By Kimberly Kim
October is Let’s Talk Month, an annual effort to encourage parents to talk with their children about sexual health. While it may be scary to think our teens may be sexually active, having these conversations is vitally important. A majority of teens agree that it would be easier for them to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents
As a health educator in our community, I work with both teens and adults — answering their questions and helping them make smart decisions about their relationships. The comprehensive sexual health information I provide is important to their development, but parents play an even more critical role in helping their kids make informed decisions. When parents talk to their teens about sex, their kids delay sexual activity, have healthier relationships, and are more likely to protect themselves.
A new survey by Planned Parenthood and Family Circle magazine reached more than 2,000 parents and teens nationwide. The survey found that five out of six families are already talking about these important topics. The survey also shows that parents are much more comfortable having these discussions than teens. Half the parents in the poll said they feel very comfortable, while just 18 percent of teens said the same.
Knowing that teens are less comfortable can help parents approach these conversations differently. Parents should seize teachable moments, such as when a couple is intimate on TV, or start the conversation when eye contact is limited so their teen will open up more, while in the car, fixing dinner, or on a walk. Most important, adults need to have multiple conversations, instead of one “talk” to build their teens’ comfort level in talking about these issues.
This new survey isn’t just about how parents talk to their teenagers, however. It also sheds light on what we need to be saying to our teens. Setting clear expectations and boundaries is important, as is talking about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Eighty percent of parents know if their teens are having sex, so it’s imperative to provide young people with information about contraceptives so they can make safe decisions if they decide to become sexually active.
Parents can teach their teens how to say no to sex when they aren’t ready and how to stay safe when they feel they are. Let’s Talk Month is a great time to begin, or continue, the conversation with your kids. So, let’s get talking!
Kimberly Kim of Cedar Rapids is a health educator with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org