If you are the parent of a teen or preteen, it may be worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on how much your child may be changing in the coming years – especially when it comes to becoming a young man or woman. Perhaps over a cup of coffee, engage with the deeply important topic of teen sexuality. This subject, inevitably part of your child’s journey into adulthood, requires thoughtful consideration and an open dialogue between you and your child.

As parents, we have the opportunity to discuss sex before our kids have decided to become sexually active. Openly discussing sex affords parents and caregivers the opportunity to equip their children with the knowledge needed to decide whether having sex is right for them. It is a chance to give them the tools to avoid STIs and pregnancy, address the very important topic of consent, and it provides an opportunity to discuss mental health.

Most teenagers, especially the younger ones, do not think about the consequences of their decisions at the moment they are making them. Specifically, most do not consider those decisions resulting in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or pregnancy, as well as in equally concerning consequences such as anxiety and depression. According to the CDC, by age 15, 21% of females and 20% of males have already had sex. By age 17, 53% of females and 48% of males have already been sexually active. By 20 years old, 79% and 77% of females and males respectively had sexual intercourse. These statistics are a bit sobering to parents. Being cognizant of the statistics can help parents prepare themselves, and more importantly, their children, for the inherent risks of sexual activity.

Recognizing that teens have access to a wealth of information—and misinformation—is crucial. Despite the discomfort many young adults may feel when broaching this subject with their parents, it does not diminish the necessity for an open and honest discussion. On the contrary, the amount of misinformation on the internet is astounding, and an assessment of your child’s knowledge will help guide the communication and keep them safe.

How to Talk to Your Teen

Choose a calm, neutral setting to initiate the conversation. Begin with an open-minded and supportive introduction to the topic, centering on clear objectives: avoiding STIs, preventing pregnancy, minimizing anxiety/depression, and, perhaps most ambitiously, considering the choice to delay sexual activity. When discussing sensitive topics like sexual activity with your teen, stay focused on your goal of keeping them safe, even if they initially react negatively. Start the conversation by acknowledging they might not want to talk, but stress the importance of discussing safe sex practices. Let them know they can join in the conversation or listen, and assure them you are not judging but are there to help because you care.

If your teen denies being sexually active or resists the discussion, keep in mind that this is likely a necessary conversation for the future. However, you can view this as a chance to inform and prepare them before they start having sex, showing that your main concern is their well-being.

Do not hesitate to discuss the concept of abstinence. Some young people might not even know what the term means. Explain that choosing whether or not to have sex is exactly that—a choice, and one of those choices includes opting not to have sex. Simply forbidding your child from having sex is one of the least effective ways to prevent it. However, empowering them with knowledge about the consequences and responsibilities associated with sexual activity is far more effective. This approach is likely to capture their attention and encourage them to thoughtfully consider their options before making a decision.

Once you have engaged your teen audience, it is time to tackle the topics. You can start by acknowledging STIs – Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV), and HIV really do happen.

Plus, according to literature published in the last 10 years, girls who start having sex at a young age (defined here as 14-16 years old) are at a higher risk of depression and anxiety. According to this study, this effect is not seen in boys nor in girls who initiate sexual activity later. The reasons for this are varied and hypothetical, but the implications are not. Try to delay having sex. Attempt to talk to your teen or even pre-teen about delaying sexual activity and be vigilant to your teen’s mental health, especially after the first year of becoming sexually active. This is when the risk for depression and anxiety is at its highest. Seek mental health care for your teen if you see signs of depression such as easily crying, sleeping and eating disturbances, isolation, etc. The good news is, according to this study, the symptoms of depression and anxiety begin to abate one year after the first sexual experience.

Using Your Pediatrician As Your Guide

While this can be an uncomfortable conversation to have with your children, it is necessary and your TopLine MD Alliance affiliated Pediatrician can help! For guidance on how to discuss pregnancy and STI prevention with your teen, as well as information on potential contraception, please reach out to your affiliated Pediatrician. They can help you explore the best options for these important conversations.

Dr. Alina Di-Liddo is a proud member of the TopLine MD Alliance practicing Pediatric Care in Broward County.

The TopLine MD Alliance is an association of independent physicians and medical practice groups who are committed to providing a higher standard of healthcare services. The members of the TopLine MD Alliance have no legal or financial relationship with one another. The TopLine MD Alliance brand has no formal corporate, financial or legal ties to any of the affiliated physicians or practice groups.