Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Too Much Too Young?


Got your attention, didn't it?  It is a buzz word after all and opens up a lot of discussion and debates on every angle.  No more volatile a topic it becomes than when you put it into the context of education.  Teachers and parents are already under a lot of pressure to properly teach their children about the birds and the bees, given the rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  But when do you start teaching them?  What's the right age to start explaining different things to them?  It's already a hard enough question without some nuts barging in and putting their two cents in.

I'm refering to the Christian Institute here in England.  They have recently released a report that I shamelessly ripped the title of to name this post. According to this news article by the Guardian, 
Children as young as five are being shown "explicit" images to teach them about sex.
The Christian Institute has complained that at least 10 books or teaching packs used in English primary schools for lessons on sex and relationships, contain images or descriptions that are "obviously unsuitable". 
Now, being told that five-year old children are being shown "explicit" images is bound to get people talking.  But, how sordid are we talking here?

I'll wait until you finish laughing.

Apart from that looking like a bit of fun for us grown-ups, I have to say that it's not as explicit as some would think.  Heck, I drew worse when I was six! (I was a precocious little brat).  This delightful little picture is from the book "Mummy Laid an Egg" by Babette Cole.  I read the full version of the book and continued laughing. Through the chuckling, I was impressed.  I would show this book to my youngest niece, who is coincidentally five years old.  Apart from the page with the clowns (seriously, read the book), there is nothing in here that might surprise her.  She knows full well what a woman's body looks like, and I don't think seeing how it differs from a man's body would scar her for life (especially when the drawing in question left me feeling very sorry for the guy).  And it does show in a very biological sense how babies are made without being too sordid. 

The Christian Institute suggests that parents would be upset that these pictures were being shown to their children.  Okay, maybe you would be a little shocked - I don't think anyone over the age of twenty remembers ever being taught about sex in primary school because it was too taboo.  But speaking from a scientifically biological standpoint, knowing how babies are made isn't that bad anymore.  What child is satisfied with "the stork brought you" anymore?  I didn't buy it when I was five, what modern five year old would nowadays? 

I would also like to see what resources they have collected.  I had a nosey at the Christian Institute's website and came across this press release. There's books on oral and anal sex for ages five and up?  Prostitution?  Identifying the clitoris?  Some adult men can't find it, what makes you think a five year old could?  Again though, this sounds more like drum banging and inciting mob outrage.  I highly doubt that those books are for 5 year olds.  15-year olds, yes.   

To feel a little less raging at this article, I was happy to find another report on the subject by someone who knows what he's talking about.  In his counter article (also in the Guardian), Justin Hancock (editor for a sex and relationships website for young people) points out that sex education in the curriculum is more than just showing porn in classes to kids too young to understand.  It's about teaching about the family and friends, feeling that can arise in relationships, how to spot abuse and basically how your body works.  I had a read through the curriculum and at the questions posed.  Hancock states that this curriculum is also a recommendation - teachers and parents who have had regular contact with children are the only ones who can tell when a child is ready and able to understand the different points being made with regards to sex ed.  And I explicitly agree with one other thing - parents have a lot to do with their child's education.  It's no use plonking them in school and expecting the teacher to be able to teach them everything.  If a touchy topic like this comes up, I don't think you have any right to be outraged because you've made the decision to wash your hands of teaching your children anything when they come home. If you made a baby and intend to raise it into a fully stable adult, you need to have a large role in educating them properly.

As for teaching children when to recognise sexual abuse, I'm all for it.  Too many kids are being sexually abused and they don't understand why or how.  A little excerpt from the curriculum for 3-6 year olds asks
  • Which parts of my body are private?
  • When is it OK to let someone touch me?
  • How can I say ‘no’ if I don’t want someone to touch me?
  • Who should I tell if someone wants to touch my private parts?
It's a tough subject, but I am VERY sure there are plenty of people out there who wish they could have been told where they could go for help, or when they're victims of "bad touching". It doesn't stop at age 6 either, or at sexual abuse.  As you go higher up the age brackets, the curriculum suggests when to teach about how to spot when you're being abused, when to start sexual health issues and talking about homosexual relationships.  I might contest some of the age ranges for individual topics, but only based on my own experience and the level of understanding of the children in question.

Right, rant over.  Now I'm going to read "Mummy Laid an Egg" again and wonder how exactly you can have sex whilst tied to balloons in midair.

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