Entering her teenage years, Donna (15) experienced a lot of changes in her life; starting from physical, hormonal, and emotional changes, as well as finding herself amidst various problems. This girl from Lampung then gradually learned to make sense of the changes happening to her, including how to adapt to these changes.
Conversations about these changes were started by her mother after she experienced her first period. Back then, Dona was still a first-year student at an intermediate school (Sekolah Menengah Pertama or SMP). The information she had at that time wasn’t sufficient to quench her thirst for knowledge, especially regarding the complex changes happening to her.
“Yes (there are various changes), for sure the body shape changes; and then, what else, the emotional [change] is really important, if you are asking me. Back then [I] wasn’t able to control it,” as Donna told us while reminiscing about her early days of puberty.
At the same time, Donna’s school was chosen as one of the school that would implement the SETARA program; a program involving the use of a module – SETARA module – which contains explanation and learning about puberty, including matters related to reproductive health (kespro) for youth. With the aid of this program, Donna was no longer moving aimlessly in her attempt to understand her development. Just like a compass, the knowledge from the SETARA program guided her in finding her own path.
“The thing that I remember is [the learning] about emotion, about puberty. The SETARA module teaches us how to control our emotions. I think this is a very important topic. You see, no one will teach us about that, and trying to find knowledge about it on the internet is too tiresome. But since it was taught at school, it entered my brain, […] and then we utilized some games too, it makes the whole process exciting,” according to Donna.
“Back then I couldn’t control it [my emotion]. Now I’m a senior high school student, and I’m not as grumpy as I used to be,” she explained.
Similar change was also felt by Rahman (16), a youth from Lampung. Rahman, who is also actively involved in the boy scout, explained that there have been several physical changes occuring, which makes him and his friends curious. However, learning about reproductive health made him realize that what he is experiencing is normal, including the wet dreams.
Even so, according to Rahman, knowledge related to reproductive health should ideally be provided at an earlier age. The reason is, there are several changes or signs of puberty that start to show up even when the child is still at elementary school-age.
“My hope is that SETARA [program] will be given to those younger than intermediate school-age,” Rahman stated.
Curiosity reaches its peak when entering puberty. At least that’s what was experienced by Rama (15), a youth from Semarang. An example of a question that was once asked by Rama and his friends is, “you can get pregnant and give birth when dating someone, why? How (to get pregnant)?”.
“Women’s reproductive (system) is confusing, so is with menstruation, and then when it comes to boys, why do we experience breakouts (acnes)? Why? Why is Adam’s apple growing? How?” Rama continued.
For Rama, step-by-step and thorough learning are important elements in the effort to educate both himself and his friends. Now, some of his questions have been gradually answered one-by-one. Even so, the learning process continues.
“I’m happy that my unanswered questions are now starting to get answered. […] We need to let others know. We need to perceive these (topics) as positive, instead of negative,” he stated.
Aside from the learning obtained at school, peers have an integral role in shaping adolescents’ life choices. This was mentioned by Donna, as she learned a lot from her peers.
Donna has a small circle of friends when she was enrolled in the intermediate school, she also has a circle of friends during her high school years (SMA). One of the topics that was oftentimes discussed within her circle is romantic relationships; as they are growing up together and started to fall in love with others.
“We are teenagers, of course we talk about boys,” Donna told us.
Even so, accompanying friends that are entangled in a toxic relationship is not an easy task, according to Donna. Thus, further learning on this topic of relationships needs to be carried out in detail.
“(If) one of my friends is suffering from a toxic relationship, and we give her our advice, in the evening she breaks up [with her boyfriend] but on the next day, they are back in a relationship. I’m confused about the kind of advice that we should give to her.” Donna explained.
Aside from that, Donna mentioned that knowledge related to sexual relations needs to be studied by and disseminated further among teenagers; due to the high prevalence of unwanted pregnancy cases in her community.
As shown in the data from The Indonesian National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN), the number of unwanted pregnancy cases is indeed, high (420.000) and is increasing by 17.5% during the pandemic. Around 16% of those cases happened to girls aged 15 to 19 years old.
“Because a lot of people don’t know, it’s a gray area, it’s not that clear,” Donna said.
in the COVID-19 pandemic
15 - 19
Similar tale was told by Eva (14) from Denpasar. In her social environment, romantic relationships have become one of the most discussed topics. Eva, who dreams to be a teacher, feels that it’s important for young people to understand the boundaries of a healthy relationship. The reason is because she has seen cases of toxic relationships happening in front of her eyes, from within her community.
“The goal of dating is to support each other, to be happy, why do so if they end up being unhappy?,” Eva explained.
“I’m glad I obtained positive knowledge, and I’m getting wiser [older]. I think I’m lucky that I learned about reproductive health at school because not all of us could take part in this SETARA initiative. This knowledge is important for our future, that helps guide us to the correct path in the future,” said Eva.
“So if we don’t learn about this now, we might make mistakes in the future. Then, to prevent us from doing something that we might regret in the future […] to obtain more knowledge in the future, to protect ourselves,” she continued.
“Now they know. For example, someone asks them to do something, now they can say ‘no’ because they know what it means. Then, for example, in public spaces, if someone touches their thighs, they can say ‘don’t do that, it’s harassment,’” Hetty explained.
This is also reflected in National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) Annual Note (2019) which shows that there were at least 2341 cases of violence agains girls, of which 571 were cases of sexual violence.
“When discussing sexual violence at school, I briefly mentioned about teenager’s understanding regarding the topic, regarding sexual violence, and what’s weird is that, I got a lot of comments, but they were making fun of the discussion,” Rio told us.