Comment: Tween sex (i newspaper)

 The life and loves of a she-devil mini series, first screened in 1986

It stars at number four on the ‘cringeworthy incidents of my childhood’ charts.

Aged around, OK I admit I was probably 13, I was stuffed sullenly in the sitting room sofa, post-enforced family tea time, watching the Confessions of a She-Devil TV mini series on video.

Not my choice, clearly.

‘What are they doing?’ I thought aloud to my parents, who gazed back while avoiding eye contact in the horror of mutual repression, wholly unable to explain the extravagant and naked sexual cavorting on screen.

‘What do you think they are doing?,’ replied my mum. ‘Don’t you know?’

Classic avoidance.

Er, clearly I wasn’t 100% or I wouldn’t have piped up.

Reality was, as a prolific reader of novels of all kinds by 13, I knew the basics at least and perhaps more than that, but sometimes these things need clarification away from the realms of fiction.

I stormed out the room in a classic tweenager-style tantrum of humiliation.

Even then, and despite their status as former occupants of the supposedly sexually-liberated seventies, my parents were too embarrassed to explain.

This means that somehow, despite eight years at various schools, 13 years of not particularly sheltered living as a sporty child, two siblings and a gang of friends, I was none the wiser about the realities of sex.

Hard to believe in this information age, with young girls pregnant at 12, sexual predators omnipresent on the web, explicit pop culture via video-streaming, the perils of Snapchat and inflatable penises prevalent thanks to the hen-do culture, that children could possibly be still be as naive as I clearly once was.

Though the apparent ease with which grooming, exploitation (and old-fashioned teen pregnancy) happens, perhaps indicates otherwise.

So at what age and how do you talk to children about sex?

For parents this issue can be a horror-show as they try and overcome embarrassment on the subject, the discussion of which is just not British.

Assuming they learn everything in school is just not enough in times where sexual bad behaviour dominates social media and real life at all corners and ages of the spectrum.

It seems impossible to gauge when childhood ends and adult awareness begins but nobody wants this too early and certainly not too late.

Even harder to navigate if you are not even the child’s parent, or maybe teacher, and have no real authority.

As a prolific auntie (of both the blood relation and honorary variety) I have encountered the phenomenon which sees my darling nieces and nephews use me  – a step away from parent and closer to indulgent friend -as the sounding board for questions and behaviour they usually suppress.

Kids may say the funniest things but once poked in the breast by a curious six-year-old (no relation) and asked to ‘show him’, I immediately turned into my mother and changed the subject, rather than embarking on a lesson in biology and appropriate behaviour that would smooth the curious youngster’s progression through life.

Attempts to talk my niece through what happened in relationships culminated in her announcing I was wrong and that you can have more than one boyfriend.

Her friends do.

But she’s enjoying being single.

That’s me told.

She’s seven.

Trouble is, it’s not really a laughing matter.

The politics of sex is complicated and children exposed, whether we like it or not, to unfathomable behaviour through endless internet wandering  on every device possible, know more than we do about worlds we cannot possibly understand and not enough about ones we would rather not know ourselves

Reality remains that children, unless they are as willingly ignorant as I clearly was, learn most of their behaviour from their friends, from Snapchat, from Netflix.

As the dangers grow greater they need to know more and earlier – though arguably they also have the right to an innocent, guileless, childhood just like I enjoyed.

There is a fine line between knowledge and vulnerability.

So do parents need to sit down their children and explain – even when they are teenagers?

Which leads me to number one on my ‘cringeworthy incidents of my childhood chart.’….

This first appeared in HERE