Your preteen or teen may be embarrassed, shy, or afraid to talk to you about topics that matter. You might be just as uncomfortable talking about these topics as well! One of the best things you can do is show that you are comfortable talking about sex, puberty, drinking, drugs and other topics to help put your son or daughter at ease discussing these topics with you.
Why do I have to talk to my children about sex?
The earlier you talk to your children about sexuality, the better. Children are better prepared to cope with their feelings and to understand changes when they’ve been having open discussions at home before sex enters the picture.
What exactly do my children need to know and when should I tell them?
By age 9 children should have an idea of “how things work.” This includes the differences between girl and boy bodies and the changes that puberty brings. Explain that they may experience new feelings along with these changes. Discuss what menstrual periods and wet dreams are. Reassure your child that these are nothing to be embarrassed about and they happen to everyone. Clarify what sex is and how babies are made and use these action steps to explain consent and encourage a healthy sexuality.
Be sure to provide in-depth information on birth control and other forms of contraception, sexually transmitted infections, drugs, and healthy relationships. If you have trouble answering your child’s questions, search reputable sites and find the answers together.
How do I talk to my children about drinking?
When children are young (toddlers), they are most likely to emulate adults as a way of learning. By drinking responsibly, parents are setting a good example for their children. When children are a little older (early elementary age), they might start to recognize alcohol and wonder what it is. Explain how alcohol has harmful effects and can affect people’s judgment and functioning. The preteen ages are the most crucial in influencing how your child thinks and feels about drinking. This is a time when they will likely be peer pressured into drinking and they need the information to say no. Describe how alcohol affects people – both short-term and long-term. At this age, it is also appropriate to casually mention alcohol to see what your children know or have heard about it. For example, ask your child if they have ever heard their friends talk about drinking. Once children are teenagers, they already know about drinking and how you feel about it. Now is the time to reinforce your opinions about alcohol and remind them that you are always open to talking.
- ”Teachable stories” are the best way to start a conversation. Do you know someone who is pregnant? Does your child know of a television or movie character going through puberty?
- Be as open and available as possible when your child wants to talk.
- Start the conversation – do not wait for your child. It is possible that they do not feel comfortable asking you any questions because you have not talked about it yet.
- Start as early as possible. Ask children if they know why there are differences between boys and girls or if they know what pregnancy means. Ask preteens if they are afraid of puberty or if they know what changes will occur during puberty. Ask older teens when is a person is ready to have sex and how a person figures that out.
- If you are asked a question that you do not know, find the answer with your child.
- If you are afraid to talk about it, think: is it better for my child to hear information about sex from me, or from his or her peers?
The SafeTeens Blog
The SafeTeens blog occasionally publishes posts for adults with teens in their lives. Here are some of our greatest hits:
- The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Teens Consent
- The Obamacare Resource Post: Get Covered in the Health Insurance Marketplace
(References: Planned Parenthood, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, KidsHealth)