Your teenager walks in the room looking like someone just walked over their grave. You ask your son/daughter what’s going on. They ask you to come in the living room and sit down. They grab a huge breath and with that begin a conversation that starts with these words…
“Mom/Dad I think I have an STD.”
Your first reaction is to ask “How do you know that?” but your son/daughter looks at you and starts to explain how they figured it out. Certain symptoms began to happen and they looked up what they were in health class or WebMD, or any number of other sources.
You sit there with disappointment but soon your concern for their health becomes priority one. So what do you do? Where do you go from here? Let’s start with before this scenario ever plays out. Let’s look at some startling facts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System:
- 47.8% of 9th to 12th graders have had sexual intercourse.
- 7.1% of children have had intercourse before age 13.
- 14.9% of high school students have had sexual intercourse with 4 or more people.
- 38.5% of sexually active 9th to 12th graders did not use condoms during their last sexual encounter.
Teens are sexually active. It’s a fact. If you believe that your child isn’t having some sort of sex then almost half of you are wrong. That’s a sobering thought. And according to WebMD’s article “Teens and STD’S: Get the Facts”, half of all sexually active teens will catch chlamydia, herpes, or another STD by the time they turn 25.
Did you read that? HALF of all sexually active teens WILL get one of those STD’s by the time they turn 25! That means that statistically speaking the half of you that were wrong earlier? Half of your teens will catch an STD.
After having talked with multiple families dealing with this I have some thoughts I would like to share with you.
Know Your Facts
It’s your job, parents, to know the ins and outs of this! Do a simple Google search on teens and STD’s if you don’t know where to start. The CDC has an excellent wealth of information for parents looking to arm themselves with knowledge. Start there.
Don’t walk into a conversation with your teen and talk about not having sex without knowing what you’ll say and especially without knowing what you’re talking about. You need to make sure that you are as ready as you can be when you sit down with them.
If you need to bring a cheat sheet, then do it! Just make sure that you understand what you’re talking about before you head into it. This conversation is way too important to try and wing it.
Be Ready for Solutions
I know what I’m about to say might anger some of my more conservative readers but I believe this. If you’re in the middle of your talk and you discover that your teen is sexually active, do you really think that they’ll stop if you forbid it?
I believe in abstinence. I honestly do. You may not, and I’m ok with you not agreeing with me. My opinions do not depend on what someone else may or may not think about them. And we are raising our children in light of our world view. We are and have been having talks about sexuality with our kids at age appropriate levels since they began to understand boys and girls. And I truly hope that my children do commit to remaining abstinent until marriage.
But I understand that they may not. And if that’s the case me yelling and screaming or grounding and punishing isn’t going to make them suddenly understand why we think the way we do.
We parents have to be ready to do what it takes to protect our kids. You may have to be ready to make sure they are using protection.
I know, I know. I just heard a collective gasp from the right. And I understand the arguments about “giving them permission” to have sex with whomever. But my thought is that if my child is having sex, that they are sexually active right now, I would be horribly irresponsible to not include safe sex options in the talk about abstinence.
I’m not saying that you should rush out to Wal-Mart with your teen at hand and pick out condoms for them to carry in the backpacks. What I am saying is that if your teen is old enough to drive and make choices you may need to make sure that they are making smart ones. And that might include using protection.
After the Fact
What do you do if even after all that talking they still choose to be sexually active and they do become part of the nearly ½ that will contract an STD? You must act quickly.
Step one should be to reassure them that life is not over. Even if they’ve contracted HIV we have advanced to a point medically that with the right medication and early diagnosis the life expectancy is 75 years old (Official Journal of the International Aids Society). Life may be different from this point forward, but it’s not over.
Step two should be to contact your pediatrician and schedule an appointment as soon as you possibly can. They may run some blood work there and/or send you to a specialist depending on what’s happening. Regardless of what the procedure is that your doctor has, your responsibility in the situation is to get your son or daughter there! Do not delay, do not come up with any excuses, do not worry about reputations…get them there now.
Why would you tell anyone else?
Your child has been having sex with someone or maybe someones. It’s your child’s job to now inform their sex partners that they’ve been diagnosed with an STD. Those partners deserve to know as soon as you do so that they can get medical treatment as well. If they (and your child) are lucky and have not contracted a disease they still need the opportunity to be tested.
Be careful who you confide in though. If they aren’t a sexual partner, my advice is to tell only those that must know. Find a therapy or support group to talk through emotions, worry and feelings. Get in touch with your school’s counselor or the youth pastor at your church for someone they can go talk to. Call a professional therapist about any deeper issues that may arise.
The New Norm
Understand that you will have to remind your child several times, maybe for quite some time, that life is now different. If your child has contracted a STD life will be different. There will be medications they take for the rest of their lives, there may have to be treatments, and there will definitely be extra precautions that will have to be taken with either future partners or spouses.
And as a teenager they will need help being navigated in this new world. As much as you have no clue what you’re doing (and we are ALL in that boat) imagine what a person without your life experience must feel! They will be completely lost and will look to you for help.
You will need extra helpings of patience and love. You may be mad or disappointed in your child but they will need you more than ever. It’s in the midst of tragedy that our character is revealed and so it will be with this ordeal. Your child’s knowledge of your love will be cemented in their tragedy.
If it’s going to happen, then be prepared for it and make sure that you’ve done all that you could to prevent it. We all say that it couldn’t happen to us…..until it does.