In Conversation with Anju Kish, Founder of UnTaboo
- What is UnTaboo all about?
UnTaboo is a Safety and Sex Education company that runs Awareness Programs to educate children and teens. It empowers them with all skills necessary to navigate the tricky growing up years with ease. Our programs help nurture a positively informed, happier & responsible generation, leading to a safer society. Further, we also work with parents and educators in order to unblock their resistance against Safety and Sex Education to make it more acceptable and accessible.
- Who is Anju Kish and what made her setup UnTaboo?
Anju Kish is a double graduate in Law and Mass Communication, settled in Mumbai with her ad-film-maker husband and two teenage sons. Having worked as a journalist and later as a copywriter, she has authored two non-fiction books. Her growing son’s queries led her to hunting book shops for a kid-friendly book on sex education but in vain. So, she decided to take the bull by the horns and pen one herself! But not before she went back to the classroom and got certified as a Sex Educator. She then went on to launch UnTaboo in 2011, became a four-time Ted-x Speaker & Author of the book on puberty, sex & growing up for children titled, ‘How I got my Belly Button’, which recently bagged the Best Children’s Book of the year 2019 award. She’s also a blogger empowering parents to tackle questions on Comprehensive Sexuality Education & an expert Sex-ed Columnist for Tweak India. Ms. Kish is the Producer of the critically acclaimed Growing Up – a Play on Puberty & Safety in India. A changemaker & entrepreneur, she is also a Stand-Up Comic, using the platform to bust mindsets against sex education.
- What is Safety & Sex Education and what all does a professional class on it entail?
Safety & Sex Education isn’t merely a talk on good touch, bad touch, or the sexual act, it is way beyond that. It is age-wise/ grade-wise, incremental learning-based, culturally-aligned information about the physical, emotional, behavioral and social changes children and teens experience as they mature, tools to cope with these changes, and skills to develop healthy and rewarding relationships. It helps them become well-informed and enables responsible decision-making on matters concerning puberty, sexuality and growing up.
A structured session facilitated by our certified sexuality educators entails imparting the education in a safe space and in a non-judgmental manner. It is interspersed with games and fun assessments to check the child’s learning. Our unique pedagogy helps young people feel empowered and easily internalize information. It also has an element of opening doors of communication between parents, educators and children so that crucial conversations on the topic are fostered lifelong.
- India is a country wherein ‘sex’ is a hush-hush topic. How can professional sex-educators change this notion? And why is it necessary to change the notion?
While sex may be a hush hush topic, the entire gamut of information we provide by intervening at each developmental stage of the child is potentially lifesaving and all young people should have access to it. Professional sexuality educators, like our team at UnTaboo is helping shift the narrative around it by making parents and educators aware of the realities of this generation and providing Safety & Sex Ed rooted in our values. Usually, when there is an external trigger – like a child watching porn, a case of Child Sexual Abuse, or a bullying incident in school, our phones go off. We at UnTaboo understand the importance of being proactive as opposed to being reactive and while it has been an uphill journey to change the notion, we remain dedicated to the cause.
- Kindly elaborate on the age-groups that should be targeted about sex-education and period-talks and how can it be done in a fun and effective manner?
Safety & Sex Education has to begin very early on, maybe even when the child is around 2 years of age. It begins with teaching them the right names of their genitals, moving on to the concept of privacy, bodily autonomy and safe-unsafe touches.
Before they start puberty, between the ages of 9-12 years, it is pertinent to prepare them for the various changes they will go through and help them sail through this period positively. Both girls and boys should be spoken to about the changes the other gender will go through because we need to UnTaboo these topics and bring about gender sensitization.
In their early teens, they can be given sex ed starting with explaining sexual changes, sexual act and their consequences. In their late teens, it more about safety, experimentation, consent, relationships and a plethora of other topics they need to be spoken to as they grow older.
The key is to never brush a question under the carpet and find an age-appropriate way to answer them. We set a base at each age bracket for discussions that can be taken forward at the next stage. In order for such sessions to be fun, children need to be given the agency and shouldn’t be spoken down to. Keeping it relevant to their experiences, encouraging them to give their opinions and not making it a moralistic lecture also makes it more effective for them.
- Do you support the idea of sex-education as a separate subject in every school? If yes, kindly explain why and how it is beneficial to kids and parents.
