How Do I Talk To My Kids About STDs?
Collage, I read an article about STDs and how a huge number of teenagers have them. I feel like I should talk to my kids about STDs, but I don’t want them to think I’m giving them permission to have sex. Can you give me some advice? How do I talk to my kids about STDs?
First, let us say – good job, Mom or Dad! You’re willing to step outside your comfort zone in order to talk to your kids about important, but uncomfortable, topics. That’s awesome!
And you’re right to be concerned. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), young people ages 15-24 make up about half of all new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) each year. That’s almost 10 million new cases of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) each year for teenagers and young adults. So yes, you’re right, we need to talk to our kids about safe sexual behavior and sexual health — even if we really don’t want them to have sex until they’re older or married.
So how do you do that? How do you talk to your kids about STDs without giving the impression that you’re offering a free pass for premarital sex?
Be informed. Before you initiate a conversation with your kids, you need to have some knowledge. Obviously, you don’t have to be an expert on sexual health, but it’s good to know a little bit or have resources handy to look at together. The CDC has some excellent, easy-to-read fact sheets about STDs and sexual health. This link is a good place to start.
Ask questions. If your children attend public school, there’s a good chance they have learned some things about STDs in health class. They may also have learned some inaccurate things from friends. You might start the conversation by asking what they know or what they’ve heard and then go from there.
If possible, start when they’re young. If your kids are already teenagers, then – of course – you can’t hop in a DeLorean and go back in time. But if your kids are still young, you can start conversations about hygiene and sexual health when they’re little. By having small, casual conversations about how important it is to wash thoroughly in the bath or wear clean underwear or change from a wet swimsuit and using proper body part terminology when you talk, you destigmatize these sorts of conversations. That will make it easier to talk about things like STDs when they’re in middle school and high school.
Look for teachable moments to talk about your morals and values in a nonjudgmental way. As you and your kids are listening to the radio, use song lyrics as a springboard for conversation. Or when a couple in a movie or on TV has sex outside of marriage, use that as a conversation starter. Talk about healthy choices without degrading the people who are making choices you disagree with — maybe in a tone that expresses concern rather than judgment. Ask your children what advantages and disadvantages they see in the character’s choices. Have conversations in which you listen as much as you speak — which can sometimes be hard for us. It’s possible to convey our morals and values to our kids without sounding preachy.
Share the data and statistics objectively. Sometimes the fact sheets are more persuasive than our words could ever be. Look at the CDC fact sheets together. Talk about the statistics and the chances of getting an STD. Together, look at the information and description of each STD along with STD symptoms and the eventual effects of untreated STDs. The goal isn’t to terrify our children, but to inform them. If they’re considering making grown-up decisions, they need all the information the grown-ups have on the topic.
Start the talk early. Don’t wait until you think your child is already sexually active to talk about STDs. Then it might be too late to prevent an STD. Go ahead and talk about this as soon as you think your child is mature enough to talk about sex and relationships.
Have the conversations often. This isn’t a one-and-done sort of conversation. Talking about sexual health is an ongoing conversation. And the more you talk about it, the less awkward it feels.
If your child is already sexually active, take him or her to be tested for STDs. This doesn’t mean you approve of your child’s choices. But it does show that you value your child’s health. This also brings in a medical professional to help your child understand the health risks of sexual activity.
As our children grow up, they may or may not make all the choices we want them to make. As parents, our goal can’t be to create miniature versions of ourselves and force our kids to have the same opinions we have. But we can non-judgmentally teach our values and provide the information our kids need to make healthy choices. And the more we talk about these uncomfortable topics with our kids, the more opportunity we have to share our thoughts and learn about the people our children are becoming.