I have written before about broaching the subject of sex education with children (here). It’s something I was not entirely comfortable with and as a Muslim mother struggled to find the right way to go about this with my children.
The subject raised its head again last week, when Little Lady’s Year Five class were sent home with letters advising parents that the children were going to be taught Sex and Relationships Education in the new term. There were a number of reactions from parents that I spoke to. Some parents were adamant that their children would not be allowed to sit through these lessons. One Muslim mother thought it was important that her children did sit in lessons as she felt that it was just science and they needed to know about these things. The majority of the parents did not seem particularly bothered or interested, I found this surprising considering that about 75-80% at least of the children in my daughters school are Muslim.
Parents were invited to a meeting to go through the materials that the lessons would be structured about and to ask questions. I was one of about twenty parents who attended out of potentially 100-120. We watched two videos which I found to be fairly child-friendly and not overly graphic for the most part. One of the mothers felt that showing children these things before they were ready was just teaching them how to do them.
Another father raised the problem of boys teasing girls or harassing them and asked what policy was in place to deal with this. We were told that it would be dealt with under the normal bullying policy, but the SRE teacher seemed to think this was something that wouldn’t happen in her school. I thought the father asked a good question, I also thought with the encroaching sexualisation of children in the modern world, the SRE teacher was being a bit unrealistic if she thought such things didn’t happen.
I had noticed in the literature handed to us that the SRE session would be taught within a moral framework which included alternative families. I asked what was meant by this (knowing full well) and the teacher told us that this meant sex within marriage, co-habiting couples and same-sex families. Other parents hadn’t picked up on this and were taken aback. The teacher insisted that this isn’t something that was being promoted but had to be part of the discussion as not all children in the school were from the same kinds of families.
I thanked the teacher and left with some clarity about what to do next. I will be writing to the school and advising them that I want my child to opt out of the SRE lessons and that I will be providing an alternative myself.
There were a number of reasons for this. At age ten I didn’t want my daughter to be discussing kissing, boyfriends or sex. I am aware that children grown up much quicker these days, but I still believe that these things should be taught in an age-appropriate way. I am happy for my daughter to ask questions and lead the way in her learning at her own pace and in a more natural way.
I also believe that sex education shouldn’t be taught in a moral and cultural vacuum where any alternative is okay (as long as you are not hurting anyone – at least without their consent it seems these days). As a Muslim I believe that sex and relationships should be discussed within the context of marriage and that other alternatives are not appropriate for my children. Of my three children, one of my sons has one child in his class whose parents are not married and he finds this strange rather than accept this as the norm. Alhamdulillah I am happy with this.
Another significant reason I chose to opt my child out was because the videos had cartoons of male and female genitalia and also showed people swimming to indicate the changes in their bodies. This may seem very prudish to people, but as Muslims we are instructed to be modest (have haya) and guard our gaze:
"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do" - The Holy Quran 24:30
Abu Huraira (may Allah be please with him) narrated: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya is a part of faith." (Bukhari)
Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be please with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Indeed haya (modesty) and Iman (belief) are companions. When one of them is lifted, the other leaves as well." (Baihaqi)
It feels as if our children are bombarded with sexualised images through the media and advertising, pretty much everywhere you go. I have taught my children to look away and Little Lady in particular will object if something like this comes on TV if we are at someone’s house (this is one of many reasons we chose not to have TV in our house). I would rather they did not sit through the videos that are part of the sex education lessons.
I am aware that the other children who watch this will be talking about it and Little Lady will be party to those discussions. I intend to be honest with her as appropriate and as ever ask her to bring questions to me and to also be discreet (and not scandalise her grandparents with her new found knowledge!).
I have not found it easy to deal with this topic. My parents were too shy and embarrassed to discuss this with me properly and I learnt what I did from school and friends who were watching things they shouldn’t have been. In turn I had to push myself to be honest with my daughter and answer some questions in an age appropriate way and for others tell her that we would discuss this when she was a little older.
I think this is something that my generation of parents has to deal with. Considering how sex-obsessed the world is and how early our children are exposed to such things, we can no longer bury our heads ain the sand or get embarrassed and tell our children to stop talking about such things. At the same time we have to help our children maintain their sense of haya and remain within the limits that Islam has set for us insh’Allah
Discussing the Birds and the Bees - Part 2: Honesty, Modesty and Humour