The recent news about teens and sex, especially relating to the chat site Alamak is indeed worrying. In one news, a few men were persuaded to strip in front of the camera and were then extorted by a 17 year-old girl and her 21-year-old boyfriend. In another case, a twelve-year-old befriended a man in the same chat site and was lured into having sex with him.
It was thus timely that Health Promotion Board (HPB) conducted this free seminar for parents. Since it was free, I had expected more of my friends to go but surprisingly, most were nonchalant, or felt it was a non-issue with their children. I had organized many parenting talks and workshops to date in my role as SFE coordinator and had always, without fail, learn many new things to become a better parent. I am thus irritated by parents who complain about not knowing how to handle their children and yet refuse to ‘upgrade’ their parenting skills. Of course, they think the problems are often with their children, not the parents. According to an article I read recently dedicated to the late Prof James Q Wilson, a social scientist, one way to prevent social crime is to strengthen the family. MCYS must be commended for the School Family Education programmes for this purpose but only if more parents feel the need to attend.
I am thus happy to have two friends who share the same thinking. On a Saturday morning two weeks ago, these friends and I met at Holiday Inn Concord to attend the seminar on what is meant by Sexuality in the Digital Age. Dr Foo Fung Fong gave an insightful keynote address that frightened me, already self-professed to be quite digitally intelligent, yet I found myself ignorant in most counts relating to the TGIF (Twitter/Google/Ipad/Facebook) generation. Parents wrestle with teens on the what is known as the modern view (absolute truth, universal value) and the teens’ post-modern view (relative truth, tolerance). When teenagers decide which view to follow, what absolute truth do you as parents want to pass to your children?
Nowadays, the media and music are all about expressing one’s sexuality. We were notified about this controversial teen drama called ‘Skin’ on MTV which normalises sex, drugs and alcohol for teens. I also learn about an online rape game which one can be downloaded for free. In another game, Minx, with 500 minor members from Singapore, kids can dress up their avatar like celebrities and even buy condoms. Of course, the most dangerous sites are chatrooms. Then, there is sexting. In a Straits Times survey, 15% of 700 people 17-24 have sexted.
Nothing worries parents more than knowing their teens are having sex. In 1995 -2002, there were 45.7/100k of STI incidence among teens 10-19. In 2003-2010, the figure sky rocketed to 141.6/100K. In 2010, there were 7 HIV cases under for those 15-year-old.
The point for telling us all these: the simplest fact of talking to your children about sex reduces the likelihood they will have it.
So, what can parents do?
1) Stay Current.
2) Stay Safe – teach online safety. What is public and private info. Put PC in common area. Use internet filters.
3) Stay Connected – Communicate, give full attention to your child and listen with your eyes and ears. Ask questions. Don’t lecture.
The parents were told that teenagers know the right answer but they need affirmations from their parents.
4) Seed first messages – accurate and explicit. Positive messages are more potent than negative messages.
5) seize teachable moments – The best teaching of a child occurs at teachable moments when discussion and interaction occur naturally with the events and needs of daily life. Strive to be a ‘askable’ parent. Use stories as testimonies.
After the key-note speech, the parents were divided into groups to different workshop. I went to a workshop for parents with children aged 11-14 years old. There, we were taught to teach our children between good touch (between people who love each other) and bad touch (uncomfortable, in exchange for gifts, or in secret.)
My friend attended the one for parents with children aged 15-18 year old. She found it really useful just to connect with other parents with the same issues.
My friends and I left the seminar, weary that there are so many predators out there, and angry that there are unscrupulous companies like MTV and others who pray on our children. We are now more informed and hopefully shall be more prepared to communicate with our children. (I couldn’t wait to talk to Aaron but had to keep reminding myself about seizing teachable moments. But phew! He hasn’t heard or watch Skin on the internet.)
In case your are interested, log on to this website www.parentstalksex.sg and watch the series Four Chapters, all about talking about sex with your children. As a parting shot, remember this, sexual education is the shaping of characters and values. Don’t neglect it.