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In Focus: Involving Parents in Reproductive Health Education for Youth

In some cultures, parents and family members such as aunts, uncles, elder sisters and grandparents are influential sources of knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and values for children and youth. They are role models who shape young people’s perception of gender roles and influence the choices that youth make about their own sexual behavior., Parents and other family members often have the power to guide children’s development toward healthy sexuality as a natural, normal, and progressive experience within the life cycle. They can help their children develop and practice responsible sexual behavior and personal decision making. There is some evidence that teens who live in stable family environments and are close to their parents are more likely to remain sexually abstinent, postpone intercourse, have fewer partners, and use contraception.

Yet in almost all societies, educating children about sex is not a task that parents and other family members find easy. Many feel uncomfortable talking with children about the subject. Perhaps they are reluctant to expose their own lack of knowledge about anatomy, physiology, or other related information. They may worry about how much information to give at what age, based on the unfounded belief that the provision of this information will lead young people to experiment with sex. Many adults did not receive sexuality education themselves, and some have fears arising from their own negative sexual experiences.7 Adult family members, therefore, tend to shy away from actively educating youth about issues relating to sexuality. What many fail to realize is that giving no information or evading young people’s questions can send negative messages about sexuality.

When young people do not get information at home, they seek answers elsewhere—from peers, the media or their observations of other adults. This can lead to misinformation and the persistence of damaging myths, making young people vulnerable to unwanted and unprotected sexual experiences. The result may be unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and low self esteem. In cultures where young people report wanting information from adult family members about sex and reproduction, educating parents and other family members can help adults feel more confident in addressing the reproductive health questions and concerns of youth.

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