Talking to Your Kids About STDs

 

Talking to Your Kids About STDs

It is important for parents to talk to their kids and teens about STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Your kids need to understand how STDs spread and how to protect themselves.

What Are STDs?

STDs (also called sexually transmitted infections, or STIs) are infections that spread through sex (vaginal, oral, or anal). Some STDs can spread through close contact with the genitals or body fluids.

Does Talking About Sex and STDs Make Teens More Likely to Have Sex?

Talking to kids and teens about sex and STDs does not make it more likely that they’ll have sex. But if they do become sexually active, they will understand the risks and know how to protect themselves.

When Should I Talk to My Kids About STDs?

Talking about STDs and other personal subjects like sex and puberty shouldn’t be one big talk at a particular age. Instead, start the conversation early, and slowly build on your child’s understanding. By about 10–13 years old, most kids understand what sex is and are ready to learn about STDs.

But even if your child is older and you haven’t started talking about STDs, it’s not too late to have the conversation. A late talk is better than no talk at all.

How Do I Bring Up the Subject of STDs?

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right time to talk about STDs. A good time to start the conversation might be:

  • if your child asks questions about sex
  • during a TV show or movie that shows a romantic relationship. You might ask, “What sorts of things do people in a relationship need to think about?”
  • when your child gets the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. You could say, “This shot protects you from a type of STD. Do you know what an STD is?”

What Should I Talk About?

Talk about the types of STDs:

Cover these key points:

  • STDs mainly spread through sex. But some STDs can spread through close contact with someone’s genitals or body fluids.
  • The best way to completely prevent an STD is to not have sex (oral, vaginal, or anal). If someone decides to have sex, using a latex condom every time can prevent most STDs.
  • Some people with an STD have discharge from the vagina or penis, or sores in the genital area.
  • Some people with an STD have no signs or symptoms. Even then, a person can spread the infection to a sexual partner.
  • If someone has an STD and does not get treatment, it can lead to medical problems such as long-term pain and trouble getting pregnant later.
  • Antibiotics can cure some STDs (like chlamydia and gonorrhea). But some STDs (like herpes or HIV) have no cure.
  • You can get an STD the very first time you have sex.

Where Can We Get More Information About STDs?

You can get reliable information about STDs at:

What if I Have Trouble Talking to My Kids About STDs?

If you don’t feel comfortable talking with your kids about STDs, make sure they can turn to someone else for accurate information. This could be a doctor or

, counselor, school nurse, teacher, or a trusted family member.

Kids and teens need to know about STDs. It’s best if they get the facts from someone reliable.

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Talking About 13 Reasons Why & Teen Suicide: Tips for Parents

 

When the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” premiered in March 2017, it quickly became one of the most watched—and most controversial—shows of the year. It was no surprise that the news of Season 2’s May 2018 release continued to get a lot of attention.

The drama-mystery centers on a high school student who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 audiotapes for people she blames for her action. Season 2 picks up as the community tries to deal with emotional and legal fallout from the suicide.

Raising Awareness–and Risk?

Fans of the series say it increases much-needed awareness about teen suicide, which is currently the second leading cause of death for children and young people 10 to 24 years old. CDC Teen Suicide Stats - 2015 In addition to graphic portrayal of suicide, the show also focuses on bullying and cyberbullying, underage drinking, sexual assault, guns in the home, and other topics that can serve a tool to start discussions.

But some experts warn the show may do more harm than good. Although the series is fictional, teens can be impulsive and emotional. Watching a character decide suicide is the best option might trigger them to do the same. Researchers found a significant spike in internet searches using terms such as “how to commit suicide” and “how to kill yourself” for 19 days following the release of season 1 of “13 Reasons Why.”

Medical and mental health professionals also report teens listing their own 13 reasons why they wanted to kill themselves. Some families say they believe the show triggered their children to actually take their lives.

Critics of the show point to research that suggests exposure to a peer’s suicide can have a “contagious” effect—especially among 12- to 13-year-olds. There is specific public health recommendations for reporting on suicide in the media that this series goes against:

  • Presenting suicide as a tool for accomplishing certain ends, such as revenge or recognition.
  • Glorifying suicide or persons who commit suicide.

