( By Dr. Vithal Prabhu )

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To The Parents

Dear Parents

Adolescence is a period of transition between childhood and adulthood. This is the period during which:

  1. The individual progresses from the point of initial appearance of the secondary sex characters to that of sexual maturity;

  2. The individual psychological processes and patterns of identification develop from those of a child to those of an adult;

  3. A transition is made from the state of total socio-economic dependence to one of relative independence.

Puberty is the beginning of the adolescence. The height increases and the long bones grow more rapidly giving “leggy” appearance. They are clumsy. Parents pay much attention to whether or not their child is pretty. Parents feel that the child is weak and therefore they feed costly tonics. But these don’t work. A high protein and vitamin containing diet should be given at this age. The boys and girls become self conscious about their look, face, hair and the girls about the development of their breasts. In order to hide their breasts, the girls stoop. The parents should discourage stooping and encourage them to accept what they are. If the parents have always kept their child under their thumb and always made decisions for him, or demanded strict obedience, he will not develop the capacity to make his own decisions. Therefore, when he goes out into life, he will be completely at sea. He will be devoid of will and character, and when he has freedom he will not know how to use it. The parents should realize that the youth is growing up to greater independence. He wants to go his own way, make his own decisions, choose his own friends, dress the way he likes and read the books he chooses. If the parents interfere with his normal development by laying down laws, he will resent it.

It is better that the youth learns self discipline during the earlier childhood and adapts himself to the new stage of life and its responsibilities through independance. The a dolescents also love responsibility. They should be given opportunities to do the jobs independently. There is a desire to be venturesome. They seek new experiences in life. They deliberately seek adventures. However, they lack experience and hence cannot anticipate possible dangers in their ventures. It is for the parents to explain these and share their experiences with them. Adolescents have a reputation of being rebellious and disobedient. This is because they are setting out to form their own views and gain their own independence. They are not willing to submit to the authority even of their parents. They claim the right to their own judgement; make their own choices and resent the adult dictatorship. The adolescents are trying to grow up, the function of the parents is to help them to grow up and not to hold them back. Therefore, the adolscents should be left to themselves, to do things for themselves and should only be given help when needed. However, the parents must not be surprised if the youths refuse to take their advice. Instead of accepting the advice against their judgement, it is better that they learn to think for themselves.

However independent the adolescents are, they still like their parents to take interest in them and their doings. They like others to appreciate their achievements. They should not be criticised if they don’t do well in the school. A little encouragement from parents goes a long way. It is not possible for every child to come first in the class. Many great men did not do well at school. Charles Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, Goldsmith did badly at school. Gurudeo Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekanand, Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi did not stand first in the class, even then they became great. It is the encouragement from the parents make them keep trying. If discouraged or criticised constantly they stop trying. Children always need love and encouragement. The parents should not try their unfulfilled ambitions to be fulfilled through children. Children have their own likes and dislikes. It is for the parents to recognise their likes and grant opportunities to them. Let them decide what they want to be. Parents unnecessarily worry about their children. There is always room at the top. If they choose the subjects of their choice they have better chances of reaching the top. Adolescents do not like nagging by their parents. If they do, the adolescents turn a deaf ear or become indifferent. They feel that their parents are possessive, bossy and underestimate their capability. Younger generation often challenges the values of the older generation. The parents do not appreciate this. However, the younger generation has important contribution to make by introducing new values.

The role of adults is not to protect adolescents from all adversities and from every difficult experience. They must allow their teenagers to do their own experimenting. With- out experimenting one does not become responsible. The role of an adult is to guide and give assistance if the experiment entails risk. Some parents feel that teenagers should be tolerated; others respond with a feeling of hurt,— “See how he treats me after all, I have done so much for him!” Still other parents put their foot down and become authoritative. These will only promote defiance and greater friction between the adolescents and parents. There are basic differences between the sexuality of boys and girls.

The boys are aggressive and girls are receptive. The boys should be told about the wet dreams and the girls should be informed about the menstruation before they experience it, i.e., by the age of 11 to 12 years. If the parents find it difficult because of their own inhibitions, they should give a book on sex education to them to read. Boys at this age are interested in the function of sex and girls are interested in how babies are born. Boys and girls at puberty or earlier may examine the genitals of one another and indulge in sex play.

