How You Can Talk to Youth About Their Sexual Health
From being a biological parent, foster parent, adoptive parent, a sibling becoming a parent, a grandparent becoming a full-time parent or whatever part of parenthood you identify with, teaching your child about their sexual and reproductive health is a crucial part of their development. Our Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Intervention Program put together some tips on how to ease yourself into the conversation.
What Topics Cover the Term Sexual Health?
Sexual Health encompasses a lot more than what used to be taught and what we think of when someone mentions sexual health. When we talk about comprehensive sexual heath it is more than STIs, hormonal birth control and condoms. Now the conversations start with consent, what a healthy and unhealthy friendship looks like, practicing communication, and the pressures that media play into daily life. We cover these topics in an age-appropriate way.
What is Age Appropriate?
It’s important to start having open ongoing discussions on various sexual health topics early in your child’s life. This can help create a safe space and open communication with your child. Below is a breakdown of age-appropriate topics.
Upper Elementary School:
Boundaries: Establishing what the different types of boundaries there are for various relationships in their life, such as family, friends, new people and strangers.
Consent for youth is knowing they have the right to say no in any situation relating to their health and relationships in their life. An example of a child exercising their right to consent is that they choose to not give every family member and friend a hug, maybe they are more comfortable with a high five.
Body Autonomy: This is the time to start using medically accurate terminology for body parts to normalize the terms and ensure there aren’t negative feelings about it later. For youth with female bodies, going over menstruation and the hygiene steps as needed. For male-bodied youth, giving more detailed hygiene measures with the start of more hormones in their body, such as when the body starts creating sperm.
You may notice your kids go to their friends for advice. It’s good to remind them that you are available even if the question is awkward. Start bringing up the basics of pregnancy and STIs, as well as how the way sexuality is portrayed in the media is not realistic for the average person.
Discussing friendships: what a healthy friendship looks like and what are the warning signs of an unhealthy friendship or relationship.
Relationships: the differences within various relationships in their lives and what they are okay and not okay with.
Puberty: Using the correct medical and anatomical names for body parts helps normalize the terms and eliminate the taboo nature of using the correct name. Going over physical, emotional and social changes occurring in their body at this time. Normalizing the changes going on during this time is also helpful to make a child feel more comfortable, in a rapidly changing time.
High School and Beyond:
Consent: as it relates to sexual activities and pressures from their society.
Sexual Health: being able to discuss safer sex practices such as condom use, abstinence and emergency contraception, as well as pregnancy, STIs and where they can access reproductive health services.
Being an Askable Trusted Adult
Check yourself before starting the conversation. Are you comfortable and ready? What do you need to do to become ready? Find resources? Speak to a medical professional? Take a moment to do the work you need to be there for your youth. Not sure how to say what you need? It’s okay and perfectly normal to rehearse the conversation. It may feel silly, but it can help get the jitters out and help you come off more approachable.
If your child looks extremely uncomfortable or asks you to stop. Let them have that moment; there may be experiences or other reasons that your youth doesn’t want to open up. That is okay, it’s important to remind them that you are always there whenever they do want to talk. Don’t assume your child has or hasn’t been sexually active, that their sexual activity has always been consensual or what their sexual orientation is. Maybe they are not ready to share that with you just yet. Lastly, going in with an open mind and heart is a start in building that trust.
A great way to start the conversation is when it comes up organically. Talk about scenarios and help them understand issues as they come up on TV, in movies, ads, music, the news and in the community. Be prepared for silence. Talking about sexual health requires trust and can be hard to discuss. Come prepared with resources. There are links at the bottom of this post to help. Answer their questions if you know the answer – and be honest if you don’t know. Show them how to find that information safely by going through trusted web resources.
If only there was a way to see these conversations in action… actually there is! The Children’s Hospital of Chicago created ‘Never Fear Talks.’ This is a log of videos of parents talking to their youth about sexual and reproductive health. The youth ages in these videos range from elementary to high school age. See how they start the talk.
Keeping the Conversation Going
Be open, remind your child that you are always around to talk about their sexual health. Offer yourself as a resource and ask them to think about other resources they could talk to including a medical professional or health educator. Look for teachable moments in daily life to reinforce topics.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please email Jessica Chapman, Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Intervention Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org