Who’s Watching?

The series is rated TV-MA (Mature Audience), appropriate for ages 17 and up, for its graphic violence, explicit sexual activity and crude language. But school officials and pediatricians say they’re learning of children as young as elementary-school age who are binge watching the show—sometimes without parents knowing, because it can be streamed privately on their phones, tablets, and computers. Parents are often surprised to find out their child has watched the series.

“It has come up quite a bit when I’ve been talking to my patients, especially those who’ve been depressed or anxious,” said Cora Breuner, MD, MPH, FAAP, a pediatrician and chair the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Adolescence. “Quite a few of them already watched ’13 Reasons Why’—without the knowledge of their parents,” Dr. Breuner said. “It’s usually a major aha moment in my office, when the parents look at their kids and say, `Wait a minute, you watched that?'”

As a parent, it is your job to counsel your children and teens about smart and safe media use. Dr. Breuner said she also asks her patients (and their parents) how much time they spend on screens and what shows they watch.

Even if your child hasn’t watched…

Parents should be aware that their child may hear friends talking about the show at school or on social media—even if they haven’t seen it themselves. Regardless, Dr. Breuner said the series is “absolutely inappropriate” for children under age 13.

If you haven’t watched the show, look up episode summaries and be prepared talk with your child about the ways fictional shows don’t always reflect reality. Use the show as an opportunity to talk with your child about the very real situations teens face—and how your child can come to you with anything he or she may face in the future.

How to Help Teens Process the Show in a Safe & Healthy Way:

Despite concerns about ’13 Reasons Why,’ the show can serve as a powerful teaching tool with informed, adult guidance from parents, teachers, spiritual leaders, and others who work with teens.

What parents can do:

  • Co-view. The AAP media use guidelines encourage parents to co-viewing programs with their children and discuss values. This is especially important for shows such as ’13 Reasons Why’ with themes difficult to process and easy to misinterpret. Watching the show together lets parents pause and point out instances of cyberbullying, for example. Then parents can ask if their child has seen it happen at school, how he or she reacted, and what to do if it happens again. ​
    • Children in groups at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and actions should not watch the show alone, Dr. Breuner said. This includes kids with a family history of suicide, a history of physical or sexual abuse, mood disorders, and drug and alcohol use, and/or those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.
  • Discuss reality vs. fiction. Explain that the show gives an unrealistic view of the help available for teens who may feel suicidal. In particular, the lack of effective mental health care provided to lead character, Hannah Baker, is both troubling and unrealistic. Statistics show that a large majority of the time, teens with suicidal thoughts and behaviors are in the grips of treatable mental illnesses, such as depression. In the show, Hannah voices clear suicidal warning signs to her school guidance counselor. Yet, the counselor failed to connect her with other professionals and resources for help and told her simply to “move on.” Critics say this sends a dangerous message that adults can’t help.
  • Play it safe. If your teen does watch the show, make an extra effort to watch him or her a little more closely afterwards—in a mindful, nurturing way. Know the signs of depression, such as withdrawing from friends or family, eating or sleeping less or more, or losing interest in activities.
    • If you have a gun in your home, make sure it is stored unloaded and locked up separately from ammunition. Studies have found the risk of suicide is 4 to 10 times higher in homes with guns than in those without. And although Hannah Baker uses a different method to end her life, suicide by firearms is now the second leading cause of death among teens 15-19. More than 80% of guns used in teen suicide attempts were kept in the home of the victim, a relative, or a friend.
  • Provide access to help. Give your child su​​​ggestions for whom he or she can turn to in times of need—including you, as well as other trusted adults. Your pediatrician can also help. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended all children over age 12 be screened for depression at their annual wellness exams. For any immediate concerns about your child, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-TALK, or text START to 741741.

Keep in Mind:

It may feel uncomfortable to talk with your teen about some of the difficult issues raised in “13 Reasons Why,” but talking about tough topics with teens is every bit as important as making sure a baby’s bath water isn’t too hot.

Teen Media Quote - Dr. Cora Breuner

Remember to talk with your child’s pediatrician if you have additional questions or concerns about your child’s media use or mental health.

Additional Information & Resources:

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The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

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