First, the good news. Teen births in the United States have declined dramatically in the last 20 years. Yet we still have the highest teen birth rate among developed nations, and in 2013 there were 273,105 births to teens 15–19 years old. Did you know that, as a parent, you have a strong impact on whether your teen makes healthy decisions? This includes decisions about sex.
Young people reach sexual maturity during the teen years; it's a normal part of human development. As they mature, teens need their parents' help to understand their feelings and plan how to handle peer pressure if they're not ready to have sex. If your teen is sexually active, it's important to know how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Ideally, the conversation is an ongoing, age-appropriate dialogue that starts when your children are young and progresses into the teen years. In the real world, that may not be the case.
As the Director of the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) and a mother of two young men, I know how important it is — and how challenging it can be — to talk with your children about sex, pregnancy, STIs, and healthy relationships. So, what can parents do?
Important Things Parents Should Know
Parents don't always realize it, but we can play a powerful role in helping adolescents make healthy decisions about sex, sexuality, and relationships. If you think talking to your son or daughter about sex is tough or it makes you nervous, you're not alone. Parents of teens agree this is one topic that can really make them anxious. Many don't feel they have enough information. Others say they don't really know how to talk to their children about sex because their own parents didn't talk to them about sex. Or they are embarrassed.
Advice for Talking With Teens
My advice is to start by using the resources and tips available from the Talking with Teens section of the OAH website. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, foster parent, guardian, or a caring adult, the resources provide the information you need to begin and maintain communication with adolescents about sex, sexuality, sexual health, and relationships.
Every parent-teen relationship is unique, and only you know exactly what you want to say to your teen and when. But sometimes it helps to get suggestions. Getting Started offers tips on what teens want to hear from parents and tools for choosing the moment and getting the conversation started. Of course, these conversations are going to generate questions. When that happens, Just the Facts has the essentials to help you come up with answers. If you don't know the answer to a question your teen asks, you can look up the answer together online or at the library. Talking with your teen about sex and sexuality may also open the door to conversations about other issues. We have many resources to help you navigate topics such as healthy relationships, bullying, alcohol, tobacco use, and online safety.
As parents, we need to take time to talk with our teens. Today's conversation may influence their decisions now and for years to come. Having that talk can make a big difference to your teen's future.