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Let children learn 'stuff' from each other

Stuart Waiton is director of

The recent Ofsted report on sex education in England concluded that "parents and teachers are not very good at talking about sensitive issues, such as sexuality". It added that girls aged 12 and 13 are now less likely to talk to their mothers about sex as traditional mother-daughter relationships change.

Perhaps I'm living on another planet, but the idea that parents are more "hung up" about discussing sex with their children today than in the past seems plain wrong.

If we start with this "mother-daughter relationship", what was this exactly? I suspect my mother's experience was not uncommon of being begrudgingly told about periods at 11, and then again at 16 having a mumbled "I hope you're not going to bring back any unwanted babies"

(following a neighbour's daughter getting pregnant).

The Ofsted report, Time for a Change, was based on research with children - always a rather dodgy basis for research findings in any case. A more mature reflection on young people's experience of their parents can be found in a 2001 report from the National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children, which involved more than 2,000 19 to 21-year-olds.

This report found that "freedom of expression" within families was extremely high, and that only 16 per cent of those questioned said they had found it difficult to talk to their parents about sex.I don't doubt that young people and their parents have awkward moments about intimate, sensitive issues - what's wrong with that? Surely, part of growing up is becoming self-conscious and embarrassed about certain issues. Children at seven run and ask their parents everything; adolescents don't. It may be awkward, but this is called growing up.

One gets the distinct impression that these sex "experts" would prefer young people to remain infantilised, running to an adult - preferably a correctly trained one - about their private affairs from cradle to grave.

So, how do young people learn about "stuff"? The media, yes, but also from each other. As my mother said about her experience, "kids talk"; and I suspect they talk more about their personal lives than ever before. Let them get on with it. And let parents and teachers talk to them about something more interesting.

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