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There’s no way your kid is actually old enough to have kids of their own already, right? But let’s face it: once puberty starts, pregnancy is possible. Talking with your teen about birth control (including condoms) can make a big difference in helping your teen avoid pregnancy until they’re ready.

What should I keep in mind?

Teens whose parents talk with them about sex, birth control, preventing STDs, and pregnancy are more likely to wait to have sex, use condoms when they do have sex, and avoid unintended pregnancy. Some parents think that talking about sex, birth control, or condoms means that they’re giving their teen permission to have sex as soon as possible. This isn’t true.

The reality is that high schoolers already talk and think about sex. Sex is on TV, it’s in all the most popular songs, and their natural curiosity has had them talking about it with their friends. You may think that avoiding discussions about sex, birth control, or condoms sends the message that they’re too young for sex and that they’ll avoid doing it to avoid making you upset. But actually, the opposite is true: Studies have shown that teens who feel that their parents are willing to have open conversations about sex are more likely to delay having sex and use birth control and condoms when they do.

Even if you don’t believe your teen should be having sex, talking with them about birth control, condoms, STD prevention, and pregnancy is important for their health. The things you say about sex and pregnancy reflects your values. Maybe you believe that people should only have sex when they’re in committed relationships, or that people should wait until they’re married to have sex. When it comes to pregnancy, some people have beliefs about parenting — like, for example, what age or life stage is the right time to start a family, as well as beliefs about abortion and adoption.

Think about what you want to share with your teen. Remember that your teen is going to make their own decisions when it comes to sex and pregnancy, but what you say to them really matters. Saying nothing just leaves them to figure things out on their own, or from their peers. So even if you don’t believe your teen is ready to have sex, be clear that condoms are the best way to prevent STDs when people do have sex, and that a really good method of birth control is best way to prevent pregnancy.

Talk openly, help them go to the doctor, and let them know you love them no matter what. Let your teen know that you’re there to answer their questions. If you don’t know the answer to something, you can look it up together. If your teen wants to get birth control, you can help by talking with them about their options and taking them to the doctor.

Tell them that no matter what happens, you love them, and they can come to you in any situation. It also helps to identify other people they can talk with about what’s going on if they ever have something they don’t want to talk with you about — like an aunt, uncle, older sibling, doctor, nurse, or school staff.

Being open, warm, and non-judgmental about sex and pregnancy means your teen is less likely to hesitate to tell you if something’s going on. It also means that they’re more likely to use condoms and birth control if they do have sex. They need your help to feel prepared to deal with the responsibilities of sex, for whenever they’re ready.

How do I talk to my teen about birth control and pregnancy?

Using birth control and condoms together is the best way to prevent both pregnancy and STDs if you’re going to have sex. Parents of teens of all genders can help their teens understand what birth control and condoms do and help them get started when the time is right.

Talking about birth control and pregnancy — or anything that has to do with sex — may be a little uncomfortable at first. It’s okay to own up to that by saying something like, “I know this feels awkward, but I love you and care about you so we need to talk about important things like this.” Talking about this stuff gets easier with practice.

Look for teachable moments — like advertisements for birth control on TV or in magazines, or running into a pregnant neighbor or friend. Start by asking what your teen already knows about how pregnancy happens and what birth control does. Make sure they know that birth control can be used to prevent pregnancy and that there are lots of different kinds out there (it’s not just the pill anymore). You and your teen can check out info about birth control together to make sure you have all the facts.

Most people don’t start having sex until around age 18. But it’s never too early to make sure your teen knows what’s up when it comes to birth control and condoms. Let them know that they don’t have to wait until they’ve started having sex to get on birth control.  

You can make an appointment to get started on birth control at your local Planned Parenthood health center or another health center, or help them talk with their pediatrician about it.

How do I help my sexually active teen prevent pregnancy?

You can help them avoid pregnancy until they’re ready by talking about waiting to have sex, as well as birth control, condoms, and what they want for the future. Having life goals and thinking through the ways pregnancy might get in the way of those goals is an important way for teens to take steps to delay pregnancy until they’re ready.

The best way to avoid pregnancy (and STDs) is to use both birth control and condoms every single time you have sex. There are many safe and effective birth control methods that are great for teens. The best way to help your teen avoid pregnancy is to talk with them about birth control, help them get birth control from a doctor or nurse (and condoms from a drugstore), and help them get the facts when it comes to their questions about birth control.

Think your teen might be sexually active but haven’t talked about it? Start the conversation. Find a quiet time when it’s just the two of you. Start out by reminding them that you love them no matter what, and that you want to talk with them because you care. Ask them if they’re having sex, and if so, if they’re using birth control and condoms. Let them know that you can help them with any questions they may have about birth control or condoms. You can help your teen see how important birth control is so that an unplanned pregnancy doesn’t change their plans for the future.

Most important of all — tell them that you love them no matter what, and that they can always come to you if they’re ever worried about pregnancy. Many teens delay telling their parents and even deny to themselves that they’re pregnant for many months. The earlier that your teen tells you about a pregnancy the better it is for their health and emotional well-being.

How do I help my pregnant or parenting teen?

It’s normal to have lots of emotions when you find out your teen is pregnant or is going to be a parent. Some parents feel disappointed in their teen or themselves, and feel worried about the future.

Your teen needs your help now — maybe more than they ever have. Anything you can do to work through your toughest feelings so you can help your teen will be important. Seek help from close friends and family or a counselor or therapist.  

Like all pregnant people, pregnant teens have 3 options: abortion, adoption, and parenting. And just like everyone else, only your teen can decide what’s right for them. You can help your teen learn more about their options if they’re unsure by taking them to a Planned Parenthood health center, where a doctor, nurse, or counselor can give them unbiased information about their options. You can also read more about each option with them.

No matter what they’re leaning toward, the earlier your teen gets health care the better off they are. You can help with making doctor appointments and helping your teen stay healthy during their pregnancy. You can also be supportive emotionally as your teen’s life changes.

Parents of teens whose partners have become pregnant can support their teen as they figure out their new responsibilities. Teens whose partners become pregnant don’t get to decide if their partner has an abortion or gives birth, and may feel a range of emotions. Teen fathers are also expected to provide child support just like fathers over age 18, and may need help handling new financial responsibilities.

You may be worried about your own ability to help with money or child care. Setting expectations and boundaries from the start can help you and your teen avoid conflict down the road. But while you think about the kind of help you can offer, try not to let any anger you may have about the situation prevent you from seeing how important your help is. Punishing your teen by refusing to help can do long lasting damage to your relationship. It can also make things like finishing high school, going to college, or starting a career harder for them.

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