uncomfortable for the both of us.

BUSINESS OWNER WAYNE TAN, who has two children aged six and 13, on the awkwardness of sex education.

But the Reverend Yap Kim Hao, a former Methodist bishop, said it may not be realistic to be over- reliant on parents for sex education as many may not be adequately equipped, having not been through sex education themselves.

He called for "comprehensive sexuality education" to be introduced in schools, as he felt that what is available now does not adequately address the issue of sexually transmitted infections among teens, "which will get worse if proper education is not provided".

Mrs Hershey Regaya, the programme manager for education and outreach at Family Life Society, said Singapore does not lack sex education programmes.

Even so, she said many teenagers have trouble dealing with their sexuality, leading to problems like addiction to pornography and teenage pregnancies. This could cause further problems like strife between the affected teens and their families.

In response to queries about sex education programmes in schools, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said sex education is available from the primary school to junior college level.

At the primary school level, sex education topics taught include managing changes when growing up and building healthy relationships. At the secondary school level and beyond, issues on sexual health and behaviour are taught, along with prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and decision-making, among others.

Said MOE: "Abstinence is presented as the best protection for teenagers against pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections or HIV."

The ministry's stance is that sex education should begin at home with parents, continue in schools with teachers, and be supplemented by community efforts.

Social workers and religious groups also emphasised the role of parents in strengthening their children's sex education.

"We believe that schools are doing as much as they can, (but) the component of sexuality education that touches on values is always best done by parents or adults who the family trusts," said youth specialist Aaron Ng, from Focus on the Family Singapore.

But how might parents do this?

"Parents should be unafraid to avail themselves as the first go-to person for their children when they have questions. They may set boundaries that they expect their children to observe, and these should be undergirded by family values," said Mr Ng.

Mrs Regaya recommended that parents make a deliberate effort to attend talks and workshops, as well as research on and read about sex education. "Research shows that talking to children about sex leads to lower frequency of sex in adolescence and less involvement in risky sexual behaviours," she added.

Dr Firdaus Yahya, the manager of Darul Huffaz Learning Centre, an Islamic centre, said parents should initiate discussions on sex with their children at the right time, such as using a film to start a conversation.

"Approaching the issue matter-of-factly will remove the embarrassment," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Experts: Schools have role but sex education begins at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe