Sex ed study focuses on younger children

Parents are to be asked about the difficulties they have talking to younger children about relationships and sex.

The HSE’s Crisis Pregnancy Programme has appointed researchers to carry out a study on what inhibits or what can enable parents to communicate with children from the ages of four to nine about relationships, sexuality, and growing up.

The findings will help the development of supports for parents on how to talk to children about such issues, with resources already available for older children on the service’s website.

A 2012 study by the University of Southampton’s Centre for Sexual Health Research investigated the same issue among parents of three to seven-year-olds. It found the need to protect childhood ‘innocence’ was among the barriers to communication, along with personal discomfort for parents; fear of criticism and judgment; and uncertainty over suitable timing or the age-appropriateness of explanations.

The CPP expects its research to be carried out among 80 to 100 parents of children aged from four to nine. There will be a focus on including parents who might traditionally be hard to reach, such as parents from more deprived areas, and ethnic minority groups.

“Early exposure to good quality sexuality education has clear implications for improving mental and physical wellbeing, as well as on individuals’ ability to develop appropriate competencies and skills to achieve health sexual development, and endeavour to avoid sexual exploitation and abuse,” a spokeswoman said.

The work will be carried out by Trinity College Dublin’s School of Social Work and Social Policy over the coming year, led by Dr Catherine Conlon and Professor Virpi Timonen.

Sexual health and awareness is covered by the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) strand of social, personal and health education classes (SPHE).

But previous research suggests a stronger relationship is needed between schools and the home when it comes to RSE for older children.

“A strategic action for us is to examine opportunities to strengthen ties between SPHE/RSE implementation within schools and the home. It is anticipated that this research will inform this process for parents of primary school going children,” the CPP said.

Research for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is exploring the commercialisation and sexualisation of children.

A spokesman for Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister, said she thinks it is important to better understand and respond to the increasing influence of commercialisation and sexualisation on childhood, and the findings will inform future policy and regulation.

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