How did your parents talk to you about love, sex and relationships?
Maybe a book was purchased and silently left in your room when you reached a certain age.
Maybe you grew up on a farm and, seeing animal life cycles, had some sense of procreation.
Modern-day parenting is complicated. Our kids are not just exposed to increased sexual content within mainstream media, but also now through social media.
Young children have regular access to tablets and smartphones and can be exposed to content which, without added education or context, can give them the wrong idea about self-acceptance, healthy relationships, boundaries and consent.
Jenny Fahy specialises in educating pre-teens and their parents on these topics. She feels that by taking a proactive approach to these conversations, our children will reach adolescence and adulthood better able to communicate their needs, preferences and, most importantly, navigate potential difficult situations where they might feel vulnerable.
She founded social enterprise Life Connections from her rural base at Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, in late 2018.
“I grew up in east Galway. I have a farming background – there’s nothing radical about me,” she laughs. “Maybe [due to that], I find it easier to talk about things in a matter-of-fact way. I always say to people: ‘Look, this is the body you’ve been born with and you’re going to be living in it all your life – you might as well get comfortable with it and get to know its needs.’”
Jenny mainly started out by teaching primary school children about the environment.
“I remember thinking: ‘How can I talk to them about earth care when their basic needs aren’t being met? How can a person have a sense of belonging to the bigger picture when their own self is struggling?’”
She decided to go back to college to study social care. From there, she began her career in family support before delving into domestic abuse support services. Through her work, she saw a connection with usage of phones and technology, access to pornography and child protection issues. She also saw a connection between domestic abuse and a lack of relationship education.
“That was when I knew I had to start something,” she says. “We were working in preventative education; educating young people on the early signs of abuse. Without good relationship and sexuality education and understanding the right terminology, how can you express your needs or properly describe and understand abusive behaviours?”
This is how Jenny developed Life Connections. It’s an online platform that provides short, educational video modules for parents and pre-puberty-aged children (ages 10, 11 and 12).
“I had this image of parents taking their child to dance classes, rugby or hurling and waiting in the car,” she explains. “My modules are three to five minutes long. You could watch one and when your child gets back in the car, it’s a great place for a conversation. The car isn’t so intense as you’re not looking anyone in the eye. By having these conversations early on and building your child’s trust, your child will believe you when you say: ‘You can tell me anything.’”
The parent and child programmes are separate – the parent can sit down with the child while they complete their segments but the parents’ programme is meant to be completed without the children present.
“This is because I ask them to have a little check-in around their own experiences,” Jenny explains. “What they learned and didn’t learn when they were younger.”
“Look at it this way: we do farm safety from a young age – you wouldn’t put your child on a bike for the first time and have them go down the farmyard without talking about safety – this is the same thing,” Jenny says. “With this age group, parents tend to hand a lot over to the school because there is an element of uncomfortableness around puberty, changing bodies and sexuality. Life Connections wants to support parents to change this.”
See lifeconnections.ie for more information.
1 As a parent, you can always take back the power. If you feel you’ve given access to technology too early then take it back and explain your reasons.
2 Children should never have the passwords for tablets or phones and parental controls should always be in place (learn more at webwise.ie).
3 No child under the age of 14 should have a social media account (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat, for example).
4 Keep phones and tablets out of bedrooms.
5 For internet use, set up a family laptop or tablet to be used in a shared living space (the sitting room or kitchen).
6 Don’t discipline teenagers by taking their phones away – it’s become a part of their identity, social network and connection.
7 Look at your own behaviour: are you stuck to your phone? How can you expect your child to have digital boundaries if you don’t?
8 Observe your child’s behaviour – what is technology offering them? Let them know it’s okay to leave their phone at home or they don’t have to respond to friends within five minutes.
9 Understand social media behaviour for teens: tagging and having public accounts are modern-day symbols of popularity and belonging.
10 CyberSafe Kids (a Dublin-based charity) is a great resource for parents of children aged eight to 12 who have questions about online safety (cybersafekids.ie).