Friday, March 09, 2007
Including STDs in "The Talk"
It was a hot and sticky spring day in southern Ohio. A group of fifth-grade girls waited anxiously for "the movie." I was one of them. We giggled nervously as a female teacher led us into the gymnasium. Our moms were waiting. We sat down next to them in cold, metal chairs. The lights were turned off. The projector began to whirl. Birds and bees and ovaries and fallopian tubes filled the screen. We were on a journey toward womanhood, while the boys played kickball in the parking lot outside.

Like many Gen Xers, "the movie" was my first foray into the adult world of sex. When I was a kid, my parents and teachers did a good job of explaining "how babies are made," but I don't recall a substantial conversation about sexually transmitted diseases, beyond AIDS.

After the reaction medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and I received to our story about dating with a STD, we decided to take a look at an issue facing many parents: How do you talk to your kids about STDs?

If you don't think this will affect you and your family, consider this: One in four women will get herpes (one in five men will contract it), and at some point in their life - half of sexually active men and women will get the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.

So where do you start? I decided to talk with pediatrician Larissa Hirsch. She's a fellow in children's health media with KidsHealth.org. "Kids are having sex at younger and younger ages," Hirsch says. She says the conversation about sex and STDs should go hand in hand.

The doctor and her colleagues at KidsHealth.org have all kinds of great advice. Here are some of their top suggestions:

  • Encourage an open relationship with your children. A productive talk about sex and STDs happens long before the first questions about the birds and the bees. If your child can talk honestly to you about things such as friendships and grades, talking about STDs will be easier.

  • Know the facts. This is your chance to educate. Do some research and ask some questions. When it comes to STDs, teens and "tweens" may think they know the score, but chances are some of their information is wrong. Hirsch suggests starting by saying to your child something along the lines of "Oh, I know you know about STDs, tell me what you know." If you get them to talk, you can correct any misinformation they may have.

  • Ask what your child or teen thinks about sexual scenarios on TV and in movies. Who said MTV and "reality TV" wasn't educational? Hirsch says you can use plot situations as a lead-in to talking about safe sex and risky behavior.
Now it's your turn - what have you found that works and doesn't work? Also, most parents I know are shocked by the sexual scenarios their kids are exposed to on TV and the Internet. How do you deal with that? The forum is open... we want to hear from you.
I believe this is an excellent topic. As I have entered the education field, focusing on Health and Biology, I have already had such issues arise. Students are curious even at the secondary level and I feel it needs to be recognized by the parents as well. Allowing a child to have all the facts and not just those you want them to have, or only facts you, yourself, know can be beneficial.
I think it is outstanding that this is being recognized as a relevant topic. Maturing kids definitely need to get their facts, but I don't feel that just pulling them aside and giving them "the talk" is enough. Not only is a situation like that intimidating, but teens and tweens don't always feel like they'll be listened to if they try to contribute to the conversation. Accurate reading material is excellent. Try leaving some pamhlets or fast-fact printouts on their pillow with a promise that you will hear them out if they have any questions. That way they can read them privately and candidly without worrying about how to respond or how you'll interpret their reaction to anything. Unfortunately, most children hear (inacurate) things from their peers and take them for truth. Knowledge is power...and prevention
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