Tips on How to Talk to Your Internet-Savy Kids About Sex

How to approach the subject of sex with children and answer their questions.

Dec. 15, 2009 — -- While the majority of 18- to 29-year-olds say they know how to prevent pregnancy, a recent Harvard University study found that not many of them are putting their knowledge into practice.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News senior health and medical editor, sat down with a group of young people to talk about their sexual habits and their views on contraception.

During the conversation some of the 20-something participants said it did not surprise them that most young adults believe pregnancy should be planned but not all of them are always using contraception, according to a recent study.

"Sex is glorified. Like in TV, movies and music videos. You watch 'Gossip Girl,' and you know they're not like 'Wait, let me put a condom on.' And they just have sex and it's so romantic and passionate," said one female participant.

Besser said research shows that parents are talking to their children about sex way too late.

The Harvard study found that more than 40 percent of adolescents had intercourse before talking to their parents about safe sex, birth control or STDs.

Besser gave some tips on how parents can broach the tricky subject with their children:

It's not just 'the talk.' Make sure to have a series of talks with your children. They may be uncomfortable asking you questions initially, so be sure to come back to the subject and keep the door open.

Start when your child is young and talk about his or her body's changes. Keep the conversations age-appropriate.

Children are internet-savvy, so be sure to ask them what they already know and verify that their information is correct.

Other Tips for Talking to Your Kids

Talking to your children about sex is a necessity, experts say. But bringing up the intimate topic can be difficult, sometimes embarrassing, for some parents.

Planned Parenthood says it's best to begin talking to children about sexuality during early childhood. But don't worry if you haven't started yet. It's never too late. Just don't try to "catch up" all at once. The most important thing is to be open and available whenever a child wants to talk.

Planned Parenthood also advises, "Don't let fear get in the way of talking with your children."

Planned Parenthood offers tips on how to initiate the conversation and other tips for "the talk" below.

There are four basic steps that can help parents talk to their children about sex.

Step 1: Validate your child's question and ask why they're asking.

If your child approaches you, you might say something like, "That's a really interesting question. How did that come up today? Why are you asking me that today?"

Don't assume there's anything beside curiosity behind the question. A young girl may ask a question about pregnancy without being pregnant. A young boy may ask a question about condoms without planning to have sexual intercourse.

Step 2: Ask, "What do you think?"

What seems like a straightforward question might not be. To find out the true nature of the question, you might ask, "What have you heard about that?" "What do you think about that?" or "Can you tell me what you already know about that?"

Step 3: Answer the question honestly, based on your values.

It is very important to gain children's trust when talking with them about sex so they feel comfortable approaching you about decisions and questions. Answer questions age-appropriately. Pre-teens and younger adolescents may need simpler, more concrete answers. The ability to handle more information and more sophisticated information increases with age, but if they are old enough to ask, they are old enough to understand the facts.

Additional Tips on Talking About Sex

It is also important to tell children or teens about your values and beliefs and to understand theirs. You might say to a teen, "I don't believe anyone is allowed to pressure or force anyone else to have sex, even in a relationship. Do you agree with that?"

Step 4: Ask your child if they understand the answer.

After answering the question, ask, "Does that answer your question?" Ask them to tell you what they heard. You may even want to bring up issues you already talked about to find out how much your child understood during the previous conversation.

Try to be open and available when a child wants to talk.

Some common fears that many parents have include:

Looking dumb. Many of us weren't taught about sex and sexuality, yet we may feel that we should know all the answers. But if our children ask us about something we don't know, we can simply say, "I don't know. Let's find out together."

Feeling embarrassed. It's very common for parents or children to feel embarrassed when talking about sex and sexuality. The best way to handle it is to admit how we're feeling — we can simply say, "I might get a little tense or uncomfortable during this conversation, and you might, too. That's OK for both of us — it's totally normal."

Encouraging sexual experimentation. There is a myth that information about sex is harmful to children and that it will lead to sexual experimentation. The fact is that our children won't be more likely to have sex if we talk about it. In reality, kids who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to postpone having sex.

Feeling as though talking won't make a difference. Children look to their parents to teach them about sexuality. Most young people prefer to hear about it from their parents than from other people. In fact, young adolescents place parents at the top of their list of influences when it comes to their sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Relate Lessons to Life

Start conversations with "teachable moments."

Spend a week or so noticing how topics you'd like to discuss come up in your family's everyday life. Think about what you might ask your child about them to get conversations going. And think about your own opinions and values about these topics, and how you can express them clearly to your child. After you've thought about what you want to say on a subject, use the next teachable moment that comes up.

For more information on talking to your children about sex, check out the links below:

How to Talk With Your Children About Sex

How to Answer Questions About Sex

Tips for Talking With Your Children

Source: Planned Parenthood

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