In the African concept, a sexual health discussion is held with quite a lot of innuendoes and unfinished sentences. Most parents are very embarrassed to discuss their sexual health problems or queries with the older folks. They prefer to rely on the suspect information of their friends or surf the Net for answers!
Policy makers and implementators are yet to give honest, open lectures on sexual health a recognized place in the school curriculum. It is thus not very surprising that the fight against the spread of STD's and HIV particularly is moving rather slowly.
SOCIETAL CONCEPTS AND VALUES
The young person grows within a society and is bewildered by the inconsistencies he finds within. The boy is expected to be virile and active while the girl is assumed to be virginal and chaste. These realities are barely acknowledged but do affect the attitude of youth to each other resulting sometimes in risky sexual attitude.
ECONOMIES OF LIVING
I say the economies of living because even rich people hardly ever know how to handle the exigencies of negotiating a responsible life style let alone teach the youth how to live responsibly. Poverty of both funds and right knowledge is one of the important factors that the youth must understand if he is to effect a change.
What role can the youth play in behavioral communication change.
ACCESS AND ASSESS
He must be able to have right access to correct information and be empowered to assess information he receives and process it accordingly.
Ability to access information depends on the facilities available to him. We already have mentioned quite a few. The key factor on this will be his relationship with the source of information. Relationships and our dependence on them determine our ability to process such information towards change. If we are able to trust our source of information, then processing is easy. We tend to collect information from our peers but are they really trust worthy sources? In early adolescence, from the ages of 10 15 or thereabouts, our peers exert a great influence on our information processing ability. Our self-awareness is just coming into play and we sense the need to belong. But a more trusted source of information ought to be our teachers, parents and at a level, our information services like the print and electronic media. The youth of today has moved from a lack of information to a surfeit of information. Why does he need to change his attitude? He now has a surfeit of information! The fact is he has a surfeit of superfluous information! A chat room in a Cyber café is the last place a 13 year old should go to have a chat because that child lacks the right negotiating skills to maintain a relationship.
POWER TO NEGOTIATE
Life skills are developed and enhanced by availability of correct and accurate information. Youth need to able to negotiate their different realities in relationship. That is what makes it easy for them to have the right emotional, and mental perspective on their goals and dreams. He must be empowered by the right kind of information to have the ability to negotiate his relationships with his friends, his peers, his parents and the society at large.
Communication in its right format and perspective helps the youth to understand these realities and process accordingly.
What can the youth do in ensuring these changes are positive?
He must be willing to identify his own goals and dreams and define the priorities that can make these dreams actualities. Youth are natural scientist in the fact that they experiment a lot! They tend to believe practically everything they see and half of what they hear. It makes them feel cool, hip, with it? Right! However a focused youth who has a set goal will take a more pro-active measure towards achieving his set goals and will naturally seek out the right sources of information. He would employ what comes to him, naturally, the ability to question and assess the consequences of his actions. He would be able to define his identity and accept his differences from his fellows as not an embarrassment but see it as a uniqueness of his person.
He would have a list of priorities and belief system that he can trust and defend. This will give him an identity of himself, which gives him confidence and trust in his ability to achieve his set goals.
Here's the problem. When do you really decide it is okay to have sex? I mean in my days, it was hinted at, we whispered about it but I very much doubt if we really knew what it really meant. Let me tell you a little bit of what relationships were like amongst us and our parents, especially for those who had parents that were not very educated. My dad spoke English to me. He got as far as standard four. That was education then. He ran away to join the army he says because he wanted to be in on the action. When he was demobbed, he worked for the British tobacco company and was paid something like ten shillings.
I could not possibly imagine me and Dad talk about when I could have a sexual relationship! Now there was another problem, as far as my mum was concerned I was 'alakowe' that is to say, I was educated. In essence I ought to know better than her. Technically in terms of academics ,she may be right. But heck, we were talking about negotiating a safe relationship with the opposite sex and as far as we know, it was zilch! Let us take a breather from my story and take some hard look at today's scenario. How much different was it from what obtained in the past? Today's children make up for what they miss on the pages of newspapers, electronic media with surfing the internet. I once watched in rapt horror as two girls discussed how you could pick up a date on the internet! I have daughters and I watch them sometimes with some fascination when their friends come visiting. The law in the house is clear, no visitors of the opposite sex! Sounds archaic? But for goodness sake is there a manual about how to tell your child the intricacies of first sexual experience or phew! If you should know what to do? In my last year at school, when I came to the village, I would have male friends come visit. My mum did not frown, she excused us by leaving me alone in the room with them. She innocently thought, she was giving me respect and privacy. She also felt being better educated than her, I would know better! I know a lot of my contemporaries who abused that ignorant trust. The nearest to sexual education we got in those days were strictures! Nice girls don't get pregnant. I lost a school mate who out of terror did an abortion and died from it. For most of us, I tended to think it was the fear of death from abortion that kept us from experimenting. Today, there is the added knowledge of HIV, so I guess a niggling horror of contracting that keeps some girls and boys for that matter from experimenting. I also learned through the years that parents are yet to have a clear understanding about how to go about handling their adolescent children. It could be very confusing and I look forward to the day when we can sit our children down in true African fashion and show them a viable working manual for life. In this day of grinding poverty and awful wealth, a man has to define himself every step through every experiencing, how he wants to weave the tapestry of his journey here. Sound like preaching? I guess, you could say that. Communication is fluid and mobile mechanism that we must use each time. Responsibility is not only about feeding and sending the children to school but also looking after the emotional need of the child. I remember one time in Lagos during the launch of one of our series, the Kenyan musician Tedd Josiah, said something. He said, sex for young adults was just so much nervous expenditure of energy. He tried to explain to the students we had invited, that self control was possible if it is backed by knowledge. Do parents talk? Do they have correct and accurate information they can pass on. We heard quite a lot of myths! We believed them. I grew up on a diet of authors like Denise Robins who wrote for audience that may not have included me. It gave me an unrealistic concept of men. I saw them as chivalrous! How mistaken I was, as very painful avoidable experiences came my way. I had to grope my way to maturity! It was not a picnic. Maybe one of the reasons I am writing this at all is to expiate some of the guilt we feel for some of the things we did. I could have listened meekly to my mum, but my age and ignorance were factors that did not help. So when she said, promise to marry him but do not get pregnant, she really lost a lot of moral ground. When she made a u-turn and said I could no longer marry him, I felt betrayed! I had been brought up to that point by my father to believe that a man's word was sacred. I had given my word to him that I would marry him, as long as I had no reason to believe that status quo had changed I was not prepared to change my word! I had a bitter few months with my mum. The bit of closeness we had achieved evaporated. Then she said, if I married him she would disown me! What was that? I left the next morning. I stayed away for seven years.