Our schools teach our children everything they need to know to succeed – right? Intensive classes, exams to help them get into the best universities in India and abroad, and even extra out-of-school tuition so they can compete with their global peers.

What is the need to teach our kids sex education? If anything, it will distract them from their studies and put wrong ideas in their heads.

Well, actually, when we watch our children, what we see is a safe, simple world – our kids go to school, study, and do their extracurricular activities. In reality, there is a lot of turmoil going on inside the adolescent mind. Take an average adolescent girl in India – she gets little information on her menstrual cycle so feels confused and embarrassed every month on her period, regularly gets harassed on the street, and then goes to school and does not know if it’s ok or not ok to talk to the boy she likes in class. If she faces some sort of sexual abuse from her teacher, she’s scared that she will get blamed if she speaks up – and she does not even have the words to say what has happened to her.

It’s a similar situation for the average adolescent boy. In addition, he is usually consuming a lot of pornography, shaping his perceptions about girls and women. Adolescents these days are actually battling deep insecurities, facing challenging social situations with no easy answers, and getting a flood of vulgar, sexist, and misleading information from the media, which is usually their only source of information about how to interact with the world. All of these factors are having a deep effect on our kids, and shaping them into the adults they will be in the future.

How do we combat this to create young adults who are confident in who they are, understand how to interact with each other in healthy and respectful ways, and are staying safe? It’s hard to have these conversations with kids because we do not know exactly what they are facing or what to say to them.

Contrary to what people think, that is exactly what sex education is. It is not about teaching children how to have sex – it is about informing them about what is happening in their bodies and also teaching them to make safe, healthy choices as they grow up. It is also about helping them understand that the messages that they are getting from Bollywood or pornography are not realistic and can be harmful. Instead, it is about helping them come to their own conclusions about what it means to be a successful, interesting boy or girl.

Here are few ways that sex education can help your child grow up to be a healthier, happier adult:

- Girls and boys understand that the changes they are going through during puberty are normal and natural. One of the biggest sources of stress and even depression in teenagers stems from not understanding that the changes in their bodies and emotions are normal, and that things will balance out after a few years. They blame themselves for all of their mistakes and awkwardness without realizing that everyone is going through the same thing.

- Boys and girls know to speak up when they face sexual abuse and harrassment. 53% of Indian children have experienced sexual abuse – it is time that children know how to recognize and speak up against it immediately.

- Boys and girls know the risks involved in having sex, amid growing peer pressure to engage in it. Enough said.

- Girls and boys learn about the facts of life from an accurate, supportive source, instead of from pornography. Wouldn’t you rather they learned about the biology from a trusted source, rather than from street myths and easily downloadable mobile content?

- Most of all, boys and girls gain a lot of confidence by knowing the facts. Knowledge leads to confidence, and confident kids perform better in life. Knowledge is not the culprit that leads to bad behavior – in fact, knowledge coupled with a strong value system leads to healthy, well-adapted youth who know how and when to draw their own boundaries.

Isn’t it time we demanded sex ed in all of institutions? If your school does not offer adolescent education, another great place to start is at home. Open up safe, non-judgmental conversations with your children about what they think of the latest Bollywood item number, and if they feel there is anything wrong about how relationships are portrayed in the media. Or, ask your child if he or she has ever liked someone in his/her class and what emotional difficulties he/she might be facing. You will be surprised at kids open up when someone is genuinely interested in having these conversations with them.

And keep us updated how the experiment goes! Send us a Facebook on https://www.facebook.com/ieshaspeak or Twitter message on @ieshaspeak, or send us an email at hello@iesha.co to let us know what new conversations you had with your teen.


Views expressed here are of the author alone and do not necessarily represent that of the brand.

More about the Expert:

Nilima Achwal is the founder and CEO of iesha, a startup focused on building and delivering digital courses on sexuality, reproduction, and gender.Previously, Nilima has worked in leadership capacities across advisory, field-level, and research roles that lie in the intersection of entrepreneurship and social impact. She launched and ran social enterprise accelerator program SEED at Villgro Innovations Foundation in Chennai, helping early-stage social entrepreneurs to strengthen their business models and raise seed funding. She has also developed business case studies for faculty at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, analyzed trends in social entrepreneurship with online consortium Next Billion, and assessed the impact of micro-loans on microfinance borrowers in Bolivia as a Kiva Fellow. Nilima graduated with distinction in Economics and Spanish from the University of Michigan. She has lived, studied, and worked in 5 countries across 3 continents.

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