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No longer the ultimate taboo, Arab migrant families' attitudes on sex education

No longer the ultimate taboo, Arab migrant families' attitudes on sex education

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Life Arab Migrants

Tuesday 7 March 202303:55 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

كيف تستقبل العائلات العربية التربية الجنسية في المدارس الأوروبية؟

Arab families immigrating to Europe face many challenges in order to integrate into European society. One of those challenges is their children's ability to adapt and progress themselves in the European educational system. The difficulties that children face are not limited to the language, as some believe, but to the nature of the subjects offered in schools, especially for children whose families emigrated while they are in the middle of basic education.

One of the educational materials that poses a kind of challenge or surprise at the beginning for children and their parents is sex education, which is freely provided in European schools to students from young ages, something that we have not seen in many of our Arab schools.

The first time Jad, 12, received sexual education at school was only a few months ago.

"We do not reject sex education, because, when presented in a thoughtful way, this type of education is better than a child learning it in ways that can be dangerous" – Reem, a Syrian mother residing in Germany

The amount of information that Jad was not prepared for made him tell his teacher that he was tired of studying. His teacher understood what he was going through and tried to calm him down and help him, according to his mother Reem.

Jad and his Syrian family moved to Germany one year ago. Reem attributes Jad's shock to the information gap between him and his peers of the same age. In Germany, children by that age already retain information about sex education that they had previously gained during earlier classes, thus preparing them for this sheer volume of new information in the sixth grade, whereas for Jad it was all completely new.

"We thought we were open enough for this and that our son's sexual education was appropriate for his age, but we discovered that his information wasn't as much as we expected," Reem explains.

Reem chose to use pseudonyms because she did not want Jad to be subjected to any kind of embarrassment in front of his schoolmates if someone read the report.

Reem adds, "As a family, we do not reject sex education in schools, but rather we prefer it, because when this type of education is guided and directed in a thoughtful and scientific way from a reliable authority, it is better than a child learning it in other ways that can be dangerous. Because this information is considered a taboo that we cannot talk about within the family because of our cultural background, I am happy that my son is learning freely in school."

Reem's fears lie in the fact that she and her husband cannot limit the information they allow the school to pass on to their son. Despite these concerns, Reem believes that they must adjust their way of life because they have moved to this society and won’t impose their differences on it.

She goes on to say, "The good thing is that we talk and discuss things a lot at home. When Jad told us what he experienced after the first lesson, we explained to him that the distress he feels is natural, because he is not used to this type of topic, while in Germany these topics are freely discussed, and it will take him some time to understand the difference between what can and cannot be talked about in this society."

Reem explains that Jad, with the second lesson in this subject, has become accustomed to such topics.

“After these lessons, my daughter asks me questions about childbirth and the menstrual cycle, and I always answer her so that she understands it from a reliable source, but my biggest fear of this type of education lies in sexual freedom outside marriage"

Taim, 14, arrived in Germany when he was only eight months old after he came with his family from Palestine, so he did not face any kind of difficulties when receiving this type of education.

He started taking sex education courses in biology for several months in the third grade, and didn't talk about it at home because he did not understand it yet.

In the sixth grade, the curriculum had sex education subjects for nearly six months, but students did not take them due to the Covid pandemic. However the school organized a trip for them to a counseling center to learn about birth control, abortion and topics related to safe sex.

Taim's mother, Lina, confirms that the ninth-grade curriculum has subjects on the process of reproduction in all its details.

"Children here not only learn sex education from a biological point of view, but also from a social, human and emotional point of view" – Lina, a Palestinian mother living in Germany

"I am happy with these curricula, because they teach children sex education in a sequential manner that is appropriate for each age period, and they learn it not only from a biological point of view, but also from a social, human and emotional point of view, as the school has made them watch films about the relationship of a boy with a girl of their age, and the feelings they feel at the first romantic kiss. This is what makes students understand what they are going through in a realistic way that is far from taboos," says Lina.

Egyptian education specialist Rana Hani believes that sex education in schools has many pros and advantages, the most important of which is that the child begins to learn these topics in a scientific way like any other subject without feeling nervous, embarrassed, anxious or afraid, which makes him/her learn about his/her body, gender identity and the sexual process in a smooth and easy manner.

