Conversation Tips

Teens say that they are uncomfortable talking about sex with their parents because they worry it will make their parents angry, or that their parents will assume they are doing some things they might not actually be doing. In other words, teens say they are afraid their parents will “freak out.” So that’s the first conversation tip—don’t freak out. You may be freaking out on the inside, but on the outside, try to keep calm.

Keep your composure. Remain calm. Becoming angry or overreacting to a question or mistake can upset your teen, or worse, silence any hope of future dialogue. Instead, listen and ask open-ended questions.

Be present. Parents have a lot going on these days. When you have a chance to talk with your teen though, try to put some of those worries and activities aside. Pay attention to the conversation and don’t do too many other things at the same time. You don’t have to drop everything; you can cook or do laundry while you talk. Just be sure to listen and make certain your teen knows you are hearing every word. 

Be sympathetic. Let your teen know you understand how challenging life as an adolescent can be. Your teen may not believe you can really relate. Help teens know that you understand that the social pressures and obligations of a teen can feel like a lot. Encourage them to stay focused on school and other priorities.

Stress safety. Regardless of your views on the timing of sex, safety is an important part of the message to give your teen. Stress the absolute necessity of using a condom every single time. And stress the importance of using birth control. Don't lecture or nag, but don’t be too shy to emphasize this point.

Provide the facts. Give teens complete and honest information. Make sure they understand that condoms aren't just for preventing pregnancy, but also for reducing the likelihood of contracting STDs and HIV. Make sure they know that birth control methods do not necessarily provide protection against STDs and HIV.[1]

Don’t preach. Resist the urge to talk AT them. Instead, share with them. Let them know how you felt and the challenges you faced when you were their age.

Have lots of discussions. Don’t look at this as one huge, overwhelming moment. Keep in mind that talking to your teen is an ongoing conversation. It takes place in bits and pieces over time. It’s not one big talk. Truth be told, when it comes to important topics like relationships, your teen does want to hear from you, but might find talking comfortable for only a few minutes at a time. Give your opinion over time, instead of just unloading one large lecture, and allow your teen to think through what you are sharing.

Keep tabs on TV. More than 75 percent of prime-time programs contain sexual content, yet only 14 percent of sexual incidents mention risks or responsibilities of sexual activity.[2]

Make media matter. Eight in 10 teens say the media is a good way to start conversations with parents about sex, love, and relationships.[3] Spend time watching TV or a movie with your teen and use what happens to the characters as a way to start talking about your own values. Movies and TV shows are great conversation starters because they shift the focus away from teens to characters they might identify with.

Chat in the car. Many parents and teens find the car to be a good place for having conversations that might be slightly uncomfortable. You don’t have to look at each other and it can be a private setting. Although teens might prefer to listen to music or look out the window, remember they’re listening to you.

Text your teen. The average teen sends and receives 50 text messages a day, but makes and receives just five phone calls.[4] For teens, and even younger children, real-time text-based communications on a cell phone or other mobile device now are the norm. Send positive text messages to your teen or follow up a conversation with a text that reinforces what you just talked about. And if the popular texting abbreviations don’t come naturally to you, don’t sweat it. Just write the way you talk.

Your text might say something like:

  • Sorry I haven’t told you recently just how proud I am of you. Keep up the good work!
  • Your performance yesterday at the concert/in the game was amazing. Let’s go out tonight and celebrate the fact that you rock.
  • Being a teen is tough nowadays. You are doing great. Remember, I’m here to help if you need it.
  • Hope you’ll think more about what we talked about yesterday. I really hope you’ll wait until you’re a bit older to have sex.
  • I’m always willing to listen if you need to talk to me about issues with your boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • Remember what we talked about yesterday. It’s really important to use birth control if you’re thinking about having sex. Using it 80% of the time isn’t going to cut it. You have to use it every time.
  • Trust is important in all of your relationships. This includes your friendships. 
  • Remember that relationships are a two-way street. Is your boyfriend/girlfriend giving you space in the relationship?
  • It may be hard to see right now, but it’s true that having sex won’t make you more popular.

[1] Planned Parenthood. (2011). How to talk to your children about sex. Retrieved from
[2] American Academy of Pediatrics. (2010). Advice about sex messages in the media. Retrieved from
[3] Albert, B. (2010). With one voice 2010: America’s adults and teens sound off about teen pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
[4] Lenhart, A. (2010). Teens, cell phones and texting. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from
Last updated: July 19, 2013