Note: The tips shared on this page may refer to "parents," but they also apply to caregivers, such as guardians, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. Additionally, much of the research cited below refers to "parents" or asks adolescents about their "parents." However, the research cited here may extend to other caregivers who have secure attachments to the adolescents in their lives.
Parents and caregivers can use these tips when talking with their adolescent about relationships and pregnancy prevention.
Start talking to your teen about changes to expect during puberty; your expectations for dating; how to have healthy relationships; contraception and condom use; how to avoid teen pregnancy, STIs, and HIV/AIDS. Talk early and often, and be ready to listen to your teen and answer questions that might come up.1 Research shows that adolescents who talk with parents about these topics begin to have sexual intercourse at later ages, use condoms and birth control more often if they do have sex, have better communication with romantic partners, have sex less often than other adolescents,2 and have a lower risk of teen pregnancy.3
Be clear and specific about family values and rules about when it’s okay to start dating and your expectations around dating and sexual behavior.1 If you have strong beliefs and values around sex and marriage, communicate those plainly. For example, if you believe people should not have sex until they are married, say that. If you think teens in high school are too young to be involved in a serious relationship, say that, and why. Or, if you think the time to have a baby is after college, say that. Same goes for using condoms or other birth control methods. Whatever your beliefs, you need to say them out loud to your adolescent. And explain why you believe what you do.1
Believe in your power to affect change. It might seem like your adolescent is ignoring you, as if they don't want to hear what you say, or that they don’t care what you think. Despite how they act, some of what you say will sink in. In survey after survey, children report that they want to talk to their parents about their sex-related questions, that it would be easier to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents, and that parents influence their decisions about sex more than friends do.
Be there: monitor and supervise. Establish rules, curfews, and expectations for behavior through family conversations. Get to know your adolescents' friends and their families. Also, be aware of what your children are reading, watching, and listening to, and encourage your children to think about consequences from behaviors they may be exposed to in the media.
Know the risks of early dating and communicate them to your child. Dating during adolescence is common and can be part of healthy development.5 However, serious and exclusive dating relationships can lead adolescents to have sex earlier than they would have otherwise.6 Adolescents who have sex at an early age are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and in other unsafe activities, such as substance abuse.4
Ensure your child has regular visits with a medical provider. Sometimes a young person will feel more comfortable asking a doctor or other medical professional specific questions about sex and reproductive health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents have private time with doctors. Learn more about the services provided under the Affordable Care Act.
Talk about their future. Young people who believe they have bright futures, options, and opportunities are much less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.6 Encourage your children’s aspirations to high levels of achievement and to participate in school and community activities (such as clubs, sports, or music, etc.). Support their activities and dreams to the extent you can. Adolescents' connections with their families helps them think positively about and plan for the future.7
1 Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2021, June 1). Talk to your kids about sex. https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/sexual-health/talk-your-kids-about-sex back to top
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, July 20). Parent and guardian resources. https://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/parent-guardian-resources/index.htm back to top
3 Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, November 1). Talking with Your Teens about Sex: Going Beyond “the Talk.” https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/factsheets/talking_teens.htm back to top
4 Kirby, D., & Lepore, G. (2007). Sexual risk and protective factors: Factors affecting teen sexual behavior, pregnancy, childbearing and sexually transmitted disease. ETR Associates. http://recapp.etr.org/recapp/documents/theories/RiskProtectiveFactors200712.pdf - PDF back to top
5 Collins, W. A., Welsh, D. P., & Furman, W. C. (2009). Adolescent romantic relationships. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 631-652. back to top