On the other hand, Amani, a Palestinian mother of four who has lived in Germany since 2016, says that, in her opinion, sex education in European schools has more drawbacks than benefits because it begins at very young ages when children may not be ready for this type of information.

Amani expresses her dissatisfaction with this type of education, and because of the sex education her children learn in schools, she has always had to, as she put it, warn them not to commit reckless acts that could harm them.

She believes her fifteen-year-old son is watching porn in the bathroom because of the information he receives at school.

From a scientific and educational point of view, education specialist Rana does not see that there are any risks or disadvantages to sex education in schools, especially since it is provided by professional people in a scientific manner that is appropriate for each age, and the person who provides it is prepared for the correct direct answer that does not make the child feel that his/her questions are forbidden or taboos.

How do we answer our children's sexual questions?

Parenting expert Rana recommends several rules that parents should follow when their children ask them questions about sex.

First, never lie. As long as the child has asked, it means that he/she is ready to know the answer, so we must look for a simple way that suits his/her age to answer, without lying.

Second, do not use offensive sentences when answering, such as: "How dare you ask about this?!” or “You’re rude for even asking", because this, according to Rana, will cause the child to look for answers from other sources that may be dangerous and unreliable.

"Parents should never evade the answer, by saying things like: ‘You will know when you grow up!’ Parents need to answer in order to remain the trusted source of information for the child" – Educational Specialist Rana Hani

Third, parents should never evade the answer, by saying things like: ‘You will know when you grow up!’ or ‘You're too young for these questions’. As long as he/she asks, parents need to answer in order to remain the trusted source of information for the child.

Fourth, when parents don't know the right answer, they should research and then go back to the child to answer.

What are the fears and concerns parents face?

Heba, a Syrian mother who moved to Germany in 2015, believes that sex education has had a positive impact on her eleven-year-old daughter because her daughter has become familiar with the subject of sex.

She explains, "I find this kind of education good for raising awareness, if the child has a good religious and educational background at home. Sex education didn't scare me because I was looking for information as a child and I didn't get it properly, so I think it's good to address this topic at school, but under my supervision and through discussions between me and my daughter."

“After these lessons, my daughter would ask me a lot of questions about childbirth, the menstrual cycle and when I first experienced my period, and I always answered her clearly so that she could understand everything from a reliable source. I noticed that she avoided thinking that what she learned in school was something that happens between me and her father, and this was due to her intelligence. It is normal for the child not to accept this.

Heba's biggest fear and the challenges she faces due to this type of education lies in sexual freedom outside marriage.

As for Hadeer, an Egyptian who has lived in Germany since 2019, her concern is that the children do not have enough sex awareness, so she doesn’t see any risks from this kind of education for her six-year-old son Adam.

Hadeer said that her son began in the nursery stage, learning the difference between the composition of the body of a boy and a girl in proportion to his young age, "The most important thing he learned is the importance of preserving the privacy of his body, and that no one is allowed to touch his body, and I find that this is very important and protects him from harassment, and if harassment does take place, he now knows that he must immediately tell me about it, and he knows that he alone is the only one permitted to discover his body."

"The best thing he learned is the importance of preserving the privacy of his body, and that no one is allowed to touch his body, and I find that this is very important and protects him from harassment" – Hadeer, an Egyptian mother living in Germany.

This is confirmed by education expert Rana, "We start teaching the child about sex education from birth when he/she learns to speak, so we introduce them to their reproductive organs just as we teach them the rest of their body parts with their clear names. Then by the age of three, the child is taught in the nursery. According to Rana, the child has the right to refuse to hug or kiss anyone in greeting if he does not want to, and he has the right to refuse to be touched by anyone in an uncomfortable way, and we teach the child that we believe him when he feels that someone touched him in a way that he did not like in order to protect him from harassment and exploitation.

Sex education in schools from a scientific and educational point of view protects the child and does not harm him/her. However despite this, we are not used to it in our Arab societies, and it is still forbidden for parents to talk to their children about sex. Therefore, immigrant families must find a way to adapt and change in order to integrate into European society and open up horizons for their children to learn about sex education in a scientific and professional way, which many parents themselves were deprived of at a young age.

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