Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

29 December 2012

Tanzania: Sex As Teenagers See It

LAST week I explored the world of infants and toddlers. I discussed early childhood learning pointing out that infants start learning immediately after birth.

Yes, infants use movement and sensory exploration to get into contact with their immediate environment. As they grow up and become more mobile, they connect with toys, objects, such as their milk bottle, and the wider group of people.

They learn through repeating patterns of play. However, keeping children safe is one of the most worrisome matters for parents and minders of children. Young babies make strong and purposeful movements, and tend not to stay in the position we first placed them in.

This, sometimes, gives their minders or parents a daunting task. As babies learn to move, to crawl or to climb, they tend to have almost no sense of danger. So, I said, they need constant supervision, as well an environment that is safe.

As young children grow, and practice what they can do, they do gradually develop a sense of danger. Today I have my mind on the sexuality of teenagers. Many parents in Tanzania hardly know anything in connection with the sexuality of their teenagers.

In fact, parents never discuss sex with their children in many parts of this country. It is taboo. It is an abomination that dates back centuries. But we are living in a different world now. It is high time some taboos were shot down and shunned.

A more constructive mindset in this connection must be adopted. Let us face it. Coming to terms with your teenager's developing sexuality can be difficult and you may want to remain aloof not wishing to discuss the subject. I must mention at the outset that children are curious about sex.

After all, many of you will agree with me that teenagers find the subject a very fascinating one. Many parents do not know that there is a lot of sex going on among teenagers. School pupils, for example, are notorious in this aspect.

In fact teenagers are probably far more aware of sexual matters than what many of us know. Puberty is the trouble spot in this matter. Puberty is a milestone, but a lot will have happened before then to influence your teenager's developing sexuality.

Puberty, however, is the point when the body begins to change from that of a child into that of an adult. It's not one single event but many different ones, which take place over quite a long period -- usually about two years. During puberty a child's body develops the characteristics of a sexually mature adult.

The sexual organs develop; there are changes in the hormone balance and in other features of the body relating to sexuality, according to experts in human anatomy. In addition, a child grows rapidly in height and weight, and the size of internal organs such as the heart and lungs also increase.

Generally, girls reach puberty approximately six months to a year earlier than boys. But it's also important to realize that each individual is different. There is a large variation in the timing of puberty. Each gender has to cope with different experiences.

Girls have to come to terms with menstruation and growing breasts, while boys have to cope with wet dreams and emerging beards. So, your teenager will need support from you during this phase. Children at this stage in life need good information, as well as the opportunity to talk about any anxieties they might have about their development.

The mother can help the daughters and the father can handle the sons. While the media may give the impression that teenagers spend most of their time hopping from one bed to another, the truth is sometimes quite different.

The majority of young people have sex within a lasting relationship and many have sex with only one person at a time. You may worry about the risks involved in sexual behaviour during adolescence.

Your worries may include the possibility of your child catching a sexually transmitted disease (STD), as well as pregnancy. Today the fear of HIV/AIDS is more acute than it was during the 1980s. AIDS should not be ignored as a lifethreatening risk for all who are sexually active.

While you may feel out of touch with what your teenager is doing, you still have a key role where sexual behaviour is concerned. There are many ways you can provide help and support in relation to sex. Now let us see what you need to know sexual abuse.

Most children grow up without being sexually abused. However, when abuse does occur, it is more likely to be by someone the child knows, including relatives or friends of the family, than by a stranger. Sometimes older male children abuse younger female children. But there is no easy way to tell if a child has been sexually abused. Some children may show changes in behaviour or emotional symptoms.

Children who have been, or are being, abused will often be very confused. Many remain uncertain about what to do and who to tell. Some children may not realize that what has been done to them is abuse. If your child brings up the subject of sexual abuse or drops hints, possibly testing your reaction, she may have already been sexually abused.

Most victims of sexual abuse, however, are likely to remain withdrawn or depressed for no obvious reason. She may tell her mother bluntly that she has soreness or redness in the genital area. In this case, the mother should make a though investigation.

Some abused girls might develop shocking traits of behaviour. Some, for example, may start bedwetting again or may have very disturbed sleep. They may refuse to go to school or may exhibit a sudden drop in schoolwork. Some girls may even behave very aggressively.

Yet there are those who suddenly become reluctant to be with particular adults, or go to activities they previously enjoyed. Some may try to avoid being left alone with an adult in the family and may show clearly that they are afraid of adults or older male children.

Paedophiles, (men who abuse children sexually), are likely to go to great lengths to keep their behaviour secret. They may use threats to the child, or to the child's family members, if the child spills the beans. If your child tells you that she has been abused, you will probably feel devastated but it is important to believe your child.

Children almost never lie about abuse. So, let the child talk. Give her as much encouragement as possible to talk about it, but do not force her to give details. You must report the matter to the police as soon as possible. In a disgusting matter like sexual abuse on children legal redress must be sought.

Child molesters must be made to pay for their folly. The police will issue a form (the PF3) that will enable the child to see a medical doctor.

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