Talking to Your Kids About STDs
Sometimes it's difficult to see your
child as anything but that: a child. Yet in many ways teens today
are growing up faster than ever. They learn about violence and sex
through the media and their peers, but they rarely have all the
facts. That's why it's so important for you to talk to your child
about sex, particularly sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Teens are one of the groups most
at risk for contracting STDs. You can help your child stay safe
just by talking to him and sharing some important information about
STDs and prevention. Before you tackle this sensitive subject, however,
make sure you know what to say and how and when to say it.
Timing Is Everything
It's never too late to talk to your child about STDs, even if he's
already a teen. After all, a late talk is better than no talk at
all. But the best time to start having these discussions is some
time during the preteen or middle school years. Of course, the exact
age varies from child to child: some kids are more aware of sex
at age 9 than others are at age 11. You need to read your child's
cues - when he starts having questions about sex, it's a good time
to talk about STDs.
Questions are a good starting point
for a discussion. When your child is curious, he's more open to
hearing what you have to say. Another way to initiate a discussion
is to use a media cue, like a TV program or an article in the paper,
and ask your child what he thinks about it.
The surest way to have a healthy
dialogue with your kids is to establish lines of communication early
on. If you aren't open to talking about sex or other personal subjects
when your child is young, he'll be a lot less likely to seek you
out when he's older and has questions. Spend time talking with your
child from the beginning and it'll be much easier later to broach
topics like sex because he'll feel more comfortable sharing his
thoughts with you.
What to Say About STDs
STDs can be a frightening and confusing subject, so you need to
be informed when you talk with your child. It may help if you read
up on STD transmission and prevention. You don't want to add any
misinformation, and being familiar with the topic will make you
feel more comfortable.
A good first step is asking your
child what he already knows about STDs and what else he would like
to learn. Encourage your child to raise any fears or concerns he
might have. Make him feel that he's in charge of this talk, not
you, by getting his opinion on whatever you discuss. You might also
ask what your child or teen thinks about sexual scenarios on TV
and in movies and use those fictional situations as a lead into
talking about safe sex and risky behavior. If you let his questions
lead the way, you'll have a much more productive talk than if you
have a particular agenda.
Remember: your child may already
know a lot more than you realize, although much of that information
could be incorrect. You need to provide accurate information so
he can make the right decisions and protect himself. And don't shy
away from discussing STDs or sex out of fear that talking about
it will make your teen want to have sex. Informed teens are not
more likely to have sex, but they are more likely to practice safe
This time might be good to discuss
STD prevention with your child. Explain that the only sure way to
remain STD-free is to not have sex or intimate contact with anyone.
Any teen who is having sex should always use a latex condom, preferably
with a spermicidal foam, cream, or jelly that contains nonoxynol-9.
While nonxynol-9 has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting
gonorrhea and chlamydia, it is important to note that nonoxynol-9
does not protect against AIDS.
Common Questions About STDs
Depending on what your child or teen has heard from friends or the
media, his questions will probably be fairly straightforward. What
are STDS? What do they do? How does someone catch one? How can you
cure them? He might be afraid that he can contract an STD from holding
hands, hugging, or sharing a glass with someone. Or that, like AIDS,
all STDs are ultimately devastating or fatal. Your child may also
wonder if people who catch STDs are somehow bad, or whether you
can tell a person is infected just by looking at him or her.
Reference Source 50