Most children and young people will grow up to have romantic or sexual relationships. Talking with your children as they grow can help them to be more informed and confident about themselves and their sexual health if and when they do start sexual activity. A parents/carers role in educating children is a vital one. For many parents and carers these conversations may feel worrying or uncomfortable. You may be scared that you’ll “get it wrong” or that having too much information might encourage young people to experiment. Maybe you feel like you don’t know enough about some topics to start or have a useful conversation. You may see stories in the news that scare you or suggest our young people already know everything.

Evidence clearly states that children and young people want parents and carers to talk to them about sexual health and relationships and help them with the skills and knowledge they need to grow up safely.

NHS Tayside runs the Speakeasy Parenting Programme across Tayside for any parent/ carer to support communication between parents/carers and their children of any age.


Speakeasy is a free course which helps parents and carers of children of any age to tackle the difficult and often confusing issues of growing up, sex and relationships. The project provides information, resources and support to help parents/carers to confidently chat about these things at home. It is funded by NHS Tayside and delivered by trained facilitators from various backgrounds including Community Learning & Development and Health.

The primary aims of the Speakeasy programme are to increase positive child/carer communication and to support healthy development of our young people as they grow.

Parents and carers take part in an 8 week groupwork programme where each session lasts 2 hours. They will also receive age appropriate resources to encourage discussions in the home and put learning into practise. Courses are delivered in various locations.

The programme covers:

  • Week 1: Culture and Messages About Sex
  • Week 2: What Do Children & Young People Need To Know?
  • Week 3: Answering Difficult Questions & Helpful Resources
  • Week 4: Safety
  • Week 5: The Online World, Young People & Relationships
  • Week 6: Puberty
  • Week 7: Contraception & Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Week 8: The Role of The School

An additional menu of sessions is also available to those who have already participated in the programme or who are looking after/working with older young people. These cover:

  • The Adolescent Brain & Risk
  • Young People & Pornography
  • Young People, Sex & Technology
  • LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender)

If you would like to find out more about the Speakeasy project please contact Linzi McKerrecher (Speakeasy Co-ordinator) on lmckerrecher@nhs.net or on 07920 503897. More information about the project can be found at our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Speakeasy-1651052668445100/?ref=bookmarks

For more information on what we offer read our Newsletter

Speakeasy Newsletter 2017

Evidence shows that open, honest and positive communication can keep young people safe. Informed young people are more likely to delay first time sex and to use contraception when they do. It helps them to make positive decisions about sex and relationships.

Children and young people want to learn about sex and relationships. This doesn’t just mean the “facts of life.” They need guidance to manage feelings, develop assertiveness and negotiation skills and form their own values. If you don’t talk to them someone else will. Being proactive with these conversations means you can choose some of the messages you want your children to hear.

Whether we like it or not children and teenagers receive messages about gender, sex and relationships on a daily basis. They are bombarded with images of sex and sexuality in films, magazines, adverts, television and the internet. Many of these can be confusing, contradictory and inaccurate. This can be tough for children to make sense of.

We can’t, and shouldn’t, remove our young people from their culture and the world they’re growing up in. But you can choose to talk with your child and make sure they get balanced and honest information. If you don’t they may get it from less reliable sources.

Try not to see this as a one-off chat but as an ongoing process. Start when children are small (and naturally ask lots of questions) and continue into adulthood.

Every young person is unique. As a parent or carer you are best placed to work out how to explain things. The age of your child and their ability to understand will impact on what conversations you have when. This is covered in more detail below. It’s best to start early, but it’s never too late. Most children and young people will benefit from the following when talking about sex, relationships and growing up at home:

  • Ongoing, age appropriate conversations that fit in with everyday life. This can reduce embarrassment and give the message that it’s okay to talk about these things
  • Honest and accurate information
  • A safe space to ask questions and check things out
  • A parent or carer who can raise the subject first and normalise it
  • Room to explore their own values and attitudes around sex and relationships without judgement
  • A knowledge of the “proper” terms for body parts (even if you choose not to use them all of the time at home)
  • Facts about puberty and periods
  • Conversations about consent, respect and healthy relationships
  • A parent/carer who knows how to find out answers and seek support if they need to
  • Positive role modelling around body image and healthy relationships

Top Tips

A good place to start is by asking what they know already: remember children get information from other places

The way you answer will depend on child’s age & stage of development

It is impossible to prepare for every question

Listen carefully & find out more: they may ask one question to test the water for others

Talk with and not to your children

Being truthful is the best policy, if you don’t know say so, you can find information together

Remember your own sex life is private, being too open can be just as disturbing for children as not being open enough

Check they’ve understood

Ask them for their own views & opinions. Don’t laugh at them, get angry or lecture

It’s normal to have feelings including embarrassment or uncertainty. Acknowledge them but don’t let them get in the way of educating your child. They may be feeling similar things and will need you as an adult to make them feel safe and comfortable

Try not to be too personal – you can talk in general terms about sex and relationships

Try not to make assumptions – asking about sex doesn’t mean they’re having sex

You don’t have to wait to be asked – some children won’t. As young people grow they may also be less inclined to ask direct questions. Use everyday situations (a pregnancy, news stories, sex scenes in films etc.) to start a conversation

Sometimes it won’t be appropriate or possible to answer questions immediately. It’s okay to say “we can talk about that when we get home” but make sure you do.

