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.
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.
To make talking about STDs a little easier for both you and your kids:
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.
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
Date reviewed: October 2014
|American Sexual Health Association This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preventing sexually transmitted diseases and offers hotlines for prevention and control of STDs.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Planned Parenthood Federation of America Planned Parenthood offers information on sexually transmitted diseases, birth control methods, and other issues of sexual health.|
|GYT - Get Yourself Talking and Get Yourself Tested This media campaign designed to get young people to talk with their health care providers and partners about the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases.|
|Sexual Development Changes become more dramatic and complex with the onset of puberty, and kids are likely to have lots of questions. These articles can help you become a trusted source of information, comfort, and support for your kids.|
|Genital Warts Genital warts, contracted through sexual contact, are caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is one of the most common STDs.|
|About Condoms Talking to your kids about sex can be daunting. But discussing issues like abstinence, STDs, and birth control can help lower teens' risk of unintended pregnancy or contracting an STD.|
|Questions and Answers About Sex Answering kids' questions about sex is a responsibility many parents dread. But by answering these questions honestly, parents can help foster healthy feelings about sex.|
|HIV and AIDS Parents who are well informed about how to prevent HIV and who talk with their kids regularly about healthy behaviors, feelings, and sexuality play an important part in HIV/AIDS prevention.|
|Telling Your Partner You Have an STD People who have STDs might feel apprehensive about discussing their disease with a partner. Here are some tips on talking to a partner when you have an STD.|
|Talking to Your Partner About STDs You know you should talk about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) before the action starts, but if you're like most people the thought of having "the talk" makes you completely nervous. Welcome to STD Chat 101.|
|Genital Herpes You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Read about how to protect yourself.|
|HIV and AIDS There is no cure for AIDS, which is why prevention is so important. Get the facts on HIV/AIDS, as well as how it affects the body and is treated, in this article.|
|Genital Herpes Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that's usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).|
|Chlamydia Chlamydia is an STD caused by bacteria. It's important to know the symptoms, as treatment can prevent the infection from leading to other health problems.|
|About Birth Control: What Parents Need to Know Talking to your kids about sex can be daunting. But discussing issues like abstinence, STDs, and birth control can help lower teens' risk of unintended pregnancy or contracting an STD.|
|About Birth Control Before you consider having sex, you need to know how to protect yourself. Read this article to get the basics on birth control.|
|Talking to Your Partner About Condoms Some people - even those who are having sex - are embarrassed by the topic of condoms. Here are some tips for talking about condoms with your partner.|
|Syphilis Syphilis is an STD that, if it goes untreated, can lead to serious health problems.|
|5 Myths About STDs There's lots of misinformation out there about STDs. We set the record straight on 5 of the most common myths.|
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|Genital Warts (HPV) You've probably heard lots about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. For information on how to protect yourself and how to treat genital warts, read this article.|
|HPV Vaccine The HPV vaccine can help protect against the virus that causes genital warts and may lead to some kinds of cancer. Find out more in this article for teens.|
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