As they see the cattles in the field or dogs on the street, they may practise “mounting” in their play. The parents need not be furious on this matter and beat the children. If you scold and beat your child, he may develop inhibitions, fears and complexes that may interfere with his adult sex life. He may not be able to consummate his marriage. The scientists like Kinsey and John Money have said that such sex plays do not make them homosexuals in adult life. This behaviour is normal and is a step in the sexual development. It helps in sexual orientation. John Money calls it “sexual rehearsal” of the sexual act with the opposite sex and finds it essential for adult normal sexual behaviour.

The child is curious about his body parts as well as those of the opposite sex. It is this curiosity rather than erotic feelings and the idea of imitating what he sees that provokes him to indulge in sex play. Every parent may not agree with the above views. No parent would encourage such behaviour in their children. They will be justified if they frown and discourage sex plays and turn the attention of their children to other forms of play, but they should never scold them and never get worried about the sex plays. The same holds good in the matter of masturbation. We come across cases where a responsible father warns his son not to indulge in masturbation because it would harm him. The child sincerely obeys his father only to land up in trouble after his marriage. Such individual cannot ejaculate semen and father a child because he has not put the reflexes of ejaculation into action since puberty. It has been proved that masturbation does not harm, but the misconceptions and fear of masturbation do harm. In fact, masturbation is a premarital preparation for postmarital sexual intercourse.

Parents need not be worried, if accidentally the child sees the parents naked or while doing the intercourse. They should behave as if nothing has happened. The psychologists suggest that seeing the parents nude does not harm the child. Sometimes, the parents are asked about their sexual activity. Without feeling embarrassed or ashamed the parents should tell the child that they were expressing their love to each other in a way that married people do.

The child should understand that sex is a way of expression of love and that it is appropriate for the married couple and is a private matter. Finding their daughter in love with her classmate should not make the parents throw tantrums. This will make them lose communication with their child. Instead, they should explain the difference between real love and infatuation, the limits to be observed during such relationship and possible pitfalls. It is best that they leave their child alone for natural development to take its course. The parents should wait and watch. It is not uncommon to find that their love ralationship changes frequently or terminates abruptly. This is natural. Even if the child continues the love relationship with the same individual, persuade her/him to postpone marriage. Perhaps she/he may change her/his mind during the postponement. Even if the child gets married and later ends the relationship, the parents are needed for love and support. The parents should assure the child that she/he will always be loved and cared for. The boys should be informed and warned that the sexual abuse is a crime. The girls should be taught how to say ‘NO’ when a known or unknown person intends to sexually abuse her.

Adolescents find a strong need to be like the peer group. This leads to their first experience with drugs, smoking or alcohol.

The drive for freedom, self esteem, insecurity, fear, anger tend to aggravate these addictions. A help from the psychiatrists should be sought at the earliest before the problem becomes irreversible. Drug dependence should be suspected when he comes home late at night and he loses his health, his need for pocket money increases, his text books, watch, ring, transister and some valuable articles disappear from home, he lags behind in his studies, a complaint is received about his absenteesm from the the college, he becomes arrogant and agitated, his dress is unclean, hair is not combed, beard is not shaved and he looks untidy. The parents should not be under false belief, “It cannot happen to my child!” The successful upbringing of children is the parent's job. It takes both father and mother to give life to a child and bring that life to maturity. Both should agree on different issues concerning upbringing, may it be freedom, discipline or punishment to the child. The basic needs of the child are:

  1. Security: A feeling of being wanted.
  2. Affecton: The child craves to be loved.
  3. Understanding: See the strong points and weaknesses objectively.
  4. Acceptance: Beware of comparison.
  5. Empathy: Share his feelings.
  6. Communication: Listen to the child and talk to him and not just scold, order or reprimand.
  7. Recognition: Encourage and praise.

The Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran has precisely defined the principles of parenthood through these lines: Your children are not your children, They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you, And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For Life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday. Your are the bows from which your children, as living arrows, are sent forth; Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness. Common Questions Asked by Parents/Teachers Is it all right to teach sex education to school children? Sex education in reality is “Sexuality” education. It is a value and attitude oriented education and not the education of sexual relations between a man and a woman. Sexuality is not obscenity. How could the very basis of existence of life on earth be obscene? Our culture has never considered sex as obscene. “Kama” (eroticism) is one of the four “Purusharthas” (duties and responsibilities) of a person. “Lingam” is worshipped in our culture. Moreover, obscenity is in the mind of the person who sees it that way and not in the object itself. Does’nt sex education shock young people? No. These fears are groundless.

