How to talk to your teen about birth control

A conversation often dreaded by teens and parents alike, here's how to have that awkward conversation, without the stress.  

Many of us will remember our teenage years as a sensitive time that can often feel confusing or overwhelming and, as a parent, it is understandable that you may have concerns about your teen’s development, and their understanding of what is, and is not, safe.

One of the biggest topics that we, as parents, feel the need to broach is the matter of reproduction, safe sex, and contraception. In order to initiate a constructive discussion about these topics with your teen, you’ll need to be prepared. With this in the mind, we asked Dr Lynae Brayboy, chief medical officer at leading female health app Clue to share an outline of how you can start a dialogue without making yourself, or your teenager, feel uncomfortable.

Create a safe space for a chat, and be ready for questions

mother and daughter chatting

These kinds of conversations are often difficult to approach, and most of us will have memories of awkward encounters with our own parents when it came to talking about birth control and safe sex. It is important not to repeat this with your own children.

A good place to start is by normalising the topics of human reproduction and sexuality by integrating them in normal daily conversation either as a family or one-to-one. By consistently engaging in conversations about wellness, relationships, and reproductive health with an open mind and a non-judgemental ear, you will be able to normalise the idea of discussing sex, which makes the conversation less daunting.

Be sure to give your teen some control over the conversation, and be ready to answer any questions—even if they make you uncomfortable. You want to foster an environment where you can be open with each other without pressuring them to talk. If you cannot answer a question, look up the answers together from trusted sites such as Clue.

Don’t beat around the bush

dad chatting to son

We all know the term "the birds and the bees". It can be tempting to lean on euphemisms or vague language when talking to your child about things of a sexual nature, but this only makes things more confusing and perpetuates the idea that the topic is taboo.

When talking to your teen, make sure they understand what their period means in terms of their fertility and the potential for pregnancy. Explain their options for contraception, making sure to tell them that two forms of contraception methods are recommended in teens such as the implant and condoms as this age group has a high risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, calmly and clearly; and explain the importance of choice and consent not just in relation to sex, but also in relation to birth control.

Finally, make sure to discuss sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how they are contracted: you need to ensure that your teen is aware of the risks sex can bring, even with the protection of condoms and contraception. Make sure your teenager has completed the full course of Human Papillomavirus vaccines to decrease the risk of cervical, oropharyngeal, vulvar/vaginal, anal, and penile cancer.

Use the right resources

mother and daughter on tablet

Unless you’re a reproductive specialist, you’re not going to be an expert and you won’t have all the answers. You may find that your teen has questions you simply aren’t prepared for. A good way around this is by arming yourself with the right resources. Clue, for example, has an entire podcast, Hormonal, which was designed to answer a multitude of questions that many people have about hormones and birth control.

The NHS also offers excellent resources, and charities like Sexplain are a good option too, as their content is designed specifically for teens. Proactively share these materials with your teen, too. It’s always great to give them the option to engage with these materials alone.

Talk to medical professionals

talking to medical professionals

When it comes to choosing a type of contraception, the best route is always to ensure that your child talks to a medical professional. Whilst you shouldn’t be doing this on your teen’s behalf, it might be a good idea to talk to them about their options. It is important they know risks, side effects, and how to take the contraception that they choose. A healthcare professional is best placed to guide them here, although you could offer to go with them if you feel they may need support.

If your teen does not feel comfortable visiting their GP, point them in the direction of your local sexual health clinic—there will be trained nurses on hand to talk them through their contraceptive options, and these chats can also be arranged via phone or telemedicine visits if in-person attendance isn’t possible.


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