Having “the talk” with your kids is rarely comfortable, but is very important – including telling them about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

STDs are a group of more than 25 infections that are spread through sexual contact, and recent reports from the Minnesota Department of Health show that the number of people who become infected is on the rise. Teenagers and young adults between ages 15 and 24 are the most frequently infected.

Elsa Keeler, MD, a HealthPartners pediatrician, says talking with your teen about STDs is important, even if it’s not always easy. She offers some tips on how to get the conversation started.

How early should parents begin talking to their children about STDs?

Conversations about STDs can happen in the pre-teen years, as early as age 10 to 12, depending on the child. Many schools start sexual education in 5th or 6th grade, but you can start the conversation earlier. Before discussing STDs, start by talking about sex, relationships, emotions and body image. Understanding sexual development in your child can help guide the conversation.

How do you start the conversation about STDs?

First, offer a message of unconditional love and support to your child. Then begin with an “I” statement, such as, “I’ve heard that more teens are getting STDs in Minnesota and I’m wondering what you know or might have heard.” Don’t worry if it feels awkward, or if your teen shuts down. Let him or her know it’s important to talk about, but that you don’t have all the answers. Here are some talking points to help prepare you and them.

Why is talking about STDs with your children important?

Healthy sexuality is part of being a healthy human being. As parents, we want to raise our children to be safe and healthy in relationships. If the conversation is not working out, is too difficult, or you would like additional support, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

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