One of the most common questions parents have as their children reach adolescence is, “when is it time to have the talk?” Research shows that adolescents are more likely to postpone sex or practice safe sex when they have an open dialogue with their parent or guardian. So rather than having just one talk, it’s important to have many smaller conversations throughout your child’s life about their body and sexuality.
Parents can help children and teens understand that their body is theirs, and theirs alone—helping to build a positive body image and self-esteem.
When children are young, these talks can begin by describing the human body, using anatomically appropriate language, and progress into sex, sexuality, attraction and what healthy relationships look like as they approach puberty and discover their own identity. Teens are more likely to make decisions on sexual behavior based on the values their parents have taught them. Parents are encouraged to discuss life goals and what to expect out of relationships with their kids. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but establishing an open dialogue helps them understand the changes their body will go through and the responsibility that comes with having intercourse.
The car can be a great place to have these conversations since it’s easier to talk when you don’t have to make eye contact.
If you don’t have all the answers, offer to look up the information with your child or schedule an appointment with their provider or a specialist that can answer their questions. Unfortunately, today’s media can often set unrealistic expectations and may influence teens to engage in sexual behavior at an earlier age. This further supports the importance of parents maintaining constant communication with their teens about their sexual behavior and can create an opportunity to help them understand what is realistic and safe versus what is exaggerated and negative in the media. Cone Health Center for Children is an excellent resource for families in the community, with an exceptional team of adolescent medicine specialists, pediatricians and other children’s health professionals.
Brandy Wilson is a behavioral health intern at the Cone Health Center for Children. She received her Bachelor of Science in psychology from Mars Hill University and a master’s degree in recreation therapy from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Brandy is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and will graduate in May 2018.