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Talking to Your Kids About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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Talking to Your Child | Supporting Your Child's Well-Being | Caring for Your Child's Health | What to Do If Your Child Has an STD

As a parent, it may be difficult to accept that your children are sexual—and even harder to think of them engaging in behaviors that would put them at risk for diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Below are strategies you can use when talking to your children about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Talking to Your Child

While you may feel uncomfortable discussing sex with your child, it is too important of a topic to ignore! You can actually set the groundwork for this discussion when your child is young, for example, by being open to questions your child may have about his body. Building a trusting relationship over the years will make all the difference when it comes to bringing up this sensitive issue.

Also, keep in mind that you do not have to have one big discussion about sex and STDs. Having short, meaningful talks can be very helpful and give your child something to think about. For conversation starters, look to what is going on in your child's world. For example, if a teenage character on your child's favorite show is pregnant, this can lead to sharing thoughts about unprotected sex.

What if you do not know a lot about STDs? Now is a good time to get the facts from reliable sources, like the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Learn about the most common STDS, the risk factors, the symptoms, the treatments, and ways to prevent these infections. Talk to your child about what you have learned, using language that he can clearly understand. Also, if your child would like to read more on his own, give him printed materials or show him useful websites.

Remember that scare tactics are not helpful! Trying to frighten your child about the dangers of STDs may make him feel uncomfortable talking to you about his concerns. But it is important that you work to correct any misconceptions that he may have about how STDs are spread. You may want to share ideas that you used to have about sex and choices that you made when you were younger.

Feel free to ask how your child feels about sexual activity. Questions like "Do you think it is okay for a person to have unprotected sex?" may be good starting points to learn about your child's views on sex. This can also lead to a discussion about ways to prevent STDs.

In addition, get advice from family and friends who have raised teens. Other parents can be a source of support and encouragement when going through this normal, but challenging time in your child's life.

Supporting Your Child's Well-Being

In addition to having honest conversations about sex and STDs, you can support your child's overall well-being by:

  • Providing good role models—Children can learn from your example and the example of other good role models like older siblings, relatives, and friends.
  • Promoting self-confidence—Praise honesty, independence, talent, effort, responsibility, and good decision-making. This will promote self-confidence, which can help your children overcome peer pressure and make good decisions about sex.
  • Encouraging positive feelings about sex—People who have positive feelings about sex, their bodies, and masturbation may be more likely to protect themselves from STDs, unintended pregnancy, and sexual abuse. Try to instill these positive feelings in your children.
  • Fostering good decision-making skills—Offer options instead of giving orders. By making choices from an early age, children gain practice in making good decisions.
  • Developing trust—If your children know that you will be there for them no matter what, they may be more willing to trust you with information about their sexual activity and ask questions. Try to be patient and reasonable to foster this trusting relationship. Respecting your children's privacy, personal space, and individuality can also help gain trust.
  • Reassuring your child—Children can feel isolated and depressed going through the teen years. Stress that "being different is normal" and that other teens have similar feelings.

Caring for Your Child's Health

Your child should have regular physical exams where your child's doctor can help decide if there are any tests that need to be done. It is very important that your child has access to confidential healthcare and has a doctor that he feels comfortable with.

During the physical exams, your child should get the recommended vaccines for his age group. For example, there is a vaccine to protect against the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV, one of the most common STDs, causes genital warts, and some strains can lead to cervical cancer. Hepatitis B is another infection that can be spread through sexual activity. This vaccine is normally given to newborns, but older children and teens who have not been vaccinated can receive the series of shots.

What to Do If Your Child Has an STD

If your child is diagnosed with an STD, there are steps that you can take:

  • Make sure your child goes to his follow-up appointments and takes the recommended medicines.
  • Encourage your child to tell the doctor if his symptoms worsen or if new symptoms develop.
    • Note: Sometimes the symptoms of STDs can be mistaken for other conditions, or the infection may not have any signs at all.
  • Offer your child emotional support. Reassure your child that having an STD does not make him a bad person. Also, your child may want to talk to a therapist about what he is going through.

Your child needs to know that you support him and want him to be healthy. You can help your child make good choices about sex by being available for talks and by being ready to listen.

RESOURCES:

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

http://www.plannedparenthood.org/

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

http://www.cdc.gov/STD/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Sex Information and Education Council of Canada

http://www.sieccan.org/

References:

How to talk about sex with your teen. Healthy Children.org, American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/dating-sex/Pages/How-to-Talk-About-Sex-With-Your-Teen.aspx. Updated May 2, 2012. Accessed May 31, 2012.

Recommended immunization schedule for persons aged 7 though 18 years—United States, 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/7-18yrs-schedule-pr.pdf. Updated December 23, 2011. Accessed May 31, 2012.

Sexually transmitted disease program: resources for parents. County of Los Angeles Public Health website. Available at: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/std/parents.htm. Accessed May 31, 2012.

Talk to your kids about sex. Health Finder.gov website. Available at: http://www.healthfinder.gov/prevention/ViewTopic.aspx?topicID=77&cnt=1&areaID=5&TopicContentID=493. Accessed May 31, 2012.

Last reviewed May 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.