Talking About Sex With Teens: Dos and Don’ts for Parents
Parents who discuss safe sex with their teens can have a positive impact, even if they are not always sure that the message is getting through. This is especially true for teenage girls who chat with their mothers, a new study suggests.
Researchers at North Carolina State University at Raleigh and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reviewed the medical literature, including 52 previous articles on the subject, spanning 30 years of research and including more than 25,000 adolescents.
Their analysis found that parent-adolescent communication about sex had a small but significant positive effect on safer sex behaviors in adolescents, increasing their likelihood of using condoms and contraceptives. This association was stronger for girls and stronger for adolescent girls who discussed sexual matters with their mothers.
The study authors also reported that the link between parental communication and a contraceptive for teenage girls and condom use was significantly higher among girls than boys.
“The results of this study confirm that parent-adolescent sexual communication is a protective factor for young people,” they wrote.
It’s a message that many teens need to hear. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47 percent of all high school students in the United States have had sex at least once, and one-third are sexually active. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for about half of all new cases of sexually transmitted diseases, and while teenage pregnancies have declined considerably, there are still over 600,000 per year.
In an accompanying editorial, Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, professor of social work at New York University, and his coauthors noted that most of the research has focused on parental influences to delay sexual activity. They said sexually active teens also benefit from parental discussions about sexual and reproductive health.
“Young people want to hear from their parents and overwhelmingly say that parents matter,” the authors of the editorial concluded.
But sometimes these conversations are hard to start, or awkward even if they start. CBS News asked a few experts dos and don’ts to help parents bring the topic up to their teens.
Start talking early
“I really try to urge parents to start early so it’s never embarrassing,” said Dr Anna-Barbara Moscicki, chief adolescent and young adult medicine and professor of pediatrics at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital.
Moscicki said children can start asking questions at age six or seven, when they start hearing and seeing things on TV, the internet or at school. Answer their questions, she said, but keep it age-appropriate. The idea is that if you start talking early, as your child gets older, talking about sex and its consequences won’t be a taboo subject.
“Let’s not wait until your 13-year-old is pregnant to have a conversation,” Moscicki said.
She also reassured parents that talking about sex doesn’t make your child want to have sex. “There is a lot of literature that shows this.”
update your knowledge
Parents need to be educated before talking about sex with their children, said Dr. Leslie Walker, division chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“There have been a lot of changes. There are now types of birth control that weren’t there when they were kids,” she said.
One of Walker’s favorite sites for parents, young adults and teens who want more information on safe sex is Bedsider.org, operated by the National Campaign to Prevent Teenage and Unplanned Pregnancies.
“Try to help them figure out how to be as healthy as possible in their sexuality,” she said.
SHARE your family values
“Don’t be afraid to convey your own beliefs and convey what you think is appropriate, ”Walker said. But let them make their own decisions about their personal lives, she advises.
Have continuous conversations
Talking about safe sex isn’t a one-off discussion, Walker said. Children are bombarded with messages about sex from an early age. Take advantage of these “teachable moments”.
“It’s in our media all the time. It’s not hard to find. Find ways to talk to them on a level they could understand. And keep talking about it and knowing how to live your life well and make healthy choices, ”she said. .
Don’t fear the clumsy
“It’s going to be awkward. It’s not something we were raised to talk about with our kids, although we should have been,” Walker said.
Still, she said parents are one of the primary sources of information for children about sex, so it’s important to keep communicating, even if it’s not perfect.
DO NOT judge or punish
“Don’t shut up the kids,” Walker said. “Don’t cut the lines of communication, like saying, ‘If you ever do that, then you’re out of the house. “”
She said if something were to happen – an unplanned pregnancy or sexual assault – a teenager needs to know that he can come see a relative, talk to him and get help.
Moscicki of UCLA said, “Their sexuality is not the parents’ business, but the parents can be there to give specific information.”
She said you can tell your child that you are worried about their safety and approach them the same way you would discuss drinking alcohol, explaining that you don’t agree to drink when they are. of a party, but you really don’t want someone to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.
Like it or not, Moscicki said, “Kids do things. There must be conversations going, ‘I trust your judgment, but sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you need to. help. “”
Never ask a teenager questions like, “Are you having sex? Do you use condoms? Moscicki advises. Instead, be a resource; ask, “Do you know where to get condoms or contraception? She said to tell a teenager that you recognize it is her personal decision.
“Tell them, ‘I just want to make sure you’re safe. I care about you. “The remarks may be more about sexuality rather than inquiries,” said Moscicki, who added that if they cannot approach you and get specific information, they may be pressured by their peers to get their information. from an uninformed friend, or turn to unreliable online sources.
DO NOT share too much
“Kids don’t want to know about their parents’ sex lives or what happened to you when you were a teenager,” Walker said.
Moscicki of UCLA agreed, “Personalizing it – that’s what really turns kids off.”
Moscicki said, instead, if you want to start a conversation, try referring to an article you’ve read or something you watch on TV.
“Your child may surprise you and say, ‘I’m not ready yet and I’m not planning anything. “”