Practise – the more you do it the easier it gets

The following is a guideline of how children develop and age appropriate topics for discussion.

Under 5

Questions are often asked by children as young as 3 about bodies & babies as they try to find out about the world. A simple, short answer will do.

There is an awareness of girl/boy differences at this age. Try to use the proper words for body parts like penis, vulva and vagina, breasts and clitoris. This can help to make your child more confident about their body. It may also keep them safe from abuse as they can accurately name body parts. They will also go on to use the words at school.

Using books that show parts of the body can be useful to raise topic even when children don’t ask questions. You can find out more about these in our resources section.

Opportunities will arise to explain acceptable behaviour in public and in private.

It is common for children of this age to touch their own genital area for comfort or because it feels good. It’s okay to say this should be done in private, but try not to shame or embarrass them about being naturally curious about their bodies.

Unwanted touching: it’s important for all children to know that their body belongs to them. No-one should touch them and they shouldn’t be made to touch anyone (e.g.cuddles and kisses) without their permission or agreement. Parts that are usually covered by a swimsuit should never be touched. There may be some exceptions to this rule such as washing a child, being checked over by a doctor etc. Discuss with your child when this is okay. For example, it’s okay for a doctor to touch you there if mum/dad is there and they’re trying to help you, it’s okay for mum/dad/carer to wash you in the bath but no-one else. They should also never be asked to touch someone else in these areas.

They will also start to mix with other children at nursery/school & learn things from them. If they use new words or are asking questions you’re surprised by have a simple chat about what they’ve heard.

Primary School

They will be mixing with more children at school & learning about families & friends, stranger danger, different feelings & where living things come from & how they grow.

At around 8 years old children will discover more about how bodies work but will need more info about how their bodies are changing.

Hormonal changes may start in girls including mood swings & breast development between 8 & 10 years old. Some girls may start periods as young as 8 so it is important to start having conversations about managing this.

It is also important for boys to know about male & female body changes as, although they usually start developing later, they will notice the changes in girls in their class.

By the time your child reaches upper primary it’s a good idea to have discussed the following:

Respecting self & others

Respecting individuality

Different kinds of relationships (including gay and lesbian relationships)

Expressing & dealing with feelings & emotions

Keeping safe (including online)

Developing positive & supportive relationships

Body changes

Conception (how babies are made)

Children at this age already being exposed to messages on TV, films, online etc. – use these images to chat about reality vs. fantasy, positive body image and gender/sexuality stereotypes

Secondary School

Most boys start going through puberty after age 10/11. These will probably be emotional (mood swings etc.) to begin with & you may not notice any physical changes. Wet dreams may start once the body begins producing sperm.

12 is the average age for girls to start their periods (although many start younger)

Receiving many different mixed messages & very influenced by media & peers.

Sexual feelings may begin around 10 to 12 years old and both boys & girls may start masturbating & develop crushes.

By 13/14 most will be attracted to the opposite or same sex. Some may feel worried about fancying people of the same sex. Some young people will never develop any sexual feelings but may still want to have close relationships.

Romantic & maybe sexual relationships will begin.

More independence from family & more time spent with friends (unsupervised)

Young people will start to have more freedom online

At this age young people need help to:

Develop communication skills for healthy, respectful relationships

Understand their rights and responsibilities

Explore feelings & emotions

Delay sexual activity until ready

Resist peer & media pressure

Develop healthy body image

Develop confidence to say no

Develop negotiation skills around what feels right & safer sex

Develop skills to manage online life as effectively as the offline world

Accurate info around contraception and Sexually Transmitted Infections

Knowledge of helpful services (free condoms etc.)

Understand culture and how it impacts on sex and relationships (this includes conversations around pornography and sending/sharing indecent images)

Teens may hold back because they are embarrassed, feel your embarrassment or think they know it all (or should know it all.) They may be aware sex is not discussed in family or worry that they’ll appear to be sexually active by asking.

Some young people may need extra support or a different approach to communicating about sexual health and relationships. All children learn in different ways. Repetition and using various resources can help. Young people with additional learning needs or who have missed some schooling may need extra input to ensure they understand. Your school have a role to play in this too, if you’re concerned about your child’s learning in any area let them know.

Children and young people spend a lot of time online, and as a parent it can be really hard to navigate what is going on. The key here is to be informed and keep the conversation going and remember the positives.

Remember that the online world has many benefits for young people – even if something’s gone wrong they will still want to be part of it.

