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This practical approach to STD prevention is what high school students and their parents say is lacking in sex education classes, according to a national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In fact, they indicated that learning how to use condoms and talking with partners about STDs are areas in need of focus. But because one-on-one interaction is limited in the classroom, experts say physicians are another source of information for teenagers.

"Even if your child is feeling fine, it's a good idea to see the doctor during puberty," says Barbara Snyder, MD, chief of adolescent medicine and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Brunswick, N.J. "That way they can get their questions answered by a professional, rather than by their peers. But with all the media messages they're exposed to, you probably shouldn't wait until they're 17," she cautions.

As a mother herself, Snyder tells WebMD that parents should begin a dialogue with their kids as early as age 10. To get started, here's what she suggests:

  • Ask your doctor for guidance and age-appropriate handouts.
  • Check Internet sites for additional information.
  • Focus on body awareness and developing self-respect.
  • Avoid fear messages, which aren't yet relevant to them.

But it's OK to tell children what you think is right, according to Marcia Rubin, PhD, MPH, the director of research and sponsored programs for the American School Health Association. "Kids learn the basics at school, but they look to their parents in setting boundaries for their behavior. That's why an ongoing dialogue with mom and dad has been shown to delay sexual activity," she explains.

The idea is to make a connection and deepen your bond. So to keep kids coming back for more, here's what Rubin recommends:

  • Tell them why you believe what you believe.
  • Learn the facts and share them calmly.
  • Offer kids the benefit of your mistakes.
  • Try not to tell your children what to do.
  • Talk with them, not at them.

 

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