When I was about to plunge willy nilly into puberty my mother gave me a gentle lecture on the birds and the bees. Mum had lost her own mother very early and had no one to guide her through the intricacies of such a delicate situation so how she got through it I will never know. It was lucky for me that my mother didn’t believe that ignorance was bliss.
When it was my turn I was the modern mum with all the support and none of the hang ups. I informed my children from the very beginning on a need to know basis. If they asked, it meant that they needed to know. And the complexity of the answer depended on the age of the enquirer. There were no formal lectures; I made my responses deliberately matter of fact. By the time my children reached the self-conscious stage they were still coming to me for advice. So, here was one thing at least that I was doing right. (You can’t always tell till years later how successful you’ve been, parenting is a hit and miss affair.)
My grandchildren have perfectly capable parents, but I often found myself fielding questions or statements that had slipped through the cracks. I was patting myself on the back for making a success of it until one grandchild hit puberty and put a spanner in the works.
‘That’s a nice dress,’ a thirteen year old boy told my newly teenaged granddaughter. It’s possible that I did him a wrong. For all I knew, he was well on his way to being the next Dior or Armani, but his plans weren’t my concern except as they related to my granddaughter. ‘He has no business admiring your dress’ I told my girl. The last time boys admired dresses was when they were called togas. I explained about raging hormones and the need for her to be if not wary, then at least aware. Ignorance was not about to be bliss if I could help it.
Had I gone overboard in my need to protect and inform? Or, had the times, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, been a changing without my noticing them? To answer the last question first, things are most definitely different now than they were in my time. Children are bombarded with sexual images every day. Overt and subliminal messages arrive daily in the form of posters, television advertisements, magazines and the internet so it’s easy for everyone to confuse information with knowledge. I have to pull myself up sometimes and realise that our conversation might be heading somewhere that might be inappropriate for my granddaughter’s age. Children’s brains are not fully developed until they reach 25, no matter how sophisticated they seem. My granddaughter and her peers are not yet capable of separating the wheat from the chaff. They have no life experiences to draw on.
So, times may change, but people do not. Mother Nature isn’t interested in progress; she has had it all set up since Adam was a boy. There are the birds and the bees and there are the boys and the girls. To quote a song my preteen self once sang with only a suspicion of what it might mean: ‘multiplication, that’s the name of the game and each generation…it’s played the same.’ When my eleven year old self asked a friend what the lyrics meant, she answered ‘well, if you don’t know, I won’t tell you,’ which is pretty stupid, but believe it or not it’s what people used to say back then and what other people found acceptable. That memory has finally served a useful purpose. I decided that a family member, not an ignorant teen, was going to be the one to offer my granddaughter a rudimentary introduction to the concept of relationships and making choices.
And I thought I was going great guns until my granddaughter told me that it had all been explained in Sex Education at school. Being a well brought up child she waited until I had finished my talk before she hit me with it. It turns out that the lecture was mostly about the mechanics so there is still room for parents to manoeuvre.
Sex Education is not yet mandatory in this country, but there are plans afoot. Although teachers giving the lectures have not been formally trained, some three hundred schools have participated in a grand experiment. So successful was it, we’ve been told that the government has ‘included sexual education in the draft national curriculum, with primary school students being prepared for puberty, and secondary students to be taught mental health, sexual health, healthy eating, personal safety, body image and behaviours associated with substance use.’ I have to wonder, what parents can be thinking of to allow their jobs to be hijacked. No one seems to be making a peep about it. At the very least the parents should be out in force asking the government to keep their experts out of family business. Sex education, like life’s lessons, ethics and values should begin at home.
Perhaps the government can’t trust parents to do the right thing by their own children. I have to wonder if we are still living in a democracy. The government seems to have developed a breast and mutated into a surrogate parent. Schools are providing before care and after care and breakfast clubs. Late last year an academic (and that’s saying it all) suggested that ‘students’ weight should be included in their school reports to parents as a means of facilitating dialogue with parents over children’s health.’
At this rate, we’re going to have to wonder what’s left for parents (and grandparents) to do (and wonder how come teachers are so poorly paid).