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You might think there’s nothing you can tell an 18- or 19-year-old about sex—well, nothing that they’ll actually listen to. But that’s not the case. “More and more studies say parents do have influence over their teens in terms of delaying sex and using protection when they have sex,” encourages Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. And with 11% of 18- and 19-year-old girls becoming pregnant in 2009 (the year with the most recent data available), sex talks are critical. “As high school comes to an end and transitions to adulthood begin, it’s important to have conversations with teenagers about both birth control and condoms so they can protect themselves against unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease,” says Kantor. Try these opening lines that go way beyond the birds and the bees.
“How do you feel about LARCs?”
If talking about birth control is on the table, be sure to bring up all forms that are available to teens. LARCs—Long-Acting Reversible Contraception—include options like the IUD and Implanon, and they mean your teen doesn’t have to remember to take a pill daily for pregnancy prevention. "Not all parents know there are really highly effective methods of birth control out there that are appropriate for teens, like the IUD and the implant," explains Kantor. "New studies show they’re extremely protective." Not only is this a good conversation starter for you and your kid, but it's one he can spark with his partner and she can begin with her ob/gyn as well.
“Are you comfortable talking to Dr. Williams?”
“I’ve heard from young people that they’ll lie to a doctor if that doctor is being judgmental," reveals Marisa Nightingale, senior media advisor for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. If your teen doesn't have a good relationship with their doctor, it's time to repair it or find a new person they can relate to and won't be embarrassed to go to for help. Allowing younger teens a few minutes alone with their MD—instead of monitoring the whole appointment—helps build that relationship.
“So where exactly is the campus health clinic?"
If your kid's in college, waiting until Thanksgiving or spring break to see a doctor at home isn't always the best idea. If they need faster care or have pressing questions, they should know where to find answers at school. Again, being at ease speaking with an MD is critical. "It's not just knowing where the campus health services are, but helping to give your kids a confidence booster to handle themselves in a clinic setting too,” explains Nightingale.
“How do you know if someone wants to have sex with you?”
Chances are they'll be conjuring up images of a movie scene while you're about to drive home a much more real message about consent. “I think giving consent is something young people are not getting enough information about in their school sex education programs," says Kantor. "We have to help young people understand that if someone is drunk or high they can’t consent to have sex in a number of states. The absence of no doesn’t mean yes.”
“Do you think you’ll want to stay in our hometown after graduation?”
This isn't about your desire to turn their bedroom into a crafting corner. It's about getting them to imagine their future, like with this app. "What profession are they interested in? Where do they want to live? Really considering these things makes them think about how becoming a parent as a teen would get in the way of that," explains Kantor. "When teenagers are ambivalent about pregnancy, they're more likely to take risks. So just getting young people to think, Is this something I'd want? gets them to delay sex and use birth control." One last, critical message that experts want to drive home with teens: “You can always say no to sex—even if you have said yes before," explains Nightingale. "That’s really important for young people to know." Lynya Floyd is the health director at Family Circle magazine. Read more of her posts here.