By now, kids know what sex is (and that it has nothing to do with "birds" and "bees"). But there's still a lot you can teach them about protecting themselves against STDs, teen pregnancy, date rape, and other risks. Fewer than 2 percent of U.S. adolescents have sex by age 12 (phew), but one-third of teens have sex by age 16, nearly half of teens by age 17, and more than 70 percent by age 19, so the early- to mid-teen years are generally a good time to go into some more specifics about healthy sexual choices.
- Confess your jitters about discussing the sex topic with your teen. This can help break the ice since your teen is probably feeling just as uncomfortable about the subject. Again, consider using TV or the media as a conversation starter. For example, ask your child if the teenage couple on her favorite show have had sex, and whether she thinks it's appropriate.
- Say whatever comes to mind — just be honest. Here are some key points that can help. Talk with your child about mutual consent, and protecting herself against STDs and pregnancy by using condoms or other contraceptives. Girls should first see a gynecologist when they become sexually active or by age 18.
- Talk with kids about avoiding Internet porn, sexting, and meeting new people online. Legal consequences for sexting seem to vary by state, but it's best to advise your child to avoid it altogether. Don't spy on your child's every move online, but talk about rules for mobile safety and using apps and social media wisely.
- Tune into your child's dating life. If your child seems to be seeing someone seriously, it's time to talk about sex and contraceptives. Most U.S. teens (70 percent of females and 56 percent of males) say that their first sexual experience is with a steady partner. "If you find out your child is planning to have sex, it is important to have a direct, open, and non-judgmental conversation," Dr. Berman advises in Talking to Your Kids About Sex. Let your teen know that her sexual desires are legitimate and natural, but that sex comes with tremendous responsibilities. Express your family's values and your wishes for your child to make careful decisions, but remember that she may still engage in sex even if you disapprove, so it's important for you to tell her how she can protect herself.