Welcome to the 21st century, where sexuality is no longer a thing to be ashamed of and sex is no longer hidden behind closed doors. This is the same world where our children will be growing up, and unless you are able to keep them under 24/7 surveillance, it’s high time we started teaching them the basics of reproductive biology.
This means that you have to equip yourself as a parent. For those of us in the sciences, it often comes naturally. But for parents who don’t know the difference between ‘virgina’ and ‘vagina’, a little more schooling will be required, because you can’t give what you don’t have.
Sexuality education is not a one-size-fits-all kind of stuff. It must be well-planned, well-executed and age-appropriate. As soon as a child begins to recognise his/her body parts, he needs to also know about his/her private parts. They need to know that the genital is a no go area for ANYONE except their primary caregiver(s). When they begin to approach the pubertal stage (around age 8), teach them a little more details, using pictorial demonstrations. Tell them what to expect in the coming years.
Children are inquisitive. They will ask questions. You must give answers. You must not lie or shut them up. If you don’t have a ready-made answer or you’re too shocked to answer at that moment, don’t try to change the topic or confuse them. Look for answers and come back to tell them later.
Teach them the differences between boys and girls and use that opportunity to teach the boys how to be responsible gentlemen, and the girls, how to be graceful and confident. Tell them about your own sexuality. If they ask you about pregnancy and childbirth, explain to them (age-appropriately) in simple terms. Be jovial with them yet, convincing. Don’t leave them doubting the correctness of what you have told them. This can make them go out and seek a “second opinion” from their (ill-informed) peers.
You must know the basic scriptural correlates of your own sexuality in order to give your child a broader perspective and use every sexual education session as a fiqh teaching opportunity. For example, if a child asks the mother why she is not praying/fasting, she must tell her why – she is menstruating. She shouldn’t stop there (depending on the age, gender and maturity of the child). She should explain the basic science of menstruation. She should explain the physiological and divine wisdom behind it. She should teach the boys how to be compassionate with the girls, because of the cramps and mood changes that come with the menstrual cycle.
Teach them the concept of ‘awrah (nudity) as understood in Islaam, and teach them how to guard their private parts. Just as you wouldn’t take your bath or dress up in front of them, let them also have that sense of “privacy” from childhood. From the age of 2, each child should be bathed separately. Islaam teaches us to separate their bedroom from age 10. They should learn to cover their private parts in front of strangers but feel free to inform you if there’s any problem (pain, swelling, discharge, etc)
If they report any unusual glance, touch or obscene talk from anyone, take it as a matter of urgency and seriousness. If you have to drop them off with a nanny, extended family, friend or neighbour, let them know your values and stick to it. No matter how tired you are after a hectic day, ask them how the day went. Do this consistently to build a strong relationship with them and make it easy for them to mention and discuss just about anything with you.
You should also double-check whatever they’re being taught in school to be sure that everyone is on the same page. If you detect any error, don’t hesitate to alert the teachers or school authorities. Not only will you be protecting your child from misguidance, you’ll also be helping other kids (and the society at large).