Our children and teens are growing up in a rapidly changing world and they are bombarded with adult content from a young age. They need to acquire the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes which will allow them to develop healthy relationships and make informed and responsible decisions. Through Safety & Sex education our children and teens can be equipped with accurate, culturally-aligned and age-appropriate knowledge, and social and emotional skills so that they can protect themselves from sexual advances and abuse, and avoid unsafe sexual experimentation and activities that lead to problems related to teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. When Safety & Sex Education is given in schools, the entire peer group gets the same information and it happens in a more structured manner. Giving this education in school also ensures that these topics are normalized and children grow up with better body image, understand boundaries and consent from a young age and instances of bullying also go down.
- It is a common myth that the more you talk about sex to children, the more they will engage in sex. Kindly disqualify this myth.
Do we refrain from talking to children about cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs because we feel like it would encourage them to try them? Do we put a complete ban on them from accessing the internet because they may chance upon adult sites? In the same way, we also need to give them information about their bodies, sexuality and safety so that they can understand how they can navigate potential threats to the same. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to this subject. Also, the average age at which a child in India experiments sexually is 14 years and we don’t have any Safety & Sex Education currently, so how can we blame conversations on it leading to experimentation? Adults invested in the healthy development of children need to remove their blinders and open their eyes to the reality of this generation. Besides, research the world over has shown that when there are open and non-titillating conversations about these topics, children tend to delay experimentation.
- List out a few basic tips on how parents can engage in the ‘important talk about sex’ with their kids and be supportive in making them understand the pros and cons of sex at a certain age in general.
Whether it is talking to your children about boundaries or the changes they will go through at puberty or the entire birds and bee’s conversation, what parents need to remember is that they need to help build their children’s coping skills. It isn’t enough to tell them to not fall prey to peer pressure or their safety may be compromised, they also need to anticipate different situations in which their children may experience it and ideate together on how they can combat it.
Also, if your child asks you a question that has you stumped, don’t chastise them for asking or change the topic. Openly appreciate your child coming to you with the question and admit to them that you don’t know the answer if you don’t. Buy some time, do your research and go back to them with an age-appropriate response. It is all about building that safe space for your child wherein they can come and talk to you about anything.
In short – become an askable parent and untaboo conversations on every topic at home. You cannot prevent the child’s exposure to information, nor can you protect your child 24×7, but open conversations to help them understand concepts and equip them to handle situations can go a long way to protect them and also develop responsible attitudes in them.
- Does UnTaboo deal with topics like sexual abuse, rape, molestation, eve-teasing and so on? If yes, how do you help children who have faced these acts in life? And how do you teach kids in general to avoid such situations?
We do educate children about safety and sexual offenses but we do it in a way that doesn’t scar them and put them on the edge. We believe in making them aware and alert. We also create a very comfortable space for sharing all kinds of things at our sessions and whenever we notice a red flag, we make sure to involve the child’s caregivers – be it their parents, guardians, or teachers. A Sexuality Educator’s role is different from a Psychologist or a Counsellor in this aspect. Our focus is to also enable children to safeguard themselves since we cannot watch over them 24×7. Through our sessions, we help them develop a sense of ownership over their bodies and help them identify safe adults in their lives whom they can approach in case there is a threat to their safety. We equip them to watch out for warning signs and we take it one step forward by teaching them how not to be the abuser themselves.
- List out the sessions that UnTaboo engages in, the price ranges for the same and the future path that the initiative plans to roll out.
UnTaboo has programs for children between the ages of 6-18 years, their parents and educators and also young adults. Our much-acclaimed trainer-led online programs which happen via zoom or google meet are:
- My Body is Mine (ages 6-8)
Value: Rs 2000 – 2 hours
- Positive Puberty for Girls (ages 9-12)
Value: Rs 2500 – 3 hours
- Positive Puberty for Boys (ages 9-12)
Value: Rs. 2500 – 3 hours
- Introduction to Reproduction (ages 13-15)
Value: Rs. 3000 – 3.5 hours
- Let’s Talk – Sex | Sexuality | Safety (ages 16-18)
Value – Rs. 2500 – 4 hours
- Break the Wall of Silence (for Parents & Educators)
Value – Rs. 20,000/- (upto 50 parents) – 2 hours
All the programs for children are followed by a 1 hour combined parent-child session. These rates are for small group workshops and for schools of course we have heavily discounted bulk rates.
We are also on the brink of launching our E-learning Platform and we are going to be introducing 2 online programs that children can pursue at their own time and pace. These are our most popular Positive Puberty for Girls (ages 9-12) & Positive Puberty for Boys (ages 10-12). Experts in our team have designed content to facilitate independent learning, using fun & simple teaching styles, making it extremely impactful, leading to behavior change. Our unique pedagogy is used to teach concepts, followed by a doubt discussion, and culminating in an evaluation to generate a progress report for the parent.