Sex does not mean the same thing to a child as it is to an adult. Adults are accustomed to think of sex as feelings, attitudes, behaviour that surround physical act of sexual intercourse. Because of ingrained attitude towards sexual relations of adults, they cannot think clearly about young person’s need for sex education. Will sex education arouse child’s curiosity and create overconcern about it? Sex education if given properly does not arouse curiosity, but does exactly the opposite. Young persons who know that their parents and teachers talk freely with them about the facts of life, are less concerned about this subject than other children. Will telling children about sex promote sexual experimentation? There is no evidence to support this view. Several researches including that done by World Health Organization, have proved it to be the other way. Sex education encourages young people to delay sexual activity and to practise safer sex. The sex experimentation is frequently the result of growing concern and curiosity due to ignorance. Candid answers to young persons’ questions about sex lessens his need for finding out for himself and thus reduces urge to experiment.

Factual information helps children and adults make wise decisions. Without the knowledge of facts it is easy to make mistakes and get into trouble. Attitudes about sexuality are helpful while making decisions about their own behaviour. Curiosity can lead to sexual experimenting. Teaching children about facts and helping them to develop healthy attitudes will not prevent all the troubles, but it does help. Will sex education distract the students from their studies? Physical, psychological and emotional changes in adolescents create anxiety, fear, guilt in them. Researches have shown that by giving correct information and knowledge about sexuality they overcome guilt, shame and fear and feel more comfortable than otherwise. Sexuality education creates awareness in them about STD/HIV infection, premarital pregnancy and substance abuse and guides them to take right decision. Not giving them sex education may distract their attention from studies than otherwise.

Some parents/teachers say, “what will children think of me if I tell them about sex.” Such fears are needless. Such thinking of guilt and shame and embarrassment is in the parents’ teachers’ own mind and not in the children’s. They need not feel so regarding the facts of life for which they are not responsible. Parents and teachers are no more responsible for nature’s way with man than for the three seasons, the composition of the atom or eclipse of the moon. Sex instruction, if given calmly and truthfully, will not shock young people. How to stop children from knowing “dirty” words? The child does not know that the word has a sexual connotation. Parents should discuss the meaning and explain that it is a negative way to talk. Insist that the child should not use the word at home. Parents should not make children feel that they are unbelievably shocked. Children use such words for impressing friends, or to seek the attention, without knowing the meaning. How can we be sure our teenager does not have sexual intercourse before marriage? You can’t. All we can do is to do our best. Help him/her develop healthy attitudes to build a value system which includes confining sexual intercourse to marriage. Allow him/her to become an individual with independent action.

Most teens make a great effort to live upto trust and expectations of parents. They want their parents to be proud of them. Do boys need to know about menstruation? Do girls need to know about wet dreams? The earlier the members of both sexes come to understand the more sympathetic and caring they can be. Boys who think menstruation is funny or nasty don’t understand it.

Efforts need to be made to help children with their understanding and appreciation of both sexes. Animals do not need sex education, why then for human beings? Animal sexual behaviour is governed by instinctive pattern, while human sexual behaviour is profoundly influenced by social conditioning and individual learning. Human beings have the ability to modify the sexual behaviour depending upon the social or individual needs; the animals cannot. The animals do not face several problems as the human beings. Therefore, a proper guidance and information are necessary for the human beings. Sex education was not given before. What is the necessity to give it now? Sex education was given even before the times of Vatsyayana (ad 400). It was Swetaketu (500 bc) who introduced the institution of marriage in India. Several treatises have been written on sexuality before him and after him. It was after seventeenth century, when Britishers came to India that they brought “obscenity” with them and hence the sex education was discontinued. Now the entire world has realised the importance of it. A lot of reseach in sexuality has been done world over. An unpdated sexuality education is desired for better quality of life. Should it be mandatory? India is a free secular, socialistic, democratic republican country. There is also diversity in cultural, religious and social conditioning.

Sexuality being still considered as a subject of taboo, should better be optional than mandatory. If made mandatory, certain section of the community will oppose so strongly that there can be countrywide collapse of the entire sexuality education programme. Parent's permission and co-operation from teachers and heads of the institutions should be solicited. Therefore, they should be simultaneously motivated for sexuality education. Should it be included in the curriculum? To make it universal, the sexuality education programme should ideally be included in the school/college curriculum. However, since the teachers find the syllabus load already heavy, the sexuality education programme should be plugged into other subjects as found fit, or should be treated as an extracurricular activity. Could the programme be made universal? Other than the school/college students, the dropouts, the street children and the handicapped children would need sexuality education.

It is an herculean task to include all. However, school/college children make a big group and is administratively convenient. Therefore, it will be easier to start at school and college levels. No doubt, there are several NGOs, which have already been doing laudable work in sexuality education for other groups.

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