Children learn about their own personal responsibility, about the values that underpin good relationships and about acceptable standards of behaviour, from the relationship behaviours that they experience and witness.
It is not enough to look only to the responsibilities of parents, or to the events and possible difficulties experienced within family relationships, to explain everything about children's values and behaviour. Children learn from, observe and analyse everything in the world around them.
We all therefore contribute to the standards of behaviour that children learn from, and we show them ‘in action’ the values that we really hold and adopt towards each other.
If we wish for children to understand and show respect towards other people, it is, first and foremost, our respectful conduct towards them and towards each other from which they will learn to do so. Perhaps most challengingly to current debates and policies, it is the children who have already experienced or witnessed bad behaviour at first hand – and whose own behaviour may as a result become most concerning – who urgently need to be shown the example of what it means to be treated with dignity and respect in their childhood.
The Children’s Society believes that the development of children’s personal, social and emotional capabilities should be given the same prioritisation as the development of cognitive capabilities in schooling. One of the most important aspects of social and emotional learning that schools need to help develop in children is understanding, acceptance, appreciation and welcoming of difference.
Sex and relationships education as part of meeting the social and emotional learning needs of every child is important in every child’s development.
The only way to be truly child-centred and protect young people from harm is to help them develop the skills, values and attitudes that they need to negotiate their relationships.
Under existing legislation, parents have the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons, except for those which form part of the National Curriculum – such as the biology of reproduction as covered in science lessons. The Children’s Society believes this is ill advised, and that the losers are young people. Young people repeatedly tell researchers that they want more and better sex education, which is less biological and more focused on the social and emotional issues at the heart of their relationships. Contrary to what many believe, there is no evidence that more openness about sex, relationships and sexuality leads to early sexual experimentation. Better sex education leads to more use of contraception by young people, and fewer unwanted pregnancies.