Helping your child grow into a safe, healthy, and responsible person is an important goal – and it’s a goal we share with you.
As a parent, you have the primary responsibility for promoting healthy knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and skills – whether they’re about sex or relationships or eating or exercise.
We fully recognize that talking about sex with your child – or even thinking about your child being or becoming sexually active – can be uncomfortable. These resources should help you understand how to help your child be and stay safe, healthy, and responsible.
Teens and Sex
From Fast Times at Ridgemont High to MTV’s Teen Mom…the myth of the sex-crazed American teen is alive and well. So how do you separate myth from fact? And, what does it mean for you as a parent?
- Most people become sexually active during their teen years. (Median age = 17)
- 54% of North Carolina 12th graders have had sexual intercourse. 26% of 9th graders have.
- Rates of teen sex are at their lowest levels in history. That means your teen is likely to wait longer than you and your peers did.
- Teens are more likely to use condoms and contraceptives now than ever before – contributing to record low teen pregnancy rates.
- Teens who make healthy decisions about relationships and sex - like waiting longer to become sexually active and using condoms and contraceptives when they do become sexually active - often report that they had an involved parent or other adult encouraging healthy decisions.
As a parent, part of your job is to prepare them for the drastic physical, social, and emotional changes that go hand-in-hand with growing up. You are also the front line in helping them learn basic facts and understand your family’s values.
The Importance of Parenting
Think your child doesn’t want you to talk about sex? You’re wrong!
In survey after survey, teens say their parents influence their decisions about sex more than any other source – including the media and their friends.
What’s more, nearly 9 out of 10 teenagers say that it would be easier to avoid sex if their parents talked openly and honestly about it. And don't stress out: research continues to show that teens don't confuse talking about sex as permission to have sex.
Parenting a Sexually Healthy Teen
Whether or not your child will grow up to be healthy, safe, and responsible has a lot to do with your actions now. What you say and how you say it, the networks you help your child build, and the behaviors you model all make a difference.
While so much focus goes to teens’ characteristics, the landmark 1995 publication Facing Facts: Sexual Health for America's Adolescents breaks down the characteristics of parents of sexually healthy teens. Some of these parent characteristics include:
- Demonstrate value, respect, acceptance, and trust in their adolescent children
- Model sexually healthy attitudes in their own relationships
- Maintain a non-punitive stance toward sexuality
- Are knowledgeable about sexuality
- Discuss sexuality with their children and provide information
- Try to understand their son's or daughter's point of view
- Help their daughter or son gain an understanding of their values
- Set and maintain limits for dating and other activities outside of school, and ask questions about friends and romantic partners
- Stay actively involved in their son's or daughter's life
- Provide a supportive and safe environment for their children
- Offer to assist adolescents in accessing health care services
- Help their daughter or son plan for their future
Passing Along Your Values
Parents have the responsibility to pass along family values to their children. Many families choose to do this in conjunction with their faith community.
Many ineffective, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs attempt to undermine parents’ important role as the provider of values. On the other hand, most comprehensive or evidence-based programs focus on universal values like respect, health, and responsibility. These programs often include guided exercises to facilitate parent-child communications.
Talking About Sex
Talking about sex is one of the most important things you can do to help your child avoid getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy during his or her teen years. It’s also the underpinning of a lifetime of safety, health, and responsibility when it comes to sex and relationships.
Why Talk About Sex?
Teens themselves say it would be easier to delay having sex or use protection if their parents talked to them about it. If that’s not enough, here are a few more reasons:
- Young people are bombarded with inaccurate and unhealthy information about sex in the media. What you tell them can balance out that bad information.
- Most schools provide far less sex education than parents want provided.
- There are few safe and accurate places for young people to ask questions about sex. Letting them know they can ask you is important to maintaining healthy communications.
And remember, research shows that teens don’t think you’re condoning sex when you talk about it.
How To Talk About Sex
Just like every family is different, every parent-child communication style is going to be different. These basics are important to keep in mind when talking about sex:
- Start talking early. Conversations that contribute to sexual health aren’t all about sex. Start talking in the early years about proper names for body parts, as well as concepts like good touch/bad touch and respect for others.
- Talk often. Try to maintain a series of ongoing, age-appropriate conversations rather than one big “the birds and the bees” talk.
- Use teachable moments as conversation starters. When something happens on TV or in a song lyric, use it as an opportunity to say, “What do you think about that?” or “How do you think you’d deal with that situation?”
- Don’t assume your child is doing the thing they’re asking about. Young people are exposed to a lot of information and words and concepts. Their curiosity about what those things mean is natural.
- Keep a positive tone. Remember that the information you provide will stick with them for a lifetime. Be careful not to say things that will make them feel badly about their bodies, avoid protecting themselves with condoms or birth control, or avoid communicating about sex when they are older.
Finding the Support You Need
You can play a role in making sure your child is surrounded by people and organizations that support health, safety, and responsibility.
Sex education – or sexuality education – is designed to provide age-appropriate knowledge and skills about sex, relationships, health, and responsibility.
91.8% of parents of North Carolina public school students want schools to provide sexuality education. In North Carolina, sexuality education is provided for under the 2009 Healthy Youth Act. Learn more about the law in our Healthy Youth Act FAQs.
In addition to aligning education with parents’ opinions on sexuality education, the Healthy Youth Act grants you more rights as a parent. The Healthy Youth Act requires schools to:
- Let you withdraw your child from any or all of sex education
- Let you review classroom materials and curricula
- Promote parent-student interaction
You can also read our Issue Statement on Sex Education.
As your child gets older, it’s important for him or her to be able to access sexual health care. This may include needing birth control or STI/HIV tests, or simply asking questions of a medical professional.
North Carolina protects a minor’s right to consent to medical care if that care includes:
- Contraceptives (birth control, including Emergency Contraception)
- Testing and treatment for STDs and HIV
- Pregnancy testing and prenatal care
- Treatment for substance abuse or mental illness
We support these rights. These rights have been critical in reducing North Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate, stopping the spread of STIs and HIV, and protecting young people who have been abused. They also help promote an important sense of trust between teens and their medical providers.
We also encourage medical professionals to work with their young patients to try to open up supportive parent-child communication lines. Many times, these medical professionals are critical allies in opening up lines of communications.
Finding Help Online
The following online resources can provide more information on parenting, talking about sex, and helping your child become a healthy, safe, responsible adult.