Talking to your teens about birth control might not be your ideal way to spend an evening, but it's one of those things that as a parent, you really shouldn't avoid. And now, with so many resources available and our teens spending so much time online, they are exposed to so much, and it’s our duty as parents to get involved and make sure they are getting the correct information.
But when is the right time to have this important talk with your child? To find out, we spoke with sex educators who have worked with families and teens. They shared the right time to have the discussion as well as dialogue that will make you and your teen comfortable.
Have the talk before your teen is dating
When it comes to having the birth control talk with your teen, timing is key. Specifically, you need to do it before they start dating and are put in a position where they may need birth control.
Kim Cook, a registered nurse and certified health education specialist and author of Teen World Confidential: Five-Minute Topics to Open Conversations about Sex and Relationships, says it's imperative you talk to your teens before they begin actively dating.
In fact, the sooner you can have the talk with your child, the better, Dr. Lori Whatley, a licensed marriage and family expert and clinical psychologist, tells SheKnows. She also reminds us that if we don't feel like we can talk with our kids about sex and all its risks, find someone who can as soon as possible.
Keep it casual
If you need a starting point, Cook tells SheKnows you can begin the conversation by saying, "Hey, have you talked about birth control in your health class yet?" You can them ask what they've learned, their thoughts and if they have any questions.
It's also important to let them know any time they want to go to see their physician or gynecologist to explore birth control options, you will gladly take them, because the most important thing to you is they stay safe and healthy, she adds.
Similarly, Whatley suggests accompanying your teen to their doctor's appointment to show your support, adding, "Even if your teen doesn't use [birth control], it's imperative they have it and be properly prepared."
In fact, Cook recommends all teens visit their doctor for a one-on-one talk about sexuality. "This initiates a relationship with their provider in the event they need to seek medical advice," she says, adding that she would recommend this for children regardless of sexual or gender identity.
Furthermore, you shouldn't overreact if your teen comes to you with questions about birth control, as that will make them feel shame and judgment and they will go elsewhere for information, Whatley adds. Instead, calmly answer their questions, and if you don't know the answers, point them in the direction of someone who does.
Include information about STI risk
An important part of having the birth control talk is addressing the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
Whatley suggests a good way to bring it up could be to say something like, "When you find a person you care about and decide to become sexually active, always use protection against pregnancy and STIs." You can then start talking about some of the different options available for birth control (like condoms or oral contraceptives) but the risks and some education about STIs are also important.
Along the same lines, another crucial aspect of having the talk with your teens is drawing a distinction between using contraception to prevent pregnancy versus protecting against STIs. For example, if they decide to opt to take birth control pills or get an IUD, they need to know that, yes, those methods can prevent pregnancy, but they do not prevent STIs: for that, you'd need a barrier method, like a condom, Cook explains.
This isn't a "one & done" conversation
Our teens need to know we are there for them without judgment, Cook explains, and that we should make sure to keep the door open and the conversation going about sex, relationships and birth control. She also reminds us "parents don't need to know everything," so don't be afraid to turn to resources like Bedsider or Scarleteen for information.
The most important thing we can do for our kids is to help them choose what's right for them when they do become sexually active. Whitley says keeping the lines of communication open is always a better choice than putting our heads in the sand and adds it is a parent’s responsibility to do this for their teen no matter how uncomfortable.