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Tips for Talking to Your Children About STDs and Staying Healthy

Are you having a hard time talking to your children about their sexual health? You aren't alone. Eighty-four percent of American mothers feel they could use some help discussing sexuality with their children. Most parents want their kids to know about abstinence, contraception, and how to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but they have a difficult time communicating about sexuality. Although it may be challenging, talking about sexuality is important. Positive communication between parents and their kids has been shown to make a tremendous difference in establishing positive self-esteem and healthy lifestyle choices.

The following are several tips that may help you in talking to your kids about sensitive issues:

Start early

Research shows that younger children seek their parent's advice more than adolescents, who tend to depend more on their friends and the media. Take advantage of the opportunity to talk to your young children about issues of sexual health. Talking to your kids about issues like dating and relationships, STDs, and HIV can leave a lasting impression. This will help you provide your children with information that is accurate and reflects your personal values and principles.

The quality of parent-child relationships has an important influence on adolescents' sexual behaviors. A survey of 751 African American youth (by Jaccard, Dittus, and Gordon) found that adolescents who (a) believe their mother disapproves of premarital sex or (b) said they are satisfied with the relationship they have with their mother are more likely to abstain from sexual intercourse and have sexual intercourse less frequently, and for those who are sexually active, use contraceptives more frequently.

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Initiate conversations with your child

Don't wait for your children to ask you about sex, HIV, or STDs. Although you may hope your children come to you with questions and concerns, it may not always happen. Initiate conversations on your own. Use everyday opportunities to talk about issues important to sexual health. For instance, current events or news stories, music, television, or movie content are great avenues into bringing up health topics. If you're watching a TV show about a pregnant teen with your son, ask him what he thought of the program when the show is over. Did he agree with the behavior or decisions of the teenagers in the show? Just a few questions can start a valuable conversation.

Talk WITH your child, not AT your child

It is important to talk with your children. Make sure you listen to your children the way you want your children to listen to you. Try to ask questions that will encourage them to share specific information about feelings, decisions, and actions. It is important for you to understand exactly what your kids are saying, that your children feel they have been heard, and that their opinions are valued, even when they differ from your own.

Create an open environment

Research shows that kids who feel their parents speak openly about sex and listen to them carefully are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors than teenagers who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject. Adolescents who report a sense of connection to parents, family, and school and who have a higher grade point average are more likely than other teens to wait to engage in intercourse. Teens who report previous discussions of sexuality with parents are seven times more likely to feel able to communicate with a partner about HIV/AIDS than those who have not had such discussions.

Not only do open relationships and environments have positive effects on the sexual risk-taking behaviors of teenagers, they also give teenagers a safe forum for asking questions and getting complete information. Be available, honest, and attentive. Praise your children for coming to you to talk about sexuality, which will teach them that you are always available for information or advice.

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Be prepared: Practice

It isn't always easy to talk about sexuality with your kids. In fact, it can be extremely difficult for some parents. Don't be afraid to practice. You can practice in front of a mirror, with your spouse or partner, or with friends. Your ability to speak comfortably about sexual health will make your children more comfortable asking questions and discussing sensitive issues.

Be honest: It's OK to say "I don't know"

When your children trust and value your opinion, they will be more likely to come to you with their questions and concerns. It is also important to know that you do not need to be a sexual health expert. It's OK if you don't know all of the answers to all of your children's questions and to say "I don't know." In fact, if you don't know the answer to your child's questions, you can make the search for the correct information an activity to do together.

Communicate your values

In addition to talking to your children about the biological facts pertaining to sex, it's important that they also understand sexual relationships involve feelings of caring and issues of responsibility. Parents need to make their children aware of their values about sex. Although they may not adopt these values as their own, it's important that children are aware of them as they develop their own set of values about sexuality.

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Last updated: June 18, 2003
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