If you're a parent, you know kids grow and learn quickly. They learn from friends, teachers, and public role models. But as a parent, what you say and do really matters — even if your kids are getting older and more independent. The lessons you teach them now will influence the decisions they make for the rest of their lives. The Office of Adolescent Health's Think, Act, Grow initiative, reminds us that kids with parental oversight, support, communication, and connectedness are less likely to engage in risky behaviors than kids without those supports. So as you look to make this a healthier, happier year for you and your family, set aside time to talk with your kids about topics that will make them healthier for years to come.
Here are three conversations I want all parents to have with their kids, plus some links to online resources where you can get the information you need to be prepared for each talk.
- Making smart choices about sex. Here's an unsettling statistic — about 1 in 4 teens has a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Unfortunately, sexual health information is often clouded in myth and confusion. For example, kids may not understand that many STIs have no symptoms and you can't tell by looking at someone whether or not they have an STI. You can get the facts and help your kids learn how to protect themselves with Know The Facts First. This new campaign offers accurate information about sexual health, STIs, and STI prevention for girls so they can make informed decisions about sex. And it's a great resource for boys, too.
If you feel a little uncomfortable talking about sex and STIs with your kids, look for opportunities where you can bring it up naturally, such as asking what they think about a relationship in a TV show or movie you recently watched together. For more “teachable moments” and tips on talking to your kids, check out these ideas from the Office of Adolescent Health. Our Communication Skills Building videos can also help you think about ways to talk to your daughter about dating (and other topics).
- Building healthy relationships. From friends to crushes to parents and siblings, relationships can be a lot to navigate for kids. Helping your kids understand what a healthy relationship looks and feels like can make it more manageable. Knowing what to expect also makes it easier for kids to avoid toxic or abusive relationships and to speak up and get help if something is wrong. Girlshealth.gov offers healthy relationship basics and tips on dealing with conflict that are good for kids of all ages. You can also find information on consent and warning signs of abuse at loveisrespect.org.
- Avoiding smoking, drugs, and alcohol. Kids may try smoking, alcohol, and drugs for a lot of different reasons, like pressure to fit in or curiosity. So start conversations about the dangers early. The earlier you start, the greater the chance you will educate them before they find themselves in situations where they're exposed to tobacco, drugs, or alcohol. This way, they'll be prepared and know the consequences of these harmful substances. In addition, your kids will know what you expect from them, what your rules are, and what happens if they break them.
Adolescence can be a difficult time. Some kids may use tobacco, drugs, and alcohol as a way to deal with their feelings — the same way adults do. When it comes to these substances, think about your own behavior and the message it sends to your kids. Instead of relaxing after a stressful day by having a drink or a cigarette, choose an activity like exercising, journaling, or even coloring. Also, it might sound obvious, but make sure you use prescription drugs only as directed and don't keep old prescriptions around the house. Learn more about helping your kids make healthy choices about tobacco, drugs and alcohol.
Talking with your kids about topics like these can help you create an open and ongoing dialogue. Encourage your kids to ask questions. If you don't know the answers, that's okay. Look them up together. Girlshealth.gov is always a great place to start.