You don’t have to be an expert in sexuality education to help your young person make sense of relationships and sex,
says University of Canterbury’s (UC) Health Sciences lecturer Tracy Clelland
Clelland spoke to 60 parents of 11 to 14-year-olds for her PhD research and will share the findings with parents in an
interactive workshop on Thursday 7 November.
“The reality is that young people are learning about sexuality from many sources, besides school-based sexuality
education, such as billboards, friends, news, social media, and everyday interactions. Schools play a role in sexuality
education but so do parents and wider whanau,” she says.
“Parents play a part in supporting young people to develop a strong sense of self and healthy relationships. They play
an important role in opening up critical conversations about the realities of relationships – rather than telling young
people what to do, we should allow them to talk openly about sexuality topics relevant to their lives.”
Parents may need to first revisit their own sexuality education experiences, especially if they invoke uncomfortable or
“Parents need to stop thinking of sexuality education as about the biological aspects of sex and embrace a holistic
“As a sexuality educator at UC for 12 years, teaching sexuality education with 19 to 22-year-old students, most of their
discussion is around love, the complexity of relationships and the joy of relationships. For younger people one of the
common questions is ‘how do I know if they like me?’”
Clelland’s own experiences with her own teenagers have been positive.
“There is a lot of joy in talking about the realities of sexuality and relationships with your children. Allowing your
children to share their opinions builds communication in families.”
Her advice: Don’t try to protect young people from the complexity, irrationality and joy of relationships. “Protection
often shuts down the opportunity to engage with young people and contributes to young people feeling like they will be
judged. If we want young people to think critically about issues like consent, pornography and gender, then parents play
a part in supporting young people to do this.”