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Parenting 'Our sex ed class was delivered by a local church member — she was a disaster'

Growing up and learning about birds and bees have moved on, and that’s no bad thing, writes Margaret Lynch.

DON’T WE ALL just lose the absolute run of ourselves whenever that big yellow ball makes an appearance in the sky? The birds are singing, the kids are all outside playing in the fresh air, the paddling pool counts as a bath and the ice cream van brings dinner round at 7 pm. Can you imagine if we had this weather all the time? Or even just for Summer. We would be unstoppable!

Even our little pet rabbit has a spring in his step. Well, more of a Spring fever, actually, as he is all Netflix and no chill. He is throwing himself at literally anything that moves in the house, even the hoover was subjected to an unexpected game of Hide the Carrot. Personally, I blame the sun for sending him a little wonky.

young-lop-eared-rabbit-on-lawn-surrounded-by-wild-flowers Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

He has developed a particular fondness for fluffy pyjamas and will passionately fling himself at (and attach himself to) the ankles of anyone wearing them. And I mean, aside from the obvious inappropriateness of it all, it’s also a real trip hazard to walk through the hall with an armload of washing, vision obscured and have an ankle swept away.

Anyway, yesterday I walked into the kitchen and my older daughter was holding him in front of the TV, making him watch a YouTube video about consent! Imagine. I think I was in my late 20s when I first began hearing about and openly discussing consent.

Birds and bees

Consent is one of many topics taught to students under the new RSE curriculum and honestly, isn’t it just phenomenal that we have introduced a curriculum that is age-appropriate, medically accurate, non-judgemental and most importantly; relevant to the times they are living in?

When I was in fourth class, we had a lady from the local church come in for an afternoon of one-sided discussion and long awkward silences, which was absolutely excruciating for everyone involved. We were able to pick our own seats on the day, and my friend and I thought it was hilarious to swap our name tags. And within a class of over-excited, mortified (and slightly traumatised) 10-year-olds, it whipped everyone into a state of near frenzy. When the lady finally called me by my friend’s name, the whole class erupted in laughter and tipped the poor woman, whose nerves were likely already frazzled, completely over the edge.

She went off on a rant about dishonesty, and how we were the two people who really needed to hear about teen pregnancies and drug use, as we were the most likely to experience them. For us, it just solidified another part of the day that was absolutely mortifying and more than a little confusing.

Although it could be argued that it could only improve from that point, the whole programme has come on in leaps and bounds since. It covers so many more topics around healthy values and behaviours. The programme has so much more of an awareness of what kids today are faced with and the topics they need to discuss.

They talk about how to be a good friend, and how to identify someone who feels left out. They do role plays of different family dynamics and how to balance everyone’s needs. They talk about family outings being cancelled because the youngest isn’t well, or everyone wanting to watch something different on TV. These are two common situations that can have big or confusing feelings for kids.

Because we only had the very odd day of RSE in school the emotions would be so high that very little of what was discussed was actually retained. After a second afternoon session in 6th class, a classmate remarked how she couldn’t wait to have her period, and ‘get it over and done with so she never had to think about it again’. And at that time, she then had to rely on her classmates (i.e. me, and my patchy memory) to correct her and fill in the blanks in her information. Which is absolutely ridiculous for something so important.

Personal development

It’s great that the new curriculum gives more time to these topics, and ensures kids are getting the right information. And it also covers a wide range of other wellbeing topics such as making good choices and creating/maintaining healthy relationships.

Recently, one of my daughters was completing homework and one of the questions was ‘It is your birthday, but your boyfriend/ girlfriend has an important sporting event that they can’t miss, how can you handle this situation?’ I can assure you that her answers were very different from those I provided at the same age to the unfortunate girl who was the first in our group to get a boyfriend. My advice was much more like “hit him with a ‘who’s this’ text, then turn your phone off for 48 hours” (although, in my defence, that couple are now married with two kids).

female-teacher-showing-a-plant-pot-to-group-of-kids-in-class-at-school Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Now listen, I know that getting the rabbit on board with this new understanding of sex and consent is a bit of a stretch, but imagine the next generation where they have mutually fulfilling friendships and healthy relationships — a generation of people who can express their own needs comfortably and without causing hurt. Who can tell the hairdresser that they actually don’t like their new do, and it wasn’t what they asked for, instead of saying they love it and crying the whole way home?

A generation who can set healthy boundaries in relationships, instead of expecting the female to consistently put her own needs last while patronisingly referring to her as a ‘Superhero’ because she does a back-breaking amount of work each day.

The new curriculum focuses on navigating feelings and emotions, which are, of course, heightened over the coming years. They talk about nutrition, sleep hygiene, stress management and even what to do if the shopkeeper gives you too much change. For the Junior Cycle, they will introduce topics such as consent, pornography and gender identity and there are further plans for the Primary Curriculum also.

And in a world where they are bombarded with inappropriate videos designed to alter their values, as soon as they go online, sent by algorithms designed to capture their interest, the best line of defence is the repetition of our values, both in school and at home. These are essential topics for our kids, and it’s so important that they get used to discussing them openly. We want them to make informed decisions as teens and adults, respecting themselves and others, and having healthy relationships.

The days of ‘if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t happen’ are gone, we know that doesn’t work. We have such a short window to instil safe and healthy behaviours, and if we don’t, the internet algorithms and social media will happily do it for us.

Margaret Lynch is a working mum of two in Kildare. 

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