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Father and son in serious front porch conversation

Helping Teens Make Healthy Decisions About Sex, Relationships

By Dr. Kyzwana Caves, Adolescent Medicine at CHKD

Adolescence is hard – more so today than ever before. Teens are bombarded daily with sexually suggestive content on TV, in movies, and on the internet. That’s why it’s so important to have “the talk” with our children as soon as questions about sex arise and whenever a teachable moment presents itself.

Having an ongoing, open conversation about sex, sexuality, and sexual identity with our teens will help them make informed decisions and avoid potentially devastating, and possibly life-threatening, errors in judgment. Open communication will also help your teen steer away from unhealthy relationships.

Starting the Conversation

Medical professionals suggest opening the conversation about sex before the onset of puberty. The best way to start is to just be honest and real with your child. Consider beginning with, “This is hard for me to talk about, but it’s important that we talk about it.” Or, if you see something sexually charged on TV or the internet, use it as a catalyst to start a conversation. As your child matures physically, mentally, and emotionally, keep this conversation going.

Debunk common myths about sex and discuss facts. For example, all forms of sex carry some risk, and interrupting sex or only having sex during specific times during a woman’s menstrual cycle do not prevent pregnancy. Be specific and accurate about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, the potentially life-changing effects of an unplanned pregnancy, and the varying effectiveness of different types of birth control, including abstinence.

Without lecturing, but with guidance, discuss your values, morals, and ethics regarding sex.

Remind your child that no one should ever be forced to have sex. Explain to them that not using alcohol or drugs will help them make clearer choices. And, no matter what they’ve heard, everyone their age is not having sex. Remind them that sex can change their life and relationships and may affect the way they feel about themselves.

Healthy Relationships vs. Unhealthy Relationships

Teach your child the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships and how they should expect to be treated in any relationship.

Signs of a Healthy Relationship:

  • Showing mutual respect, staying honest.
  • The ability to trust each other.
  • Providing support when needed.
  • Sharing common interests but maintaining one’s own identity.
  • Practicing good communication, sharing thoughts and feelings without fear.

Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

  • Feelings of fear, stress, and sadness.
  • Actions that show a lack of respect.
  • Controlling behavior.
  • Getting blamed for things.
  • Possessiveness and smothering.
  • Feelings of jealousy.
  • Trying to change someone’s behavior.

Help Your Teen Resist Sexual Pressure

The pressure on teens to have sex is real, and to some, it’s as if losing their virginity is a badge of honor. This list from the American Academy of Pediatrics has some great comebacks for the usual comments like, “Did you do it?” or “C’mon, everybody does it.” Consider sharing these strategies with your teen.  

Teen Health 360 - Free Summer Academy for Parents, Caregivers, and Teens

The Teen Health 360 program, which is part of the pediatrics department at Eastern Virginia Medical School, aims to engage parents and caregivers as the main sexual health educators to guide their teen on values about sex and sexuality. The program is offering FREE Summer Academies in June, July, and August 2022, with lessons provided online via Zoom. The lessons will be delivered by certified health educators to youth in Middle or High School. Each day will include two lessons, each lesson 45-minutes for a 90-minute block. Teens that attend all five days will receive an incentive for participation and a certificate of completion. Click here for more information or to register. 

The Teen Health 360 program in collaboration with the Division of Adolescent Medicine at CHKD aims to increase access to and awareness of education and tools for youth to make informed decisions about relationships and their sexual health in an inclusive environment. The Division of Adolescent Medicine at CHKD specializes in the reproductive health care needs of male, female, non-binary and transgender youth including the use of contraception for pregnancy prevention, menstrual disorders, sexual health counseling, STI screening and treatment including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention. 

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About Children's Specialty Group

About Children's  Specialty Group Children's Specialty Group is the only pediatric multi-specialty practice serving southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The physicians of Children's Specialty Group base their practices at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters and serve as faculty in the Department of Pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Learn more about our specialists here.