A Roadmap for Talking to Young People about Sexual Health

October 07, 2020

Many families are now spending more time together than before, working and studying side by side at home. This increased proximity brings with it unique challenges and rewards.  Parents and caregivers may see the increased time together as an opportunity to start conversations around subjects that seem both important and overwhelming, such as puberty, sex, and relationships. These conversations come with added urgency, given disrupted sexuality health education schedules at school and young people being unable to explore these topics with their peers and friends that they would have in regular circumstances.  Our team at Lurie Children’s is committed to helping families have these talks in a positive and stress-free manner.  

Our NeverFearTalks videos are real-life examples of adults and youth having quick, meaningful chats about how to navigate sexual health. Watching and then discussing these short, informal videos together as a family is a great way to get the conversation started at home.  The goal of these videos is to show that sexuality education at home doesn’t occur in one big “sex talk” but over the course of months and years via short and positive conversations that make youth feel comfortable about asking questions when they arise. To that end, it is important for the adults to model that curiosity as well; an “I don’t know; let’s find out!” is an effective way to express to a young person that it is perfectly fine not to have all the answers and to make the conversation a collaborative experience. We recommend looking for resources that are age-appropriate and relay the answers young ones are looking for in a way that is clear and not condescending. For example, if a young person had questions about HIV/AIDS and/or PrEP parents could access information from reputable sources such as National Library of Medicine or the Lurie Children’s newly developed online HIV/AIDS and PrEP online resource and share what they learn with their young people. 

In answering specific questions from children and adolescents, we want to be conscious of what motivates the question.  Recognizing their fears and concerns (which may include concerns around safety and disclosure) allows us to support them more effectively and keep lines of communication open. Parents and guardians will be able to have successful conversations when they model non-judgmental attitudes, openness, and transparency with their youth.  Young people need to feel heard and have their boundaries recognized. Parents and caregivers should be aware of who else is in their kids’ network of safe and supportive adults so they can remind them that they are not alone and can speak to someone else if they are not ready to talk about specific subjects and experiences at home! 

Practice is key when it comes to conversations on sexuality education! Having these talks may take some getting used to, which is why, with the support of National Library of Medicine, Lurie has created curriculum specifically for parents and caregivers on HIV/AIDS, PrEP, and sexual health. These virtual education sessions will help provide the necessary tools to have conversations with your loved ones. The curriculum for these educations sessions are in line with the National Sexuality Education Standards (NSES) to ensure that those who attend are receiving age appropriate information for their young people.  If you’re interested in participating in an upcoming virtual education session please contact Sergio Tundo stundo@luriechildrens.org!  

We know that conversations around sexual health topics can be hard but try not to put too much pressure on yourself. Try to integrate these “talks” naturally into your everyday life. By showing comfort and confidence in navigating these topics, parents are setting their young people up to have nuanced conversations and make safer and informed choices when they become sexually active.