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Digital platform aims to address lack of reliable relationship and sexuality information for young people

11 August, 2023

Interview by Rosetta Stone, adapted by Athena Li-Watts

University of Canterbury lecturer and Project Director of Te Puāwaitanga, Tracy Clelland, says porn has become “the default educator” for rangatahi (young people) navigating relationships and sexuality, with the creation of Te Puāwaitanga hoping to shine a light on ethical education. 

A new app designed with young people for young people aims to start a kōrero about everything to do with relationships, gender, sexuality, and sex.

The free platform, Te Puāwaitanga: Beyond the Birds and Bees, was developed by researchers at the University of Canterbury, who spoke to focus groups of rangatahi to develop their online curriculum. 

University of Canterbury lecturer and Project Director of Te Puāwaitanga, Tracy Clelland, told 95bFM’s The Wire, that schools and parents often don’t have the resources for young people to learn about these topics, and information is constantly changing, which makes it difficult to know where to go for guidance.

Clelland said rangatahi may be getting their information from unhelpful sources, and the app gives them abundant information “all in one spot” without having to filter through offensive and inaccurate information themselves.

“It’s reliable and it’s not porn as the default educator.”

According to Clelland, the rangatahi they spoke to wanted a digital platform to learn about communication skills for navigating relationships, sexual health, gender norms and stereotypes, and gender-based sexual violence. 

As well as an app, Te Puāwaitanga has expanded to other platforms including TikTok, Instagram, and a website for parents and whānau to use as a resource to have open conversations with their children.  

Clelland reassures that the content is evidence-based, constantly regulated, and carefully curated from reliable resources. The content on Te Puāwaitanga is updated by a team of researchers and educators, while university volunteers create social media content.

They collaborate with organisations, including The Light Project, Family Planning, Rape Prevention Education, and The Burnett Foundation on their content. A lot of material on the app was also pulled from InsideOut Kōaro — a charity that supports LGBTQIA+ rangatahi. 

“We've tried to be as inclusive with language as possible because we're really about diversity and celebrating diversity,” said Clelland. 

Currently, the app is recommended for rangatahi aged 13 and above. But Clelland believes the content is suitable for younger children. 

“We know from our research; I know from being a parent and an educator for over 30 years, that a lot of the material on there is already being accessed by 9, 10, and 11 year olds.”

Clelland hopes the platform will see more funding, so that relationship and sexuality education can be accessible for all.

“So far, the feedback we're getting from people is great.”

“Finally, they [rangatahi] can find information that is correct and reliable.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air