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How to Encourage Children to Ask Tough Questions


One of the foundations of a flourishing society lies in the healthy decisions of people regarding sexual behaviour, which requires knowledge of sexual anatomy, reproductive health, responsibilities and rights, and so forth. Yet, adolescents in India are rarely given adequate information on these topics. As a result, they are afraid to speak up in spite of frequent sexual harassment on the streets and sometimes at school as well; and their perceptions of gender dynamics are shaped by the flood of misleading, prejudiced and obscene information from various sources of media, including pornography.

Therefore, in moulding self-confident young individuals who can interact with each other in a healthy and respectful manner, sex education is needed. Children often do not have access to correct facts, for their source of knowledge is either Google or their friends. Google search sometimes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. When faced with a serious question/confusion, a friend in the same age group is often sailing in the same boat and would not be of much help. This is where parents and teachers need to step in.

In #LetsTalkAboutRape, a 2016 Hindustan Times’ campaign, Mary Kom, in her open letter, tells her sons that she was violated when she was barely 17. She wrote this letter when she was 33. I wonder what would she say if she had to talk about it when she was 17.

Most 17-year-old children are aware of violations and may also have experienced them. But they might not possess the vocabulary to articulate it.

I am reminded of one such evening of insufficient articulation and incomprehensible fear. I was a 17-year-old girl then and my 13-year-old brother had asked me, ‘Didi, rape ka meaning kya hota hai?’ (What does rape mean?)

I knew it. I had experienced the violations. But I felt incapacitated to put my experience in words. My heart raced as I sifted through the examples I could give my brother to explain the meaning of rape. I cannot recall what I told him. Knowing myself, it must have been, ‘I don’t know’.

One didn’t utter ‘rape’ before parents. Also, when I was young, there was no internet to search for answers on ‘what to say when your younger sibling asks you about rape’. So, I spoke to a friend. Both of us tried hard to come up with ideas to explain rape to my brother but we failed.

We can no longer avoid answering such questions. It is high time we stop washing our hands off the responsibility in the garb of ‘let’s not disseminate too much information’. Ignorance isn’t always bliss. Although at first, we have to help children and adolescents feel comfortable in asking such questions. We also have to equip ourselves to be able to answer and talk about any question that they ask. Parents and teachers need to become equal stakeholders in this task. After all, it is either a parent or a teacher who is a child’s most trusted adult.

kid and parent


• Teach children proper names for genitals and make it comfortable for them to talk about such things. Young children may never ask about rape. But it helps to normalise conversations at a later stage if they know that there is nothing shameful about genitals.

• Tell them that their bodies belong to them. Teach them about safe and unsafe touch. They get to choose who can touch them, where and how they can be touched. If they don’t want to be hugged or kissed by someone, it is okay. How about a handshake, a hi-five or blowing a kiss instead?

• Explain the meaning of consent to children. Tell them that no one can force them to do anything that they do not like. If they feel that something is not okay, then it is not. Teach them to trust their intuitions.

• Tell children that they are not allowed to touch anyone until the other person agrees. Teach them that they need to ask again if the other person appears uncomfortable. Set constructive examples by practising consent during different situations in the classroom and on the playground.

• Keep your answer normal and factual. For example, when someone forcibly touches your genitals or forces you to touch theirs, it is rape.

• Tell them that if nonconsensual sexual contact occurs, they can scream, kick or bite the person and run away.

• Teach them to talk about sexual abuse to an adult. Tell them that such things are not secrets. Assure them that there is nothing wrong in sharing it with you or their parents. • When adolescents ask about sexuality and sexual violence, you could use instances from movies, media and news to talk about it more extensively.

• Adolescents and young adults may know about legal provisions safeguarding sexual rights. It is okay if you are not aware of them. In case they come for advice, how about finding answers together?

• Lastly, talk about rape to both boys and girls. Because boys are as susceptible to physical violations as girls. Also, personal safety is genderneutral.

Sangeeta Goel

Trained in Comprehensive Sexuality Education, Sangeeta has published various articles on gender diversity, sexual harassment and sexuality education.


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