Tips for Talking with Teens

Who is at risk?

According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 44% of Massachusetts’ high school students have ever had sex. One in sixteen high school students (6%) has had sexual intercourse before age 13. Roughly one in eight (12%) 12th graders has had sexual intercourse with four or more partners in their lifetime. Sexually active teens are at risk for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In 2007, 3% of high school students in  Massachusetts reported having been diagnosed with an STD. In 2008, the rate of Chlamydia among Massachusetts teens ages 15–19 was 1,079 per 100,000.

What can parents do?

TALK TO YOUR TEENS! 10 Reasons Why:

More teens say they would prefer to get information about birth control from their parents than those who say they would prefer to get information from health centers, classes, hospitals, private doctors, television, or friends.

  • About half of teens say they have never talked with a parent about condoms or other birth control methods.
  • 3 out of 5 teens say that “the average teen” does not have enough information about how to use birth control and almost half say teens don’t know enough about where to get birth control.
  • 83% of teens don’t talk to their parents about sex because they’re “worried about their parent’s reaction.”
  • Many parents say they look to television to show them how to talk to their kids about sex.
  • Adolescents who reported feeling connected to parents and family are more likely than other teens to delay initiating sexual intercourse.
  • When mothers discussed condom use before teens initiated sexual intercourse, youth were three times more likely to use condoms after becoming sexually active.
  • Teens who reported previous discussions of sexuality with parents were seven times more likely to feel able to communicate with a partner about HIV/AIDS.
  • When parents make consistent efforts to know their teen’s friends and whereabouts, young people report fewer sexual partners, less sex and more use of birth control.
  • Discussing HIV with parents decreases the likelihood that teens will engage in unprotected sexual intercourse.

How do I talk with my teen?

10 Tips from the experts at Advocates for Youth:

First, encourage communication by reassuring kids that they can talk to you about anything.

  • Take advantage of teachable moments. A friend’s pregnancy, news article, or a TV show can help start a conversation.
  • Listen more than you talk. Think about what you’re being asked. Confirm with your child that what you heard is in fact what he or she meant to ask.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. The fact that a teen asks about sex does not mean they are having or thinking about having sex.
  • Answer questions simply and directly. Give factual, honest, short, and simple answers.
  • Respect your child’s views. Share your thoughts and values and help your child express theirs.
  • Reassure young people that they are normal—as are their questions and thoughts.
  • Teach your children ways to make good decisions about sex and coach them on how to get out of risky situations.
  • Admit when you don’t know the answer to a question. Suggest the two of you find the answer together on the Internet or in the library.
  • Discuss that at times your teen may feel more comfortable talking with someone other than you. Together, think of other trusted adults with whom they can talk.

Where can I go for more information?

  • Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Massachusetts Department of Public Health. (2008, May). Health and risk behaviors of Massachusetts youth, 2007: The report. Malden, MA: Author.
  • Mass CHIP (Community Health Information Profile). Boston: Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Retrieved October 5, 2009 from