Age-appropriate, evidence-based education about sex, sexual identity, and sexual health is key to lowering the risk of abuse, reducing teen pregnancy, and reducing the spread of STI's for teens. Children that feel safe enough to talk about their identity and their sexual health with a trusted adult are at reduced risk of becoming targets for sexual predators and are more equipped to make safe choices about sex.
Things to keep in mind when talking to your tweens and teens about sex:
- The priority is maintaining open communication so that they will talk with you about any problems they may have in the future! Stay in connection.
- Assume that your teen will be responsible and live up to your expectations around safety and consent. Do not assume they will "let you down" or talk to them as if you are sure that they are going to "do it wrong".
- Be transparent and clear about your own views on sexuality. To stay silent is to rob your kid of your personal perspective.
- There are many ongoing debates about teaching about sex in schools such as: safe sex programs supporting condom distribution vs abstinence until marriage programs. There is also debate around if gender identity should be taught in schools and if so, when? Let your teens know about your thoughts on these topics, and present them with articles from both sides. Invite them into dialogue with you about it.
- If you can’t answer one of their questions - tell them you’ll get back to them. Get back to them promptly and let them know what you found.
As girls develop:
- Often by age 10, girls will need their first bra. This should be a fun experience! Have a trusted adult female take them on a shopping trip for their first training bras.
- Girls have their first period as early as 10. Make sure they have education about hygiene, have access to a variety of period care options (tampons, diva cups, and pads), and have a positive, welcome-to-womanhood attitude! Recently, first-period parties or celebrations have become more popular.
- Make sure to educate girls about pregnancy and especially the first trimester. Make sure your daughter understands your views on abstinence, consent, birth control options, abortion, adoption, STI's, her legal rights, and what would happen or be your reaction if she became pregnant while living at home. Try to keep this as matter of fact as possible. The goal is to share this information while keeping lines of communication open.
- Even though the girl is starting to fill out, she still needs tickling, hugs, and roughhousing that the family has done in the past. Sometimes fathers and brothers will pull away from girls physically as they grow. The girl will likely interpret this as rejection and will begin distancing herself from her family. This leaves her at higher risk for assault or self-harm behaviors.
As boys develop:
- Approach your boy with a curious and open attitude such as "how much do you know about erections?". Let your teen lead the conversation. Make sure he knows that erections are natural and can happen spontaneously.
- Go shopping for his first jock strap together. Maintain the isn't this neat! attitude.
- Make sure to educate him about abstinence, birth control options, abortion, adoption, pregnancy, sex, STI's and consent. Make sure he understands the risk of pregnancy and how the family will respond if a pregnancy happens while he's living under your roof.
Talking to your teen about sexual orientation and gender identity:
- Educate your teen on sexual orientation and gender identity, and share your views about it from a neutral place.
- Give them articles, books, and additional information about the topic as well. Allow them to do their own research and to have an open dialogue with you about it. Ask your teen what they think with curiosity and openness.
- Accept the reality of your teen's exploration even if you don't like it.
- Know that it is normal for a teen to experiment with many different forms of gender expression. One day a teen may feel like a "girly-girl" and the next day they will be a "tomboy". Having space and openness around this is essential as your teen discovers more about who they are. Read more about teen self-identity building here.
- Youth may internalize negative feelings about their sexual orientation, causing them increased emotional struggle as well as lowering the likelihood that they will report the abuse. LGBTQ populations are at increased risk for abuse.