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Talking birds and bees with your kids

With most young people seeing porn by the age of 17, according to Classification Office figures, ensuring they have access to reliable relationship and sexuality information is essential.  A new online platform hopes to provide just that for both parents and rangatahi. By Sonia Speedy.

Te Puāwaitanga: Beyond the Birds and the Bees is a free platform launched by lecturers at the University of Canterbury (UC) with input from rangatahi. UC Adjunct Lecturer Dr Tracy Clelland says young people told them they wanted a platform like this as they didn’t always get the education they needed from their parents. Or they felt uncomfortable asking questions, and didn’t want pornography to be their main educator.

The platform (also available as an app and on Instagram and TikTok), pulls together information from sources such as Family Planning, the Light Project (which focuses on educating young people about online pornography), and the Classification Office. It’s targeted at 13-year-olds upwards but includes information relevant for younger ages.

“There is a lot of good information in New Zealand, just not in one place,” Dr Clelland says.

Young people also told the UC researchers parents needed the information as much as they did, so they could talk about issues together. Dr Clelland says communication between parents and their children is vital in ensuring young people can build healthy relationships – sexual or otherwise and complements what they learn at school.

How to support your kids

Dr Clelland describes relationships and sexuality education as like teaching kids to drive.

“You start slowly – you don’t just put them in the car and say have a go. Young people need opportunities to develop knowledge and practice skills over time. Parents play a fundamental role, but many tell me they feel overwhelmed by the information available out there.”

Parents need to think ahead about how they will broach these subjects with their children, considering things like exactly what the education is for, who it is for, and when it is for.

“I want parents to consider the needs of their children at different points in time. I want them to open up conversations so that there is no judgment put on children for asking questions.

“A five-year-old will have different questions and different information needs to a 10-year-old, to a 15-year-old,” she says.

Five tips for helping your child with the birds and the bees

  1. Start conversations when they’re as young as five, pitching it at the appropriate level. This may be as simple as talking about what it means to be a good friend. This starts conversations about consent and respect. Be as open as you can and willing to answer their questions. This helps to lay the groundwork for when they’re older.
  2. Ensure there is no shame or negative connotations around any discussions you have or any questions they ask you.
  3. Look for opportunities to discuss relationships and sexuality and then use open-ended questions, such as: What are your thoughts on that? What would you do in that situation?
  4. Don’t feel you have to know the answer to everything. If you don’t know, admit it, and suggest you look up the answer together.
  5. If they are asking about something that concerns you, you can say something like ‘That’s what other people might do, but in our family, we think….’

While some aspects of relationship and sexuality education can be controversial, Dr Clelland says parents can use Beyond the Birds and the Bees as a resource. They can pick and choose from material on the platform based on their own needs and beliefs or use it as a launching pad to discuss their ideas with their children.

Enjoy that? Read more about how you can help kids build healthy relationships.

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