How To Survive ‘The Talk’ With Your Teen   

How To Survive ‘The Talk’ With Your Teen

Talk to your teen about sex
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Jennifer Northridge, M.D.
Jessica Feuerstein, D.O.

When is the right time to have “the talk” with your child? 

Having discussions about sexual development and healthy relationships are important even before your child starts puberty. Therefore, the “talk” should be more about opening communication lines to have ongoing discussions about your child’s sexual health. 

When to have ‘The Talk’

When your child reaches the age where some of their peers have become sexually active, it is important that they already have the framework of information and values. Typically, you should begin these conversations with your kids around age 11 to 12 years.

Most importantly, your child should feel comfortable talking to you about what a healthy relationship looks like, so they feel empowered to handle any pressure they get to have sex before they are ready. 

If they do become sexually active, having openly discussed sexual health can help ensure they make an informed choice and take steps needed to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or unplanned pregnancies.  

“The most important thing a parent can do to help their teen is to open lines of communication so teens turn to their parents for advice.” says Jennifer Northridge, M.D., FAAP, Section Chief of Adolescent Medicine at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital. “Teens need to feel confident that if something goes wrong, they can always come to you for help.” 

How do I start a conversation with my teen about sex?

As your child’s body goes through puberty, there are opportunities to talk about healthy sexuality. 

Whenever your teenager has a question concerning sex or whenever a teachable moment presents itself from a TV show, you should take the opportunity. Try to keep it conversational: have an open discussion while also pointing out the potential consequences of sexual activity. 

Many studies have shown that talking about safe sex does not make a teen more likely to become sexually active.

You provided structure and guidance to keep your children safe and developed a relationship with them since they were young, so naturally they are going to look to you for guidance on this topic. But since talking about sex can be awkward, their attempts will likely be subtle. 

As their parent it will be up to you initiate a dialogue about sex and if you don’t, they will look elsewhere. There is plenty of misinformation on the internet, social media, and from their peers.  

When they come to you, be prepared to start a dialogue that provides accurate information without judgement. A great place to start the dialogue is to ask your teen what they want to discuss or any questions they might have. 

Encourage them to be open by allowing them to speak and ask questions, remembering that two-way conversations are often more effective than one-way lectures. Listening to what your teen has to say is the best way to let your teen know that they can always approach you about any topic, including sex.

What sexual topics should I talk about with my teen?

It is important to discuss the mechanics of sex and the risk of unwanted pregnancy, but also to expand the discussion beyond vaginal sex for your teen’s safety. Topics to discuss can include sexual fantasy, masturbation, non-penetrative sexual acts, oral sex, anal intercourse, and forms of electronic sex including phone sex, sexting, sex in chat rooms or virtual sex. 

Mature sexual relationships come with consequences. Encourage your child to delay sexual activity until they are physically, cognitively and emotionally ready for a mature sexual relationship. Educating them about intimacy, sexual limit-setting, prevention of STDs and contraception will help them develop the skills to evaluate their readiness for responsible sexual relationships. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages a comprehensive approach to sex education noting that it can help adolescents stand up to the pressures of having sex too soon. Sex education also encourages adolescents to have protective and mutually respectful relationships once they decide to have a sexual relationship.

Should I discuss gender and sexual identity with my teen?

Yes. Some teens who identify as LGBTQIA are afraid to tell their parents about their sexual identity or gender identity. Avoiding a discussion with their parents for fear of disapproval, can lead teens to feel isolated and adversely affect their mental health. One way to encourage open dialog is to let your teen know you love them no matter what and that they can talk to you about anything.

Can I talk about my values when I discuss sex with my teen?

Parents who model sexually healthy attitudes in their own relationships, maintain a non-punitive approach to sexuality and provide accurate information about contraceptives, STDs and relationships, generally produce adolescents with a healthy sexual mindset.

Discuss, don’t lecture. You can share some of your thoughts and values, but don’t forget to ask your teen what they think. Most importantly never be dismissive or judgmental. Listen to what your teen has to say about peer pressure, curiosity and other topics, then engage in conversation, further highlighting your values. 

Should I talk to my teen about consent?

Yes. It is crucial for teens to give and receive verbal consent, to ensure that both people are participating in sexual encounters willingly. Nobody should ever be pressured to have sex before they’re ready or when they don’t want to, even if they have before. 

Also let your teen know that it’s impossible for someone to give consent when they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

What other steps can I take?

  • Continue to supervise and monitor your teens by establishing rules, curfews, and standards for behavior.
  • Know what your kids are watching, reading and what they are listening to. Encourage your children to think critically, asking them what they think about the programs they watch and the music they listen to.
  • Encourage your children to take school seriously and set high expectations for their school performance. 
  • Be an advocate for teenagers’ access to comprehensive sexual education and affordable and confidential reproductive health-care services.
  • Encourage your child to speak with their pediatrician - they can also offer accurate information about sexuality and help facilitate conversations between parents and their children.
  • You can also find more tips in talking to your teens about sex through the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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