childrenwalkingAs we approach the end of 2013, JFHC and JSPHN editor Penny Hosie's thoughts turn to rites of passage:

With last week’s debate of the Children & Families Bill in the House of Lords, there was again a real opportunity to raise the SRE question. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Labour peer Baroness Royall (shadow leader of the House of Lords) this was not successful.

Harry Walker, who is Policy and Parliamentary Manager for Brook, the sexual health charity, said “Labour's efforts to implement statutory or a stronger environment for PSHE and SRE via amendments to the Children and Families Bill have been defeated, which is disappointing, although cross-party efforts are ongoing and will continue in the New Year, which we welcome.”

This is so disappointing. No parent or health professional today is immune to understanding the real pressures young people of both sexes face growing up. You can see it by the fact eating disorders and self harm are on the increase (and in increasingly younger kids) and there have been several deaths due to online bullying. Technology and social media have brought about a huge revolution and we are yet to catch up. Had terms such as “sexting” even been heard of just two years ago?

This is why I feel seriously concerned that we are losing sight of what really matters with regard to teaching the next generation about sex and relationships education in schools. Relationship education should teach girls and boys to respect each other’s differences and not feel pressurised or bullied into having sex prematurely.

I believe they should also be taught that although bringing up babies can be really hard work without effective support, it is far better to have them younger in a biological sense. This being the case, the groundwork for teaching children about good relationships needs to be strong.

I say this in light of recent research which says that 30 is the new age to have (preferably) conceived by when thoughts turn to starting a family, whereas previously it was considered to be 35+. Not only do you often have more energy, but it is better for the body and baby. And yes, I do feel qualified to make this statement as someone who delayed motherhood, like many of my generation did, born in the 1960s/1970s.

I believe we should also prioritise lessons about real life. Teenagers are often sheltered from life’s harsh realities, which does them no favours when they have to fend for themselves. We need to teach our children to be resilient, to be able to face up to life’s pressures. Not to scare them, but to buffer them against the shock of facing up to all of life’s infinite variety.

We await next year’s SRE developments with interest and hope that 2014 brings a year of positive change, opportunity and TRUTH for the next generation.