Children's Hospital Colorado

Tips for Parents on Talking to Teens About Sexual Health

A boy with brown hair and wearing a gray and blue zip-up sweatshirt listens to a man talking to him while they sit on a beige couch.

The importance of open, ongoing communication

We live in a highly sexualized society where even our children are exposed to sexual language, images and behaviors before they are developmentally prepared to handle them. Your child may never come to you and ask questions about his or her changing body, so initiate the conversation. Here are some important tips:

  • Adolescents who talk with their parents more often about sexual issues feel closer to their parents, and more comfortable coming to them with their questions and concerns.
  • If you find it difficult or awkward to initiate such discussions, acknowledge it. For example: “You know, sexuality has always been a hard subject for me to talk about. I do think it's important and want to answer your questions, to listen to your concerns and views. I also want to share with you my values around sexuality.”
  • Start early and often – not just one ‘talk’ and it’s over. You both will feel more comfortable.
  • Teenagers need to establish independence and assert themselves as separate and distinct from mom and dad. At the same time, parents face their own challenges of letting go and allowing children the freedom to develop their separate identities.
  • Open family communication about sex does far more than just ease the journey through the growing up years. It allows for the sharing of family values. Parents can provide accurate and valuable information as well as promote a positive, respectful attitude toward sexuality. Open communication alleviates fears and anxieties and builds trust, understanding, and support.
  • Establish an atmosphere of safety and acceptance—in which attitudes and values can be explored, tested, challenged.
  • If you don’t talk with them – think about where they will get their information (from TV, friends, the internet)… You want to control the message.
  • Find the teachable moments: an ad, TV show, article… What is this ad/show/article trying to say? Ask your child what he or she thinks about it, and let them know your thoughts.
  • Puberty offers an ideal opportunity for discussion… but don't limit the topic to physical growth and development. Children want — and need — to hear their parents' thoughts, feelings and values around a variety of sexual issues. They need factual information, reassurance, guidance, and support. Be real. Dispel myths and rumors and provide accurate information. Use simple language, but respect their intelligence and curiosity. 
  • Include do’s as well as don’ts. What can they do to be sexually healthy with a partner that they care about? What ways can they address peer or partner pressure to be sexual when they don’t feel they are ready? These topics need to be part of any discussion of healthy sexuality. 
  • Let your child know they deserve to feel honored in their relationships, to have their own space, to keep their friends, to include their family, and to feel good about who they are. Self respect is empowering.
  • Be clear that safety is nonnegotiable. Think about your bottom-line priorities for your children. Chances are nothing matters more to you than their safety. Be very clear, and repeat often, that nothing matters more than knowing they are going to be okay. Establish a code word they can use to get your attention and help when they need to get out of a potentially dangerous or uncomfortable situation. Set a standard for protecting themselves from disease and unwanted pregnancy regardless of whether you agree with their decision-making about sex.

See more information from the American Academy of Pediatrics and tips on how to approach sexual health with kids at different ages.

All about puberty

Puberty is the time in your child’s life when his or her body starts changing from that of a child to that of an adult due to chemicals called hormones. Talk with your child before these changes begin. Teach them what to expect from puberty, and that it’s okay to ask you questions about it any time!

  • There's no "right" time for puberty to begin. But girls start a little earlier than boys — usually between 8 and 13 years of age. Puberty for boys usually starts at about 10 to 14 years of age.
  • Talk with your child not only about changes they will see, but changes the opposite sex might be going through as well.  Empathy and understanding of their peers is important as well.
  • From acne and hair in strange places, to menstruation, wet dreams and curves and muscles, make sure your child knows everyone goes through these changes… they could be one of the first of their friends or one of the last, but it will happen. Help them be prepared.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics offers many details about the changes your child will see. 
  • See popular questions girls have about puberty, and questions boys have about puberty, so you have more answers for your child.

Listen to Slacker from 105.9 ask our nurse practitioner about having "the talk:"

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Get more information about teen health.

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