Make it easy for kids to talk about love and sex

April 18, 2018 - 09:00

Talking to your child about safe sex is easier said than done, but you should certainly practise free exchange of information on sex.

Illustration by Minh Chí
Viet Nam News

By Kiều Vân

The tell-tale signs were not difficult to spot.

My 18-year old son was in love.

I was neither shocked nor surprised, but like any other parent with teenage kids, I could not but be worried about how this would affect his preparations for high school examinations and university entrance examinations.

Since I had always given my kids a patient hearing, my son did not dither with his “confession.” He admitted that he did love a classmate, and that the “relationship” had been going on for about a year.

I have to confess that I did call his teacher to find out what the girl was like, but the next step was something my husband and I had to take on our own. We decided that he would talk with my son about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases, the changes and challenges that adolescence brings and so on.

It is not that I am in favour of teens having sex very early, but I recognise that it is very important that our children have the knowledge to make the right, safe choices, and they have the confidence that they can speak to their parents about anything.

But talking to your child about safe sex is easier said than done. My husband actually had to buy books and do some online research so that he could communicate clearly.

We are breathing a bit easier now. Both my son and his girlfriend are preparing for their high-school graduation and college entrance exams. They help each other in learning, go together to the training courses, and are trying hard to get the best results.

However, several parents I know were shocked that we took such a decision and could talk to our son about safe sex.

I would advise them to lend their ears to Doctor Trần Thành Nam with the Hà Nội National University. He says: “When a teenage child shares something, parents should listen so they can know whether he/she is in a “love” relationship, whether it is platonic or otherwise. Only then can parents take appropriate measures, provide their children with appropriate information so that they know what they need to avoid.”

A recent survey of six secondary and high schools carried out by Doctor Nam and his colleagues produced some “shocking” results, especially for parents with teenaged children. The doctor said many mothers found the findings difficult to believe.

Ten per cent of the ninth grade students interviewed said they’d had sex. This percentage rose to 39 per cent among 12th graders, with 10 per cent of them reporting having had sex with at least three different partners.

A colleague, mother of two teens, was rattled. “I have only been telling my 17 year old boy to study hard for the college entrance exams. Never mentioned sex ever to him. Never thought of it!”

Another colleague with twin teen sons said she was amazed that my husband could talk to our son about safe sex and share “sexual stories.”

Doctor Nam told the Tuổi trẻ ( Youth) newspaper that many parents still considered sex a taboo topic, something unmentionable. “If children can’t see their parents as allies, they will not dare ask parents for information, and will look elsewhere for it,” he said. 

Eight per cent of girls interviewed in the survey said they used preventive measures, but some of these were ridiculous and unscientific, like "using lemon to wash after sex."

Since the survey only covered six schools and not a large number of respondents, “we don’t dare to assume that it is typical of teenage students, but the survey makes it clear that there is much more sexual activity among school age children and at an earlier age than parents imagine,” Doctor Nam said.

And even parents who are aware that this is happening assume their children are not involved, “so they do not talk to their kids and guide them in avoiding problems.”

The survey also found that knowledge of contraception was not widespread among the respondents, with 29.5 per cent of the boys saying they used no condoms or any other contraceptive method when they had sex last.”

Doctors at HCM City’s Hùng Vương Hospital have reported there are many cases of girls aged 13-14 coming to the hospital to get their health checked, unaware that they were pregnant, their mothers having brought them for treating signs of vaginal infection.     

Between July 2017 to December 2017, the hospital received abortion requests from 231 girls under the age of 18, the Tuổi trẻ newspaper reported.

No parent can afford to ignore the implications of these reports.

Doctor Nam said that biologically, girls attain puberty between 10 and 12, and their male friends are attracted to them. Therefore, it is better that they receive proper information in time from adults they can trust, ideally parents.

Writer Thu Hà recently posted on Facebook her teenage girl’s message: “I know parents are worried, but the worry is their lack of trust. And teenagers don’t need anything more than trust. I want to be trusted by parents, and for them to believe in what I choose.

“I know that my friends and I, most of us, have loved or been loved by someone. Everybody dreams of getting their parents’ support and guidance, but it’s a vain hope.”

As parents, we need to listen to both the experts and our children.

As a society, however awkward and uncomfortable it seems now, our failure to trust our children and gain their trust on sexual matters can have far-reaching consequences that will cost all of us dear.

You don’t have to be an advocate for free sex, but you should certainly practise free exchange of information on sex. — VNS