THE TRAFFIC LIGHT CAN HELP US DIFFERENTIATE – PART 2
Birgit Hegge is a clinical social worker with a master’s degree in social subjects. She is also an educated specialist in sexological counselling, with approval from the Nordic Association for Clinical Sexology (NACS). She specializes in violence and sexual assault due to her many years of experience with mental health and child welfare. Hegge is a proponent of the prevention aspect of good sexual development and health.
The Traffic Light is a framework for understanding sexuality, sexual development and how this is expressed in children and young people. In other words, the Traffic Light is meant to raise awareness of sexuality being an important part of children’s development – as important as language, for instance. It is also a tool to help us differentiate between healthy and problematic expressions of sexuality. Why is this important?
In my experience, sexuality in children makes adults uncertain. We’re uncertain of what we see, what we should say, and how to react in the face of a child’s sexuality. We might just say nothing, reject or scold the child, resulting in the child not receiving the support and guidance they need. When it comes to sexuality, children need guidance and support just like in other aspects of life, and help to develop good sexual health as well as a healthy view of their own body.
How does the Traffic Light help? Well, many adults report just reading it helps clarify what behaviours are acceptable. The Traffic Light is divided like the name indicates; in the colours green, yellow and red. The green light is the “go”-signal in traffic, and in this framework describes what a natural, healthy sexuality looks like. Now, if the child doesn’t show their sexuality, this is okay too. We are all different people, and not all children put their sexuality on display. At the green level, the child requires positive attention and support from you. The yellow light in traffic tells you to slow down or stop – or to get ready to drive. The same applies to yellow sexuality; you need to figure out what is happening. Are all the children fine? Do they find what’s happening acceptable? You have to find the answers to those questions; speak with the children, help them figure it out, ask them about their thoughts.
Sometimes children need help with figuring out different ways to do things, and sexuality is no exception. Help them to adjust, find other ways, be more aware of everyone else’s boundaries. They need help with understanding and recognizing if they themselves are okay with what is occurring. If children don’t learn to recognize and enforce their own boundaries, they may have difficulties understanding how others can be uncomfortable. The red light means “stop”, both in traffic and in regard to sexuality. If the behaviour is red, you, the adult, must intervene immediately.
This is why many people actively use the Traffic Light, either with fellow personnel or other acquaintances; they get to talk about it and read through the different categories, both colour and age group. The Traffic Light describes the different levels of age well, including what to expect and what sexuality in those ages looks like. However, such a framework can’t account for everything, and talking to other people reveals how humans are all different people with different boundaries. Adults are no exception, and we all react differently in the face of others’ sexuality – especially the sexuality of children. If you discuss it – preferably with your staff group – you can find out what this all means to you at your kindergarten/school/place of work, and how your institution should operate. You can together decide where the boundaries are, and why. What do you react to, and what don’t you react to? What keeps you from reacting in situations where you should have?
If this has been discussed beforehand you can also create a strategy for how to act if a child expresses their sexuality in an unacceptable way. In addition, you can agree on a method of speaking to the child about sexuality. When we discuss the validity of our thoughts we become more assured, more open, and we appear more concise to children – and if we are clear and concise, children become assured as well. They receive the guidance, training and support they need to develop a healthy sexuality. This is the foundation of good sexual health; positive development, lots of joy, and healthy sexual common decency.
Birgit Hegge, høgskolelektor VID, fakultet for helsefag.