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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Teens and STDs

Teens and STDs

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Tue., Apr. 15, 2008
By Wendy Malone, RN, PHN

Recently, a mom - we'll call her Karen - became aware that her 14-year-old daughter was sexually active when she needed to take the girl to the doctor to be treated for gonorrhea. Karen was shocked. She thought she still had a few years before she needed to have the "sex talk."

Whether or not we think teens should be having sex, many are. And they're increasingly becoming infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In fact, one in four teenage girls becomes infected with an STD, according to a report from the federal Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).

These infections are often without symptoms. If left untreated, STDs can cause infertility and other serious health problems for both males and females. Unprotected sex can lead to unwanted pregnancies. And some infections can be passed on to the unborn child, causing birth defects and illness of the newborn.

STDs can be prevented. Parents can talk to their children and give them the tools to withstand the pressure from friends, partners and society to have sex. But whether it is an abstinence or safe sex message, we recommend that parents also provide their children with information on how to protect themselves. Sometimes parents are the last to learn of their child's sexual activities.

Parents can have their child take sex education at school, or parents can educate their child at home. Parents also can make an appointment Advertisement with a health care professional to talk to their child about STDs and birth control.

To protect your children from STDs - just like protecting them from drugs and alcohol - you need to talk to them about safer sex. Here are some tips for parents about how to talk to your children about safer sex:

  • Using age appropriate language, share your values early with your children. Educational experts recommend this begin as early as fifth grade.
  • Encourage open communication with your children so they feel comfortable approaching you with questions.
  • Take advantage of age-appropriate "teachable moments," like a news story about STDs, a movie or a classmate's pregnancy, to discuss sex, STDs and birth control.
  • Explain in straightforward, simple language the consequences of having sex.
  • Talk to them about safer sex - including birth control options and how to prevent STDs by using condoms.
  • Teenagers often aren't mature enough to make adult decisions, so it's important to provide them with proper supervision and clear rules. Explain that drugs and alcohol can impair their judgment.
  • Help your teen with self-esteem by giving him or her frequent compliments for positive behavior or performance.
  • Teach your teen that everyone has the right to say "no" to pressure to have sex or participate in any sexual activity. Teach the value of treating each other with respect. Model the behaviors you want to encourage in your children.
  • Educate yourself about the issues, and don't be afraid to admit to your teen that you don't know something.

For more information, communication tools and ways to talk to teens about safer sex and abstinence, visit the following Web sites or call these organizations:

Planned Parenthood (provides low cost or free birth control, STD screenings and treatment, and education): or call 1-800-230-PLAN (800-230-7526).

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies:

The Family Communication:

Contra Costa County Public Health STD Program:

Wendy Malone is a registered nurse and program manager of Contra Costa Public Health's Sexually Transmitted Diseases Program.

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