Guiding your child through understanding relationships and sexual health is vital for their safe and healthy development. This section offers a wealth of resources to support you in these conversations, ensuring you have access to the latest information and best practices in sexual health education as well as keeping you updated on Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE).

What is Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE)?

Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) is intended to help young people develop healthy relationships of all kinds, not just romantic ones. RSHE is designed to be inclusive, catering to students of all genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds, and it emphasises respect, empathy, and understanding among peers. It covers understanding healthy relationships, managing pressures around sex, and recognising acceptable behaviours. RSE aims to improve mental wellbeing, without promoting early sexual experimentation. It builds on primary education, expanding topics into more complex relationship aspects as students grow. Additionally, RSHE includes legal education, internet safety, and addresses sensitive issues like sexual exploitation and domestic abuse, ensuring students can make informed choices and understand their rights and responsibilities​. To note, studies have shown that there is no link between the delivery of RSHE and earlier sexual activity.

Some key objectives of relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) at both primary and secondary levels are:

Increase Informed Decision-Making

The education aims to enhance children and young people’s ability to make informed decisions regarding their physical health and contribute to positive sexual health outcomes. This includes fostering consensual and pleasurable relationships.

Develop Critical Thinking Skills

RSHE supports the development of critical thinking skills, especially regarding gender equity, power dynamics in relationships, and digital literacies.

Develop Positive Relationships

It helps children and young people to develop positive relationships with themselves and others, based on respect and equality.

What do young people say about RSHE?

A survey of 1,002 young people aged 16-17 in England carried out by Censuswide between 2 and 13 December 2022, and commissioned by the Sex Education Forum, was conducted to gather feedback from young people on RSE comparing it to 2021 studies.

Some of the main findings from the survey, included

Increase Informed Decision-Making

The quality of RSHE varies, with 40% of young people rating their RSHE as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, showing a slight improvement from 2021 but with noted inconsistencies, especially between different gender identities and sexual orientations.

Variations in Quality

There is a notable difference in the perception of RSHE quality between genders and sexual orientations. Boys rated their RSHE more positively than girls, and straight students had a more favourable view than LGBTQ+ students.

Student Consultation and Parental Communication

There is a lack of student consultation regarding RSHE content and a notable gap in communication between schools and parents/carers about RSHE lessons.

Essex County Council also conducted a survey in June 2022, where 3,676 young people responded to the survey.

Conversations around sexuality and gender

For parents and carers navigating conversations around sexuality and gender with young people, it’s essential to approach the subject with openness, understanding, and support.

Here are some key points and strategies based on expert advice:

Express Love and Support

Let your child know that you care and support them unconditionally. Simple affirmations like “I’m here for you. I love you, and I will support you no matter what” are incredibly powerful.

Encourage Dialogue

Build trust with your child by showing genuine interest in their life. Ask about their day, friends, and interests. Use indirect conversations and media examples to discuss more significant issues like sexuality and gender in a less confrontational way.

Educate Yourself

Learn about LGBTQ+ topics to avoid misconceptions. Understand that sexual orientation and gender identity are not phases or conditions that need to be ‘cured’.

Stay Involved in Their Education

Advocate for inclusive environments in schools.Stay in touch with teachers and be proactive about addressing any issues of bullying or exclusion.

Look for Signs of Bullying

Be aware of changes in your child’s behaviour that might indicate they are being bullied or feeling isolated because of their sexuality or gender identity.

Team Approach

Don’t hesitate to seek support if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Collaborate with educators, healthcare providers, and LGBTQ+ organisations for guidance and support​​.

Promote Healthy Relationships

Encourage safe and age-appropriate dating experiences. Be open about relationships and ensure your child knows that LGBTQ+ relationships are normal and nothing to be ashamed of​​.

Monitor Social Media Use

Stay informed about your child’s online activity, as social media can be both a source of support and exposure to inappropriate content. Ensure they have a safe environment to explore their identity​​.

Local Support in Suffolk

For those in Suffolk, there are local, targeted support and community engagement for both you and your child. Engaging with local groups can offer a sense of belonging and additional resources tailored to your family’s needs​​.

How to start difficult conversations with young people?

The NSPCC suggests that when starting a difficult conversation with a child, avoid being too forceful as it may stress them out, but also avoid being too subtle as they might get distracted.

Here are some tips suggested by NSPCC

Start the conversation early and keep it age-appropriate:

Begin talking about subjects like personal safety, relationships, and online safety in an age-appropriate way from an early age.

Encourage open communication

Make sure your child knows they can come to you with any worries, and be there to listen and support them without judgment.

Use everyday opportunities to talk

Use situations like bath time, bedtime, or watching TV together as opportunities to start lots of small, ongoing conversations .

Plan what you’re going to say

Think about what you want to discuss and how to explain it in a way your child can understand, especially for complex topics like sexual abuse or mental health.

Listen and reassure:

Be there to listen, provide reassurance, and answer any questions your child may have, ensuring them that they can talk to you about anything. It’s OK not to know all the answers. You and your child can research the answers together.

Check what they already know

Find out what your child already knows about the topic so you can correct any misunderstandings and build on their knowledge.

Support for Young People with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

Here are some points that would be handy for parents and carers when talking about sexuality, gender, and sex education, especially for young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

Here are some key points and strategies based on expert advice:

Open and Honest Communication

Start conversations early and keep them age-appropriate, ensuring that the language and concepts are tailored to the young person’s understanding and developmental level. Encourage questions and express openness to discuss any topic.

Use Appropriate Resources

Utilise educational resources designed for young people with SEND. These should provide clear, straightforward information and help in explaining complex concepts related to sexuality and gender.

Normalise Conversations

Make discussions about sexuality and gender a regular part of your conversations. This helps to reduce stigma and makes it easier for young people to come forward with questions or concerns.

Express Support and Acceptance

Show unconditional support and acceptance, regardless of the young person’s questions, curiosities, or identity. This fosters a safe environment for them to express themselves.

Educate Yourself

Learn about sexuality, gender identity, and the challenges that individuals with SEND might face. This can include understanding diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and the importance of consent and boundaries.

Local Support

Seek out local support groups and services in Suffolk. These groups can provide valuable resources, support, and community connections.

Respect Privacy and Confidentiality

While encouraging open discussions, also respect the young person’s privacy and need for confidentiality. This builds trust and ensures they feel safe sharing their feelings and questions.

Professional Guidance

Don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance if you’re unsure about how to approach certain topics or if the young person needs specialised support. Professionals can offer strategies tailored to the individual’s needs.

Encourage Social Interaction

Facilitate opportunities for the young person to interact with peers and participate in community activities. This can help them develop social skills, understand diverse perspectives, and foster a sense of belonging.

Relationships And Sexual Health Education

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