The “birds and bees” talk is one of the milestone conversations you have with your children. These discussions aren’t always easy or comfortable, but they are important for the physical and emotional health and well-being of kids and adolescents.
The California Department of Education (CDE) has recently launched a new curriculum to ensure that students in grades six through 12 receive the knowledge and skills necessary to protect their health and develop healthy and safe relationships and behaviors.
According to the CDE, the new comprehensive sexual health education instruction is age-appropriate, bias-free and provides information that is medically accurate and objective. It covers topics including the value of abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), contraception, making responsible decisions about sexuality, and developing healthy attitudes about personal development and sexuality.
Dr. David Hall, a double board-certified internal medicine and pediatrics doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, offers tips for parents to learn more about what your kids are learning and how you can talk with them about it.
Why is it important for parents to talk to their teens about sexual health and healthy relationships when the schools are already covering the topics?
Several studies have shown that parents are the number one resource for their teens in regard to sexual health. In a survey released in 2016, 52 percent of children ages 12 to 15 said their parents have the most influence on their decision-making when it comes to sex.
Parental conversations with their adolescents about sexuality education correlates with a delay in sexual activity and increased use of contraception and condoms. Furthermore, parents who are engaged and comfortable talking about sexual health have teenagers who are more knowledgeable and may even be more proactive in seeking reproductive health medical services.
What should a parent do if they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with some of the topics covered in school sexual health classes?
Lack of knowledge, skills or comfort with the wide range of topics covered may impede a parent or caregiver’s successful fulfillment of that role. Health care providers, schools, faith-based institutions and professional sexuality educators can guide and advise parents by providing training, resources, understanding and encouragement. Parents should feel free to contact their health care provider with any questions or for resources on the topic.
How can parents start that first conversation and get teens to participate?
Age-appropriate conversations about relationships and intimacy should begin early in life and continue throughout adolescence. This will help normalize the subjects and avoid the anxiety of having one big conversation — “the talk” — later in the teen years.
Conducting the conversation in an open, honest and respectful manner is very important for effective communication with your teen. If you can’t think of how to start the discussion, consider using situations shown on TV or in the movies as conversation starters. If you’re not sure about some issues, tell them about that, too. Sometimes, looking up the answers together can be an effective way of learning and teaching.
It’s also important — as with any discussion with your teenager — to have a two-way conversation. Adolescents may shut down, or show resistance, if they feel they are being lectured. Ask them what they think and what they know, as well as what, if anything, worries them. This will help keep your teen involved.
How can parents include their personal values in these conversations?
It’s important for parents to be clear about their own sexual values and attitudes, and to communicate these in the context of their conversation. The parent should also explain where the values originate and why they are important, while at the same time asking their teen what values and attitudes they hold toward the subject, and why. Keeping an open, nonjudgmental environment can facilitate the exchange of ideas and information.
When talking about sexuality, what should we share about healthy relationships?
It’s important for teenagers to understand that a healthy relationship involves not just physical intimacy, but emotional and intellectual intimacy as well. The ability for teens to connect deeply with another person and share life experiences, which can lead to mutual emotional growth and a satisfying intellectual bond, is a crucial part of healthy adolescent development. Healthy relationships are built on love, mutual respect, honesty, communication and encouraging shared growth. Physical intimacy is just part of the equation.
Schools used to simply teach abstinence. Why is that no longer the case?
Certainly, abstinence is one effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); however, it is only one component of a comprehensive sexuality education program. Ultimately, our goal is to educate teens on healthy human sexual development and to prevent consequences, such as unwanted pregnancy or STIs. Multiple studies have conclusively demonstrated that programs promoting abstinence-only until heterosexual marriage occurs are ineffective.
Having an open discussion about preventing unwanted pregnancy and STDs, which includes information on a variety of topics like healthy and safe sexual practices, and a frank discussion about the risks of unsafe sexual practices, can lead to healthier choices.
Learn more about common topics introduced in sexuality education and how to discuss these issues with adolescents by talking with your doctor or visiting healthychildren.org.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Hall about how parents can talk with their children about sexual health for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.