Pornography

Not all young people watch or have a problem with pornography. It is normal for young people to be curious about sex. Research findings vary but it is generally believed that first time access to porn usually happens between the ages of 11 and 14. By 15 most young people will have viewed sexually explicit material somewhere. The main concerns around this are whether young people’s developing brains can critically process some of the material they’re seeing and what impact this may have on their own sexual behaviour and expectations.

Pornography content can vary. However the majority of mainstream porn portrays very set sexual scripts where men dominate women, sex is often violent, no-one talks about contraception and no-one seeks consent. This can give young people conflicting messages about sex and pleasure. Young men in particular are more likely to use porn as an educational tool and to transfer this learning into real life situations. Young women are more likely to feel body dissatisfaction after viewing porn, affecting body image and self-esteem.

If we don’t talk about porn these messages remain unchallenged.

Some tips for addressing pornography include:

Don’t assume that all young people access or use pornography

Install parental controls

Avoid using a shared PC to access porn yourself

Discourage young person from spending too much time alone (though accessing porn can often be a group activity with friends)

Banning may not always be helpful

Communicate  about healthy relationships, gender stereotypes, culture, expectations, their own and other people’s (peers) attitudes towards porn, about sexual health and about the misleading information they may be exposed to in pornography. Don’t just lecture, allow room to explore beliefs and values

Ensure young people understand the possible risks of downloading particular images or accessing certain sites. Make sure they know the law around possession and sharing indecent images of anyone under 18. However if they’ve been a victim of this ensure they know they’ll be supported and not criminalised.

If your child is viewing porn compulsively look at reduction strategies

Access help if you need to

Role-model positive, respectful relationships and promote equality at home

Sharing Sexually Explicit Images and Messages

An indecent image can be defined as photographs or films showing people engaged in a sexual activity which would not usually be done in public, or with their genitals, buttocks or breasts exposed or covered only with underwear.

Evidence suggests that this is on the rise among young people. This may be because of increased access to technology that enable this or because culturally it’s seen as “normal” amongst peers.

There are many reasons why young people might send these images. They may feel unable to say no, worry what people will think if they don’t or be really proud of their body and want to share it. For some people sharing these images is a way of flirting or sharing intimate stuff with a partner.

Evidence suggests that the most pressure in this area comes from peers/friends that young people already know.

The Law & Sharing Sexually Explicit Images and Messages

It’s against the law for anyone to take, have or share a sexual photo of anyone under the age of 18. This means taking, sending and sharing indecent images of yourself is illegal under the age of 18. It’s also illegal to take, have or share an indecent image of anyone else under 18.

If someone is pressured into taking a photo, or their image is shared non-consensually, this is an offence. This is true even if the image was shared consensually in the first instance. If this is reported, the police have the power to decide what they do with that information.

If young people are under 18 and have shared images with each other without threat or coercion then it’s unlikely that the police would want to take things further.

The law is there to protect young people, not punish them.

Top Tips

Make sure you’re up to date with what apps and Social Networking Sites your children are using. Talk to them about their online lives and have them as friends wherever possible

Ensure children and young people know what to do if they see something that scares or upsets them online. And make sure you know what to do about this if it’s you they tell. CEOP website has more information about this

Ensure young people understand the possible risks of downloading particular images or accessing certain sites. Make sure they know the law around possession and sharing indecent images of anyone under 18. However if they’ve been a victim of this ensure they know they’ll be supported and not criminalised.

Sexual behaviour online mirrors sexual pressure in the real world. Try having open and honest discussions around sex and relationships at home, including issues around consent and respect

The age of consent in Scotland is 16 for girls and boys, whether straight, bi, gay or lesbian or trans. This means that if they are both over 16 and want to have any sexual contact then they will not be breaking the law.

If one young person is under 16 and one isn’t then the one who is over 16 is breaking the law.

If two young people between 13 and 16 are having sex and this is consensual (ie. there is not a large age difference, there is no power imbalance and no coercion) then any report of underage sex to the authorities may be viewed as a child welfare concern rather than criminal behaviour.

A younger child in Scotland counts as anyone under 13. Any sexual activity with someone this age is a criminal offence. The law states younger children do not have the capacity to consent to sexual activity.

Laws around pornography state it can only legally be accessed by an adult 18 years and over. Online porn sites are soon going to be held more accountable for proving the age of their audience.

In Scotland it is illegal to create, possess or share a sexually explicit image of anyone under the age of 18 including yourself. 

Why?

The law is not there to stop underage teens from having sex together, it’s there for protection. By having a legal age around all of the above we can prosecute those people who take advantage of children and abuse young people.

Young people have the right to access sexual health services, including condoms and contraception, before the legal age of consent. Under 16’s have the same right to confidentiality as adults. However, workers in all services have a duty to make sure that young people are safe and not in any kind of abusive situation. If there is a child protection concern they have to report this.

There are lots of useful resources to help support communication around sex and relationships at home.

Books

Children, especially younger ones, learn well through books. Have a look at books recommended Speakeasy Handout 5 Useful Books

Websites

There are lots of useful, accurate websites where you can find out more information about Speakeasy Handout  Useful Websites