Talking openly with your preteen about pregnancy and birth control will help them be better prepared for their future. It will also make them more likely to come to you for advice for big decisions as they get older.
What should I keep in mind?
It’s better to for preteens to understand this stuff before they need it. That way they’ll be prepared to make responsible decisions. Parents and other caring adults play an important role in helping young people wait to have sex until they’re ready, and be responsible about sex in the future.
Giving your preteen truthful and accurate facts about pregnancy helps them understand that sex has real-life consequences. There are choices about sex that every person makes during their lifetime (like whether to have sex, with whom, whether to use birth control, etc.) — and the information and support you provide can help your kid make healthy choices.
Even if you think your preteen doesn’t need to know about things like birth control and condoms yet because they’re not sexually active, teaching them how to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy and STDs sets the expectation that they’ll make responsible decisions in the future. It also sends the message that you care about them and want them to stay healthy, and that they can come to you for support.
Odds are your kid has already heard some things about pregnancy, so a good way to start the conversation is by asking what they already know, and go from there.
Preteens want to get this info from you, even if it doesn’t seem like it. It may seem surprising, but the majority of teens say their parents are their biggest influence when it comes to making decisions about sex. And studies show that kids who have open conversations about sex with their parents are more likely to wait longer to start having sex and use protection when they do have sex.
Even if your preteen looks uncomfortable when you start talking about this stuff, they’re listening. Not being shy talking about things like birth control, pregnancy, and pregnancy options, will help them - they’ll remember what you say to them now when they need that info later.
This isn’t only a mom thing — fathers have a big role to play when it comes to talking about pregnancy and birth control. Aunts, uncles, older siblings, or other family members can be a great resource, too.
Answer their questions, find teachable moments, and tell them your values. Don’t worry about telling your preteen “too much.” You can start with basics, and check for understanding along the way. Using TV or real life examples is a good place to start. Family member is pregnant? Talk about the choices they made to get there. Watching “16 and Pregnant?” Ask them when they think people are ready to parent.
Be clear about your values. When do you think someone is ready to parent? What should happen before that (i.e. career, relationship, financial stability)? Where do you think the decision to have sex fits in?
Don’t feel like you have to know every single fact about pregnancy and birth control. If your kid asks a question you don’t know the answer to, that’s okay — look it up together.
How do I talk about birth control?
You can be detailed with your preteen about pregnancy and how to prevent it. Make sure they know that penis-in-vagina sex can lead to pregnancy, and that people can prevent pregnancy by using birth control. All preteens need this information — no matter their gender or sexual orientation.
You can make it clear that you expect them to wait to have sex until they’re older — while also making it clear that someday when they DO have sex, they should use condoms and birth control to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy.
Giving your kids factual information about birth control doesn’t mean you’re giving them permission to have sex. It shows them that you expect them to make responsible choices about sex when the time comes.
You can say things like, “While I think you should wait to have sex until you’re older, I want to talk to you about birth control and condoms so you can avoid pregnancy if and when you do have vaginal sex.”
Keep in mind that birth control isn’t just about preventing pregnancy. Hormonal birth control can have lots of other benefits, like helping with heavy or irregular periods, painful cramps, PMS, and acne.
How do I talk about pregnancy?
Talking about the changes of puberty and talking about how pregnancy happens can naturally go together. You can tell your preteen that after puberty, their bodies will be able to make a pregnancy — and this usually happens long before people are actually ready to parent. Testicles start making sperm during puberty, and ovaries start releasing eggs a few weeks before the first period — and there’s no way to know exactly when it will happen for each person.
There are LOTS of myths about pregnancy floating around out there. And there’s a good chance that your kid will hear untrue things. That’s where you come in — you can make sure your preteen knows the real facts, like:
Abstinence from vaginal sex is the only 100% guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy.
If you have vaginal sex, the only way to prevent pregnancy is by using birth control.
People of any sexual orientation/gender identity can get pregnant from penis-in-vagina sex.
Emergency contraception can help prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex, if you ever find yourself in that situation.
It’s also good to talk about all the different ways there are to make a family. For example, penis-in-vagina sex isn’t the only way to have a baby — people can use assisted reproductive technology (like IVF, surrogacy, etc.) if they can’t or don’t want to get pregnant through vaginal sex. And many people create families through adoption and fostering. And some people don’t ever want to parent, while others may be interested in being pregnant but not parenting (i.e. surrogacy).
How do I talk about pregnancy options?
It’s hard to imagine your kid having to make a decision about an unplanned pregnancy. Even though your preteen is likely years away from being sexually active, talking about unplanned pregnancy and pregnancy options now can let them know that you care about their health and future, and that you'll be there to support them no matter what. It also allows you to frame these conversations around your values.
Preteens need to know that pregnant people have 3 options: abortion, adoption, and parenting. This is also a good opportunity to provide basic factual information — like that legal abortion is very safe and common, and that being a teen parent can make it harder (but certainly not impossible) to achieve your future goals.
If you’ve had your own experience with making decisions about a pregnancy, think about what information you feel comfortable revealing — what you share is totally up to you. This is a good time to talk about how decisions about pregnancy are very personal. Ask your kid questions about their own feelings and be open to their thoughts and values, too.
You can use examples from the media, pop culture, or real life to start the conversation and ask them what they think — for example, an older teen in your community who may be pregnant, or a character on a TV show who has an abortion.