As mothers, we should step up and take responsibility for teaching our daughters about puberty and sex. Why? Because it’s a parental duty, and because we want to get the correct Islamic perspective across before they’re exposed to a skewered viewpoint. According to NHS statistics, the average age for a girl to start her periods is 12 in the UK, although some will start earlier than this. Have we ensured our 12-year-olds are all equipped with the knowledge and know how to deal with menstruation?
‘School teaches them all about puberty nowadays anyway’ – I hear every so often. Well, have you made sure your daughter knows all about ghusl after her period? Is she aware of the cleanliness of her clothes, bedding etc according to Islamic rulings? Is she aware of when she should stop and resume praying? Is she aware that she doesn’t need to make up her missed prayers after a period? Does she know all about hair removal? – School isn’t going to teach her these details, this is solely our responsibility.
I cannot think of anything worse than to have a total stranger or a playground bestie inform my daughter about the intimate workings of her body. That’s a close bond a mother and daughter should share. Where there are no taboo topics and no secrets. A safe space whereby a daughter can ask her mother any question she wants or needs to, and is content in the knowledge that her mother will be truthful and direct with her.
The whole puberty thing is challenging enough for our daughters to deal with and then they have the added complexity of learning all about sex and relationships too.
Your daughter will be much more content and confident about this minefield of complex issues if she knows you have her back. We must teach our daughters how to differentiate between facts and playground myths.
We should openly discuss relationships and the Sunnah of marriage from a young age, teaching our daughters about the centrality of marriage and procreation. This will, in turn, make it easier to talk about stable and loving relationships further down the line. A lack of knowledge can leave children vulnerable to abuse and exploitation so good underpinning knowledge is vital to protect them both in childhood and also later on in their adult lives. It’s also crucial to teach children about what a healthy relationship should look like. Identify what abuse is, the different types of abuse, and also highlight how wrong domestic violence is in Islam. Teenagers should be taught to respect their bodies and that ‘no means no’ when it comes to making any decisions which involve our own bodies. Self-worth and self-respect are essential attributes of healthy relationships and both boys and girls should learn about mutual respect in a marriage. Teach both boys and girls about the noble character of our beloved prophet (peace be upon him) and what his marriages were like.
Young children should be taught about ‘private’ areas of their bodies, about not having secrets from their parents, and that ‘no means no’, instilling in them self-worth and a respect for their own bodies.
Then once they reach an appropriate stage where they are asking more questions, they need to be taught about reproduction. Remember not all children develop at the same pace and they’re not all ready to hear about this stuff at the same age, we need to be looking out for the cues and remaining open to questions at all times, ages and stages. So that they know they can approach us at any time with any questions they have. If you start engaging with them from when they’re very young they shouldn’t feel uncomfortable approaching you for this information.
Early exposure to sexual content in the media may have a profound impact on children’s values, attitudes and behaviors toward sex and relationships. Unfortunately, media portrayals do not always reflect the message parents want to send. Therefore it’s also crucial to be well informed and aware of what our children are exposed to.
We further have the task of undoing the potential harm caused by the immoral stance on sex promoted within the mainstream schooling system. Some of the more explicit lessons will sew an unhealthy interest and obsession in the minds of children many of whom probably weren’t thinking about sex before they started learning about it at school or stumbled across it on the internet.
The priorities of most school SRE lessons are wrong. The focus of this education needs to be on learning about stable and loving relationships, on teaching children about consent, and about the dangers of ‘meeting’ people on social media, about grooming and predatory lurkers on the internet. There are currently SRE materials used in some schools which encourage self-exploration and self-gratification from a young age. Many schools will give out contraceptives to children if they ask for them, with a policy of not consulting with or informing parents. There are more effective ways of teaching children about relationships than encouraging them to experiment and give in to their curiosities.
As parents we should be the ones looking for cues and signs, and having these meaningful conversations with our children, teaching them about morality and healthy adult relationships, about the sanctity of marriage, instilling family values and building trust.
Our own discomfort has to be put to one side if we are to have these totally open relationships with our children. The questions are all tumbling around in their minds, the curiosity is there, they just need a safe space where they can open up and confide in us, their parents. They will put difficult questions to us but no matter how tough the going gets, this is all part of parenting, and parenting is our responsibility.
Teaching sons about periods is also necessary. They need to learn about the hormonal surges females go through and learn how to understand PMS. This, in turn, will help them be more caring and understanding towards the women in their lives. It’s important for both girls and boys to be taught both their own and the bodily functions of the opposite sex, and fathers should also step up to educate their children in these critical matters. There is no Hayaa in the Deen when it comes to learning and knowledge. Surely as parents, we want to be the leading educators of our children, especially in matters which will shape their futures, identities and spiritual states.
Let’s have open relationships with our children so that they can approach us about anything they need to talk about, no matter how uncomfortable the topics may be.
1. From around the age of 2-4, children should be taught about keeping their body parts protected and covered from others. Teach them the PANTS rule and about safe adults.
2. From around age 5 upwards, children may ask questions about where babies come from, the differences between boys and girls, how a baby gets into mummy’s tummy etc. Answer questions seriously and as truthfully as possible, always keeping the discussion age and stage appropriate. Remember you as the parent know your child best and should make the decision as to how much information they can deal with. Younger children may be content hearing that Allah creates us all, that He decides when to put a baby into mummy’s tummy and that childbirth is a miracle of Allah. However, as children get older the discussion also needs to become more advanced and our answers should develop into more age-appropriate information.
3. When older children start to ask more complex questions and it feels uncomfortable, try to put your discomfort to one side and remind yourself that nobody else but you has your child’s best interests at heart. Use online resources and books if necessary, but a good old fashioned face to face talk is the best way to connect with your child. Talking about their bodies and hearing about the miraculous workings our bodies created by Allah will help to normalise puberty, sex, reproduction etc.
4. When it comes to teenagers you might find that scholarly talks and articles also help you word things in the right ways and will assist you in backing up what you are teaching children with relevant verses from the Quran or Hadith of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) – especially when it comes to tackling difficult topics such as homosexuality and transgender issues. Don’t be afraid to ask other parents how they have tackled these subjects, and to share resources and ideas.
Ta-Ha Publishers have published A Muslim Girl’s Guide to Life’s Big Changes and also an equivalent book for boys. These have some instrumental sections and helpful advice.
Another helpful website is HeartWomenandgirls which promotes sexual health and sexual violence awareness in Muslim communities.
Safura Houghton is a co-founder of The Lantern Initiative, through which she organises mental health events and workshops for the community. She is a mother of four, and has homeschooled her children for five years. She has a Diploma in Nursery Nursing and worked at Islamia Primary School in London for 6 years before she had her own children. Safura is a community radio presenter, and is currently training as a Muslim Chaplain. She also loves travelling and reading.