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As kids go through puberty, it’s normal for them to start thinking about sex more. You can help them manage in a healthy way by normalizing their feelings and having open conversations with them. For example, you can let your kid know that masturbating is normal and harmless — as long as they do it in private. And you can be more respectful of their privacy, like knocking before you go in their room.
It can help to think about your values and what you want for your kids. Are there milestones you want them to hit before having sex, like having a loving relationship, being prepared with birth control and condoms, or reaching a certain age? Knowing exactly where you stand helps you send clear messages.
And even though most preteens aren’t sexually active yet, this is a good time to start giving them honest, more detailed information about safer sex so they can make responsible choices when they do become sexually active in the future.
So what information do they need exactly? They should know that they need to use a condom or dental dam anytime they have vaginal, anal, or oral sex to protect against STDs, and that getting tested for STDs is a normal part of a healthy sex life. They should also know that using birth control is the best way to prevent pregnancy from vaginal sex. Talking about this stuff will also help them see why they’re not ready to have sex just yet.
Another way to help your kid stay healthy is to make sure they get the HPV vaccine — all kids should get it around age 11 or 12. The HPV vaccine is safe, and can help prevent cervical and other kinds of cancer that can be caused by HPV, a common STD.
It’s normal for these conversations to feel a little awkward at first, but your kids are listening, and they want to know that you care about them, and have clear values and expectations. And the more you talk now, the easier it will be to discuss the more complicated stuff as they get older.
You don’t have to say everything important all at once — it’s best to have many small conversations that come up naturally. You can use media and your own life experiences as teachable moments to spark conversation throughout your child’s life.
Want to learn more? Visit plannedparenthood.org/parents