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Relationships and sexual health

Happy teen lovers having rest at home, embracing on couchYou might feel unsure about how to talk to your child about sex, sexuality and relationships but it’s important to help your child understand what healthy relationships look like and how to keep themselves safe.

Every child is different and will become interested in relationships, sex and sexuality at different ages.  As a parent your continued support and guidance is important.

Talking to teens

Teens may not always want to share how they feel, but you still need to let them know they can talk to you about their relationships. Let them know you're interested and take their feelings seriously. Being able to talk to you about their thoughts and feelings can make all the difference to their happiness. Visit our pages on identity and LGBTQ for support on talking to your child about the variety of relationships, identities and feelings. Let your child know all relationships are equally valid and you’ll love them whoever they choose to be with or however they identify.

Teens and boundaries

Teen on the phoneIt can take time for teenagers to understand how to behave and treat each other well in a relationship. Young relationships can be intense, so remind your young person to spend time with other friends and continue their outside interests and school work as well as spending time with their partner. In time, when it's right, you can show your young person that you'd like to get to know their partner. You might both be nervous so keep it low-key and short to begin with. Young people love to chat online and will often talk long into the night so make sure they're getting enough sleep.

Consent and self-esteem

A healthy relationship is one that's supportive, happy, safe and mutually respectful with good communication, trust, honesty and equality. No one in a relationship should have control or power over the other person. And it's never okay for someone to make your young person to do something they don’t want to do.

Young people can be impulsive and not think through their actions, which means they can do things they hadn’t planned to including sex.

Your child must feel in charge of what does and does not happen to their body, knowing how to ask for consent, and respect others rights too.

Try showing this video to your young person. It's a brilliant example that no always means no, even if someone said yes before. The message is you can always change your mind. It's important to let your teen know that no one should feel pressured to do anything they don’t want to in a relationship, or feel isolated, or stuck with a person they don't want to be with. Having high levels of self-esteem will help teens value their own self-worth and expect and also treat others with respect.

Safe sex

It's important your young person knows about contraception, sexual health and how to keep themselves safe. If you don’t think you can talk about it, think about who else your child might trust. You could signpost them to Brook, which has lots of information on puberty and relationships, how the body changes and what to expect.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infectious diseases spread through sexual contact. Your teen might experience pain, fatigue, weight loss or loss of appetite, fever, rashes or unusual discharges but they might not have any symptoms with an STI. Getting regular sexual health tests and using condoms is the best way to make sure they and their partners are healthy. Most STIs can be cured with medication and those that can’t can be managed. The earlier it is treated the easier it will be to treat and the less long-term damage it will cause.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a group of very infectious viruses that most sexually active people will be exposed to it at some point. Although most HPV infections go away on their own without causing any symptoms, some types of HPV may cause infections that increase the risk of certain cancers and pre-cancerous cell changes. The HPV vaccination is given to all children in year eight to help protect them against some types of HPV cancers, like anal cancer and cervical cancer. Visit our immunisation page for more information on all the vaccines offered to your teen.

The Kent and Medway Sexual Health Service provides contraception, STI testing and treatment, psychosexual therapy services as well as care for people living with HIV.

Abuse in young relationships

Portrait of two young handsome men with blond hair together against view of the cityYoung people might mistake a partner's possessive or angry attitude for being 'caring'. But if your young person has had healthy relationship role models while growing up, they're more likely to make healthy relationship choices themselves.

Your teen may need help to see any signs of abuse in their relationship, but criticising their girlfriend or boyfriend will probably make them defensive. Talk to your child about the relationships that you've had, the good and the bad. Try talking about TV characters, things you read or hear about to avoid being personal. Start general conversations and ask questions around the topic that get them thinking, like:

  • Is it okay when someone stops you seeing your friends and family?
  • Is it okay for someone to expect you to change your plans to fit in with them?
  • Should someone criticise the way you look and tell you what to wear?
  • Should someone be pressured to do something sexually they are not comfortable with?

Visit our staying safe with others page for more support.

The NSPCC has some more information on sexual abuse and what to do if you think your child has been abused or has abused another child sexually.

Relationship break-ups

Teen waving goodbyeYour teen might be hurt, sad, or embarrassed when their relationship come to an end. It's important to recognise how important the relationship was to them. Being there for them and reassuring them will help but be aware that you don’t have to fix it for them. They're working out how to be resilient, and this will help them through tough times in the future.

  • Ask them what they think will help. They might want to talk about it, but at other times they'll need to be alone.
  • Avoid criticising the ‘ex’. You don’t want to undermine the relationship they had as this was important to your child and there’s always a chance they could get back together in the future.
  • Help your teen find things to help them keep busy with friends, going out, or keeping active rather than reacting in an angry way and saying or doing things they might regret.
  • Suggest they take a break from social media and unfollow their ex or block them entirely.

You might have to remind them that if a person decides they don't want to be with them, that decision must be respected. And if you are a young person who doesn't want to be with someone anymore, other people should respect their decision too, and not make them feel pressured or bad about it.

Families who might need further support has a useful guide to support parents with a child with additional needs to arm your child with the confidence, knowledge and skills to protect themselves and then let them enjoy exploring all that life has to offer.