Let’s talk about sex: How to work with teen patients and their parents
Many parents wait until their children are in their later teen years to broach the topic of sex, but it’s better to talk about it earlier, said Jacqueline M. Kaari, DO, in an OMED presentation today. The pediatrician can play a pivotal role in facilitating this conversation, she noted.
“We should make this part of our anticipatory care,” said Dr. Kaari, the chair of pediatrics at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, N.J. “We should discuss sexuality education with parents even when their children are very young and help them see how they can develop this lifelong communication.”
“We should discuss sexuality education with parents even when their children are very young.”
Dr. Kaari suggested advising parents to weave the topics into everyday conversation throughout the child’s life rather than having a big “sex talk” only once. Some opportunities to casually bring up reproduction with young children include the birth of an animal, the birth of a sibling or a birth in a neighbor or relative’s family.
And when children are about 13 years old, Dr. Kaari suggested that physicians meet with them separately from their parents to talk with them confidentially about any concerns they may have. In these meetings, Dr. Kaari also lets children know that they can call her on their own if they ever need anything and that what they tell her is confidential information that she won’t share with their parents.
However, Dr. Kaari also urges young patients to talk with their parents about their worries if they haven’t yet. Some parents are reluctant to speak to their kids about sex but will rise to the occasion when prodded, she noted.
“It’s of course very hard for parents to see their children as sexual beings as they become older,” she said. “But they really need to give them some groundwork and information so that they are healthy and they can make the right decisions for themselves.”
Giving good information
Today’s children often live in the age of smartphones and the Internet. They have access to unprecedented amounts of information, not all of it reputable, Dr. Kaari noted.
“Children can get information about sex from the Internet and from their friends,” she said. “Even if parents are carefully watching what their children are doing, some of their friends’ parents may not be monitoring what they’re seeing on the Internet as closely.”
The best way parents can prevent children from getting bad information is to foster open dialogue with their children. Pediatricians can help too, Dr. Kaari said. They can provide resources, such as pamphlets and good websites, to help parents guide the conversations and tell teens where to find more information.
“[Adolescent patients] may be reluctant to ask us some of this information even though we try to open these areas of communication,” she said. “So we really want to be sure that it’s available to them and that they know what the online resources are and also what the community resources are.”
And physicians should check The Guttmacher Institute to read about the laws in their state regarding adolescent confidentiality and health care, Dr. Kaari said.
Attendee April Kurkowski, DO, said the resources were her favorite part of the presentation.
“You can never have enough resources, especially on this topic,” said Dr. Kurkowski, a family physician from Kalkaska, Mich.
Karen Jacobs, DO, noted that the presentation reiterated the importance of incorporating sex education into one’s practice.
“We do have a problem with teen pregnancy here in the U.S. compared to other countries,” said Dr. Jacobs, a family physician from Brandon, Fla. “I think it’s because we don’t talk about sex or sexuality enough.
“Another important aspect is that society now accepts gays and transgender people. Teens who are struggling with these issues need to know they have an advocate they can come to. Sometimes they just don’t know where to go. It’s nice to be that person for them.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated Sept. 25, 2014, to update a broken link.