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Table 4 Thematic summary of barriers to and facilitators of parental engagement, with illustrative extracts

From: Engaging parents in digital sexual and reproductive health education: evidence from the JACK trial


Illustrative extracts


1. Fear about political correctness and condoning sexual activity

You’re sort of wondering…should I? Do you know what I mean? You know, because everything nowadays is so PC that I think parents are even scared to chat about it, you know, in case, “Oh here, hold on a minute, why are you talking to me about sex?” (Parent, NI)

You say, […] “You’ve got a girlfriend, but you’re too young, so don’t do it.” You don’t then want to say, “But if you do…” because it’s almost condoning it […] I guess some people would just be under the impression that you’re just leading your children to be promiscuous. (Parent, Wales)

You know, certain people have really strong beliefs that we shouldn’t be teaching children about sex anyway because it promotes either homosexuality or promiscuity. Neither of those things are true. (RSE expert 1, England)

2. Religious beliefs and cultural norms

[My children’s father is] very much… “They grow up soon enough, there’s no point in discussing stuff like that.” (Parent, Wales)

There’s a girl I know, she’s Christian, and I said my daughter was doing the [JACK] trial and she nearly didn’t speak to me for a week! […] She doesn’t think it is appropriate that a 15-year-old should know all about those different things. (Parent, NI)

[My son] said that they were asked who was the most important person to tell or to talk about it with, […] and he was saying the mum or dad or the GP, eh, but the…a lot of his class all said it was the religious leader that they’d have to speak to. (Parent, England)

A lot of schools actually deliver RSE through RE, Religious Education, which isn’t the best place for it to sit because that has a moral perspective to it […] It becomes a moral right or wrong, whereas actually that’s not how sex kind of works. (RSE Expert 1, England)

Something I think that might be an issue is where the topic conflicts with the teacher’s own personal values. And it is very hard to say…to step back, particularly if it’s a very strong religious perspective on something or a very strong value about something. (RSE Expert 2, NI)

Possibly reflecting their familial values, some students commented on how the intervention materials were not in line with their cultural or religious beliefs:

[On the JACK film] ‘Un-relatable, Imma Christian’. (Male Pupil, NI)

[On the JACK film] ‘Haram’ [forbidden by Islamic law]. (Male Pupil, England)

[Least favourite activity] ‘The one about teen pregnancy because I have very strong feelings against abortion’. (Female Pupil, Wales)

[Least favourite activity] ‘Most of them because sex before marriage isn’t supposed to happen’. (Female Pupil, England)

3. Parents’ lack of knowledge about sexual health

Some parents need educated themselves, to be perfectly honest with you. I think some parents are in a different world. They just think that their child will never have sex [laughing] and they just have this idea that, you know, it’s never going to happen to their child. (Parent, NI)

And a lot of the time, the parents have had bad experiences of education, so the kids are actually more educated than the parents and [kids] don’t feel comfortable in talking about it because they feel that they’ve got to explain things to their parents that their teachers are explaining. (Teacher, Wales)

And that’s the big issue, is that the evidence doesn’t get to parents unless you can get them in a room and have a conversation with them. But schools aren’t doing that. The government isn’t doing that. The media is certainly not doing that. (RSE expert 1, England)

4. Parents’ lack of awareness about the importance of their role

And I think sometimes parents don’t know how to approach it…so let’s just ignore that. Let’s just pretend that wee letter didn’t come home from school. And the school will just do that anyway. (Teacher, NI)

I think it’s maybe trying to put an onus on the parents – “You are actually responsible for this part of your child’s health and wellbeing as well,” you know, it’s not up to school all the time either. (Parent, NI)

Over the last 20 years of trying to involve parents in these kinds of subjects and activities, I think I’ve only had one group that was really interested and successful. I’ve found it difficult, on a number of levels. My opinion would be to get in early. (RSE expert, Wales)

5. Lack of RSE training and support for teachers and resulting lack of confidence

There aren’t enough trained teachers out there, which then means there’s not enough confidence in delivering topics, particularly around the more sensitive issues in RSE. (RSE expert 2, England)

We need staff training for all teachers who deliver RSE, which basically means all staff. If we get good quality training for all staff, not just a few key teachers, then staff will be more comfortable teaching it. (Teacher, NI)

[Teachers might think] “I don’t feel comfortable with dealing with it, I haven’t had the training.” You know, sort of controversial issues, no matter what they are, are difficult. They don’t want to open a can of worms, they’re afraid. Or sometimes they’re afraid of what – they won’t get the backing from their own management. Or they’re maybe concerned that parents might complain. (RSE Expert 2, NI)

It’s always a fear of schools, raising [the issue of RSE] too much, in case you will get that parent that will say, “No, I don’t want them [to do it] (Teacher, Scotland)



Illustrative extracts

1. Early, sustained, gradual intervention

It’s normalising those conversations. So, the analogy I use when I talk to parents, I say it’s like road safety. We talk to really small children all the time about road safety, and when you’re out with your child and you’re stood at the side of the road, you say, “Right, we need to look left, we need to look right”, and you practise those behaviours with your child because you know that one day they’re going to be crossing that road on their own. You don’t wait until they’re 10 or 11 and they’re going out on their own to teach them about it because it doesn’t work. You need to practise those behaviours. (RSE expert 1, England)

Maybe get them involved early on, so it’s not too late to get them talking to their kids. (Parent, NI)

We do see a difference in the children that are coming from [primary] schools that have a really good grounding [in RSE]. There’s no issue talking about RSE in post-primary then. (RSE Expert 1, NI)

2. SRH education for parents and promoting RSE as a joint parent-school responsibility

Sometimes parental concern is as much about the fact that they haven’t received this type of education in their own schooling and are worried that their children might have questions about things that they don’t know how to talk about. Some schools have taken the approach of doing things like having sex education libraries that are accessible to parents, so that parents can actually increase their knowledge and experience before young people have this education as well. (RSE expert, England)

Sometimes those can be very difficult conversations to initiate - you know, once they’re started, great, but I felt sometimes your child would maybe prefer to talk to someone that they’re not so close to, you know, about something like that as well. So, I really welcomed the fact that [the school] were trying to be proactive (Parent, NI).