A two-day free sexual health conference for young people aged 15 and over, plus their teachers, parents, youth/health workers has been announced for the Byron Regional Sport and Cultural Complex during Youth Week, April 10 and 11.
One of the panelists for the event is adolescent psychologist Peter Chown, who shared some of his insights about how to best support young people and their emerging sexuality.
According to Peter, parents still put sexuality in the too-hard basket. ‘They haven’t always had good models themselves and teenagers do go through a massive change from puberty to adolescence.
‘A lot of time parents are playing catch up and trying to connect with their kids, and very often the teenager is in the very natural phase of disconnecting. Parents can feel out of their depth and uncomfortable so they don’t bring up the topic of sex and tend to assume that the kid are getting the information from school.’
Good communication needs to be established early in the relationship, says Peter, so that you are not trying to forge new relationship inroads when young people hit puberty.
‘As a parent, you need to be proactive,’ says Peter.
‘Often boys prefer to talk to a man in those early teen years because they are going through the process of separating from their mums and establishing their own separate identity.
‘You have to be prepared to bring up the topic and then to realise you won’t have all the answers. Every young person will respond and react differently. The approach may need to be different for each – but the content will basically need to be the same.’
Lack of sex ed
Although we now live in a world that is more comfortable with conversations around sex, and more open social attitudes, Peter believes that young people are still not getting all the information and the guidance that they need.
‘I see an alarming lack of knowledge in young people around the consequences of unprotected sex. I even have people attend my practice in their early 20s who will tell me they had unprotected sex and had a discharge but it went away and they did not realise they had to do something about it. It’s still very difficult for young people to get help and there is still a lot of shame around sexual health.’
Rates of sexually transmitted infections (STI) and pregnancy would indicate that no matter how consistent the message, young people don’t always use condoms.
How do parents, schools and health agencies assist in supporting young people to make better choices?
‘I think that ideally, as a parent, you would have a really in-depth discussion with a young person about condoms. Not just about putting them on but about addressing the myths. Talk about what it feels like.’
Peter also believes that young people and their parents are not as informed as they should be about the possible consequences of sex in regards to the age of consent.
‘I think it is important that we address the naivety around the legal side of things. I have had clients who have ended up in court as they turned 18 and their girlfriends were under 16 and they have ended up on the Child Sex Offenders Register.’
The event is being held by The North Coast Positive Adolescent Sexual Health (PASH) consortium, and will be chaired by Jack Long of the Byron Youth Council with MC support by Mandy Nolan.
Panelists are Dolly Doctor, Melissa Kang, Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli of Deakin University, Daniel Witthaus (author of That’s So Gay), Tracey Randall – a lawyer and specialist in sex, young people and the law, and local adolescent psychologist Peter Chown.
Parents are invited to register for the event by April 7 at www.healthynorthcoast.org.au/PASH.