The Basics: Overview
Teach your children the facts about their bodies, sex, and relationships. Talking with your kids about sex may not be easy, but it’s important – and it's never too early to start. You can make a big difference in helping them stay healthy and make good choices as they grow up.
It may be hard to know where to start, especially if your parents didn’t talk to you about sex when you were growing up. The following tips and strategies can help.
What do I say?
Kids will have different questions and concerns about sex at different ages. As your child gets older, the things you talk about will change. Remember to:
- Talk early and often. You don’t have to fit everything into one conversation.
- Be ready to answer questions. Children’s questions can tell you a lot about what they already know.
- Listen carefully, even if you don’t agree with your child’s opinion.
- Try using things that come up on TV or in music to start a conversation.
- Be honest about how you are feeling. For example, if you are embarrassed or uncomfortable, it’s okay to say so.
Will talking to my child really make a difference?
Parents are the most important influence on a teen’s decisions about sex and relationships. Your child may want to talk to you about sex and dating, but may not know how to start the conversation.
Teens who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to put off having sex until they are older. They are also more likely to make healthy choices, like using condoms to prevent pregnancy and STDs, if they do choose to have sex.
The Basics: Bodies and Puberty
When is the right time to start talking?
It’s never too early to start talking to children about their bodies. Use the correct names for private body parts. To learn the correct names, check out these slideshows:
What do I tell my child about puberty?
Puberty ("PEW-ber-tee") is when your child's body starts to change into an adult's body. Puberty is different for each child.
Puberty can be a confusing and overwhelming time for many kids. You can help your kids by:
- Telling them that puberty is a normal part of growing up
- Sharing facts to help them understand their changing bodies and feelings
- Talking about your own experiences when you were a kid
As your kids get older, they may be less likely to ask you questions, so it’s a good idea for you to start conversations with them.
The Basics: Gender
What if my child has questions about being a boy or girl?
Some children act or feel like they are a different gender than the sex that's listed on their birth certificate. For example, a child who was born male may feel like a girl, not a boy. And some kids don't feel like a boy or a girl.
When people act or feel like they are a different gender than their birth sex, this is called being "gender non-conforming." Some children may feel this way from very early on, while others may start to feel this way during puberty.
It's important to let your child know that you love and accept him or her – no matter what. Get more tips for parenting a gender non-conforming child.
The Basics: Healthy Relationships
How can I help my child build healthy relationships?
Families have different rules about when it’s okay for kids to start dating. Whatever your family rules are, the best time to start talking about healthy relationships is before your child starts dating.
Start conversations about what to look for in a romantic partner. Help your kids develop realistic and healthy expectations for their relationships.
Talk about opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.
When you talk about sex and relationships, don't assume that your teen is only interested in opposite-sex relationships. Some teens may be interested in same-sex relationships or identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
No matter what, it's important to let your child know that you love and accept him or her. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens whose parents are supportive are less likely to be depressed, and more likely to make healthy choices about sex and relationships. Find out how you can support a lesbian, gay, or bisexual teen [PDF - 256 KB].
Get more tips to help you talk with your kids about healthy relationships.
The Basics: Pregnancy and STDs
What do I tell my child about preventing pregnancy and STDs?
Make sure your kids have the facts they need to make healthy decisions. This includes information about pregnancy and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) like HIV/AIDS and chlamydia.
Both boys and girls need to know how to stay safe. Even if you think your child isn’t dating or having sex, talk about ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs.
Tell your child about different birth control methods, like birth control pills. It's also important to make sure your child knows how to use condoms to prevent STDs – even if he or she is also using another method to prevent pregnancy.
Check out these links to learn more: