How to talk with and support teens when it comes to sexually transmitted infections
It’s often not easy for parents to talk with their teens about sexually transmitted infections. But it’s important for teens to have access to testing, especially those who might be more at risk. “Sexually transmitted infections can often be cured,” says Dr. Stephanie Stovall, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. “For the ones that cannot be cured, there are excellent treatments that can significantly improve the life of the person infected and prevent spread from one person to another. Avoiding treatment of sexually transmitted infections can lead to long-term complications, like lifelong infertility or even neurological problems.”
The pediatric infectious diseases clinic at Golisano counsels adolescent patients about HIV and STI testing, treatment and disclosure, and teens can discuss their sexual health concerns privately with their doctors. “This fosters independence and encourages the teen to own their own behavioral choices,” says Dr. Stovall. “As a parent, encouraging the teen to be open with their doctor during this oneon-one time can be helpful.”
Dr. Stovall recommends that everyone between ages 13 and 64 should have at least a single HIV test, and those at higher risk should consider an annual test. Some teens may have a parent, trusted family member, or friend who can help them if they have concerns and want to get tested for HIV or an STI. For those who don’t have someone who can help, they can call the pediatric infectious diseases clinic at Golisano, their primary care physician or a community resource like Planned Parenthood.
“Teenagers requesting treatment or evaluation of STIS or HIV do not require the consent of a parent to receive medical treatment from a doctor,” says Dr. Stovall.
For parents, open and nonjudgmental discussions tend to lead to the best results. “Many teens will be comfortable discussing sex and risk factors if the parent approaches the subject with an inquisitive and supportive attitude, instead of an attitude of ‘Don’t do this,’” says Dr. Stovall. “All teens should understand the behaviors that put them at risk for sexually transmitted infections.”