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When to talk to the kids about sex? - By SHAMALA VELU

Parents and children always have many interesting conversations but perhaps the most important one is on "the birds and the bees."At some point, children who are intrigued by cooing babies will surely ask the question, "Where do babies come from?"Rather than looking surprised, it's best for parents to be prepared with some practical answers. While many have different views on when they should broach the subject of puberty and sex with their children, everyone agrees that kids need to be taught. Some children may be extremely mature and want to have a grownup conversation before they are eight while some 13-year-olds are still not ready.
So, when is a good time to talk to your children on this important issue?

Two parents share their views.

Andri Iskandar Nadzri, father to Rania Hanim, four, and Ines Sofea Hanim, two, says:
"I think it is absolutely important to talk to children about puberty and sex although at this point in time, it is more relevant to my four-year-old Rania than my two-year-old Ines. Although my children are girls, the responsibility of talking about puberty and sex lies with both me and my wife Asmahan, rather than only leaving one parent to do the talking. Both of us can talk to them from the perspective of a man and woman. I think as time progresses, exposure to sexuality is starting much earlier, which of course has its pros and cons. I already notice my four-year-old being curious about female private parts and her friends of both genders. But, I attribute that to being curious, rather than sexual in nature. I grew up in a time where sex education was almost non-existent and society was not prepared to talk about it (even though this was the more 'liberal' and free thinking society of the late 70s/early 80s). However, I do vaguely remember my parents talking to me about puberty, in a very subtle approach. It has to be said though, from my teenage years onwards, I began to learn more from friends due to the fact that I lived in boarding schools for most of my teenage life. Media, most especially print, social networks and the Internet can be considered ubiquitous in our lives in this day and age. The role of the media, in my opinion, represents a double-edged sword. Most of the content can be seen as positive. However, in the last few years, the issue that is frequently raised by concerned parents is the over-sexualisation of children at an early age, fuelled by irresponsible corporations, network television and print editors. Children and young adults today are increasingly being bombarded with material that is of a sexual nature. To me, this is one of the biggest challenges in trying to decide which content is suitable for my children. Parents certainly play an important role in discussing sex and sexuality with their children. Our society is advancing at such breakneck speed that parents need to be constantly evolving in their methods to approach a subject like this. What worked (or didn't work) back then may not work today, so parents really need to get involved in the education of sexuality.

We are already starting to educate our eldest, not so much on sexuality per se, but more on a fun biology/science angle on the human body. It's hard to say how much they are absorbing or whether their minds can comprehend, but that shouldn't stop anyone from trying to approach the subject. You just have to customise it according to your child's maturity.
In our household, 'sex education' is going in the direction of fun biology. For example, what happens when you feel the need to go to the toilet and the importance of hygiene and cleanliness. We even assign funny names for body parts, too! Going by our own personal experience, allowing kids to learn from friends always leads to bigger mischief and this is not what we want.
Teaching children to protect themselves is by far the most important aspect of why we must educate our children. This is especially true for parents who have kids at daycare or in schools. We need to constantly remind our children that certain things are not allowed and nobody should do funny things to them. Children should immediately inform parents if they feel insecure or frightened about someone."

Dayang Lily Abang Muas, mother to Mohamad Hakeem, 15, Nur Hannah, 13, Nur Hanees, nine, and Mohammad Harraz, eight, says:

"We are guided by our religion, which is Islam, when discussing the issue of sex and sexuality. Pre-marital sex is not permissible in our religion, so we emphasise this to our older children. When it comes to specific matters like puberty, then my husband will talk to my son, and I will talk to my daughter. This is done at the appropriate age (above 10 years old) when they are ready for it. In Islam, puberty comes with responsibilities. It is compulsory for them to perform their five daily prayers, fast during Ramadhan, 'tutup aurat' (cover parts of the body that should not be exposed according to Islamic belief). This is an important milestone for them, so we will get them prepared early for that.

To me, children should be informed about their bodies as early as two years old. At this age, I started telling my children that their private parts are not for others to see or touch, except certain people who will help them clean up. I tell them if someone touches or hurts them at any time, they must speak to me. This way, they are aware of what is right and what is wrong when it comes to their bodies.

As Muslims, we also start to instil modesty by telling young girls that they should cover themselves when other people are around and not go around without clothes on. In Islam, we believe strongly in modesty.
When children are older, we start talking about changes that will take place in their bodies. In Islam, women who are menstruating are not allowed to fast or pray, and as such young children will naturally be curious as to why mummy is not praying with them. At this point, I will explain how a woman's body is created to hold a baby in her womb (just call it 'tummy' for the smaller ones) and if there is no baby, the blood that was in the 'tummy' has to be expelled. The details of 'how' a baby gets into the tummy will be explained when they are older, like when they are 11 or 12 years old.

I believe talking about this topic should be done in stages, depending on the child's development. In my opinion, we as parents should talk to them first, as we want them to understand and follow our values and belief.

Again, we use religion as our guide to explain to children that sex is only allowed after marriage. The reason being, sex comes with responsibilities so Islam wants to make sure only those who are ready to shoulder those responsibilities are permissible to do it, and that needs to come with the vows of marriage. However, I came from a traditional family and our parents didn't talk about the birds and the bees to us. In my opinion, children learn a lot from the media and it has a lot of negative influences on them. Most of the western movies encourage boyfriend-girlfriend relationships and pre-marital sex. As a result, many teens are engaging in pre-marital sex nowadays. I think young adults feel it is 'okay' since it is widely promoted on TV and in movies.
Parents play an important role in discussing the issue of sex and sexuality with their children. For me, it's important to start early in getting them to be aware of their bodies and protecting themselves.

At home, I teach my children that their bodies are precious. It is not for others to see or touch and that they should stay away as much as possible from situations that will put them in a vulnerable position. Parents should build a good relationship with their children from young, so they are comfortable with you and are willing to be open with regards to discussing this topic. In Islam, we have a saying that for the first seven years of your child's life, you should play with them. The next seven years (7-14 yrs), instil discipline, and the next seven years (15-21), be their friend. I use this as a guide with my children, too.
When children start to become curious about the opposite sex, we must tell them that it is a natural process of growing up. However, these feelings shouldn't be their priority at this point in their lives as their main responsibility is to study and think about what they want to do in the future."

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