Sometimes it's difficult to see your child as anything but that: a child. Yet in many ways, teens today are growing up faster than ever. They learn about violence and sex through the media and their peers, but they rarely have all the facts. That's why it's so important for you to talk to your kids about sex, and about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Teens are one of the groups most at risk for contracting STDs (also called sexually transmitted infections, or STIs). You can help your kids stay safe by talking to them and sharing some important information about STDs and prevention.
Before you tackle this sensitive subject, though, it's important to make sure you not only know what to say, but how and when to say it.
Timing Is Everything
It's never too late to talk to your kids about STDs, even if they're already teens. A late talk is better than no talk at all. But the best time to start having these discussions is during the preteen years. Of course, the exact age varies from child to child: Some kids are more aware of sex at age 9 than others are at age 11. You'll need to read your child's cues.
No matter how old kids are, if they start having questions about sex, it's a good time to talk about STDs. When kids are curious, they're often more open to hearing what their parents have to say.
But not all kids ask their parents questions about sex. One way to start a discussion is to use a media cue, like a TV show, movie, or newspaper article, and ask what your child thinks about it.
You also could use the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine as a conversation starting point. The HPV vaccine, recommended for all preteen girls and boys, is most effective at preventing HPV infection if the series of shots is given before someone becomes sexually active.
The surest way to have a healthy dialogue is to establish lines of communication early on. If parents aren't open to talking about sex or other personal subjects when their kids are young, kids will be a lot less likely to seek out mom or dad when they're older and have questions.
Spend time talking with your kids from the beginning and it'll be much easier later to tackle topics like sex because they'll feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts with you.
Tips for Talking
To make talking about STDs a little easier for both you and your kids:
Common Questions About STDs
Depending on what your kids have heard from friends and the media, their questions will probably be fairly straightforward, such as:
Answering these questions and others as openly as possible is the best approach. It's up to you to gently correct any misinformation your kids may have learned. And always answer questions honestly without being overly dramatic.
It can be tough, but try not to be too emotional or preachy. You want your kids to know that you're there to support and help, not judge.
Finding Reliable Information
Communicating with your kids may not be easy, but it is necessary. And if you're always available to talk, discussions will become easier. Information from your doctor's office or organizations like Planned Parenthood can provide answers.
And websites like TeensHealth.org discuss STDs and sex in teen-friendly language. Viewing them together can help you and your kids start talking.
Your child's school can be another resource. Find out when sexuality will be covered in health or science class and read the texts that will be taught. The PTA may even offer sessions about talking to teens where you can share tips and experiences with other parents.
And don't shy away from discussing STDs or sex out of fear that talking will make kids want to have sex. Informed teens are not more likely to have sex; but when they do become sexually active they are more likely to practice safe sex.
If you try these tactics and still don't feel comfortable talking about STDs, make sure your kids can talk to someone who will have accurate information: a doctor, counselor, school nurse, teacher, or another family member.
Kids and teens need to know about STDs, and it's better that they get the facts from someone trustworthy instead of discovering them on their own.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD