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Sexual health How parents teach

From an early age, children are bombarded by sexual messages. Parents who want their children to share their values - rather than those of peers and the media - must actively teach them. Children who learn to respect themselves and others tend to grow up to make healthier choices.

Antigone was 18 when learned she had HIV. She says a lack of self-respect was one reason she engaged in risky behavior - including unprotected sexual intercourse. She says parents can help protect their children.

"It’s a parent’s job to give children an understanding that they're OK,” Antigone says. “That they’re important to the world, to their family, and to themselves. When young people believe that, they’re less likely to seek outside approval through peers, drugs, or sex."

Every day presents opportunities to reinforce children’s sense of worth. Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher encourages parents to create opportunities to talk with their children.

"There’s no substitute for spending time with your children,” says Dr. Satcher. "TV isn’t a substitute. The computer isn’t a substitute. Time together gives children the chance to open up and talk about difficult issues. Listening builds their self-esteem."

Mariama's parents listened to her. Their ongoing discussions always considered how her choices might affect her future. "Talking about sexuality has to be a two-way dialogue," Mariama says, "or it will be a one-time talk."

Research shows that these conversations really can help protect children. Dr. Kim Miller from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that when mothers talk about sexuality, and discussions include topics such as birth control, condoms, and reproduction, their children are more likely to delay intercourse and use protection when they do have sex.

Remember: ongoing truthful family conversation helps young people build relationships based on mutual respect.

Read Bruce's story.

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