EXPERTS believe that with increasing sexual content on screens today, parents more than ever, need to have “the talk” with their children.
It is also vital that parents create an approachable environment where children feel safe to discuss these matters.
Despite the ratings for shows that are clearly made for adult viewers, there are children and teens who can and have gotten access to the racy content.
“Due to early and frequent exposure to sexualised media content, and easy access in terms of availability and accessibility, the risk of sex addition is higher, not only for adults but also children, ” says marriage and family therapist Charis Wong.
Wong explains that early exposure to sexual content means that kids start becoming curious about sexuality earlier, and hence, straight talk about the birds and the bees, sexuality issues, pornography, and how to protect oneself from sexual abuse and predators needs to start earlier than before.
“Kids may also be influenced to assume that whatever sexual content that media portrays is the norm. For example, is it normal to be having sex in high school, or is it normal to have sex on the first date?” Wong, who is also director of KIN & KiDS Marriage, Family and Child Therapy Centre, observes.
She believes that having parental controls on streaming sites is “definitely a good start”.
“From the workshops we have previously run with kids on creating awareness and protection on sexual abuse, we discovered that many kids still have unlimited access to the internet, ” she said.
However, parental control differs from one parent to another.
“What is adequate parent control? I think many parents are under the assumption that their kids are wise and mature enough to have good judgment as to what to watch, what to surf on the Internet and what personal information to disclose on social media so they might not monitor their kid’s usage of the internet, ” she says.She believes that some form of age limitation and proper parental supervision should be in place, regardless of how “mature” parents perceive their children to be.
Consultant Urologist and Clinical Associate Professor Dr George Lee is also of the view that parents must play a bigger role in educating their children about sexual health.
“We are more desensitised (to sexual content) now, but how much that line can be crossed, that line is determined by ethical and parental guidance, ” says Lee, whose professional interest is in men’s health.
Dr Lee predicts that showing naked bodies and the act of sexual manoeuvres on screen will raise a lot of questions.
“For the liberals, it would be a great opportunity to discuss issues to do with bodily functions, sexual reproduction, the age of consent and also bring down the taboo to create dialogues about sex, ” he says.
“For the conservatives, it is pushing the envelope for youngsters who are sexually naive and then also perhaps guiding the young ones into early initiation of sexual contact even though they are not ready for it. There are two sides of the coin, and to get the right balance would be an opportunity for parents to be open enough to discuss based on what their children see on television, ” he says.
He emphasises the importance for parents to have these discussions with their children because whatever is portrayed in film and entertainment channels may not reflect the true reality of positive sexual relations.
“Whenever there is a portrayal of sex acts which involves more than one partner, some degree of violence or all sorts of devices, some younger individuals may consider that normal but in truth it is fantasy, ” he says.
“If they somehow begin to think that this is normal sexual behaviour, and they engage in such fantasy in a relationship, then they may demonstrate a lack of respect for their partner and may look at their partners as a sexual object rather than an other half that is loved and respected, ” he warns.
However, Dr Lee believes that there is benefit to normalising the portrayal of sexuality as it can remove the negative taboo of sex.
He notes that in the past, excessive secretiveness on sexual matters has led to curiosity, which has driven many youths into trouble and raised concerns relating to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teenage pregnancy.
“Sex is a normal bodily function. As generations move on, that taboo gets less which is a good thing as long as the previous generation engages and guides the younger generation on what is right and wrong, ” he says.
“I think suppression is not going to work. Just telling the younger generation that they are not to ask questions and leaving them to work it out themselves is a big mistake, ” he says.
Therefore, Dr Lee advocates for parents to create an environment where they can guide their children in an approachable and positive way in order to instill whatever values the household subscribes to.
Early Childhood Care and Education Council President Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng also believes that parents have a big role to play when it comes to teaching their children about sex.
“Though children should know about sex and should not treat it as a taboo, the storyline should carry good moral values and human rights perspectives. However, the storylines often fall short to help children acquire good understanding of sex and sexual relationships, ” says the former University Malaya Professor of Social Psychology.
Chiam says that having parental control on streaming sites can help in a way, but she believes that this by itself would not be the best solution because children will still not be able to learn the right and wrongs of sex.
“(Parental) control may increase children’s resentment and adversely affect parent-child relationship, where trust is very important, ” she says.
“Parents need to interact with their children from a young age to teach the right attitudes, moral values and ethics by being role models, having discussions, providing reading materials and viewing good programmes together to build a good foundation, ” she says.