Sending your teen away to college is an exciting time for both you and them! They will get to learn new things, make new friends, and gain many new experiences. During this transition from high school to college, they will be faced with the responsibility of managing things they may have never had to before.
What if my teen starts a new romantic relationship?
As teenagers start their transition into adulthood, they will start to form deeper and more meaningful connections with the people around them. They should be prepared to manage romantic relationships, including knowing how to access and use condoms and contraception, get tested for sexually transmitted infections, and understand the ins and outs of consent and healthy communication.
Consent is often talked about in the context of sexual or physical interactions between people. Whether that is holding hands, kissing, or having intercourse, consent is an important, if not a vital, part of a healthy relationship. Consent should be obtained before any of these actions take place by asking permission beforehand. Having “consent” to hold hands, kiss, or have intercourse, comes in the form of a verbal “yes” from your partner. Consent is part of health communication, which is open and honest discussion between people that prioritizes respect, non-judgment, and trust.
If your teen is comfortable talking openly with you about romantic relationships, they are much more likely to be comfortable talking to their romantic partners about their values and expectations regarding consent, condom use, and the importance of pregnancy prevention.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a great tool for parents that covers how to talk with teens about romantic relationships that includes tips for helping your teen to develop problem-solving skills, supporting a friend who may be in an unhealthy relationship, setting rules and expectations in their own romantic relationships, and how parents can serve as role models for their teens.
What if they need to access reproductive health services?
Make sure they are aware of their resources on campus for all of their health needs. They will need to handle their own health care and may even want to transition from their pediatric care provider at home to a doctor on campus or near their school.
Transitioning to adult care is one of the first steps your teen will take to becoming independent. As a parental caregiver, you should be supportive in their readiness to take on this responsibility! One way you can show your support is to provide your teen with the resources they need before they go.
One step is to help your teen know where to find sexual health resources at college. Sexual health resources include finding condoms and knowing how to use them, knowing about testing for sexually transmitted infections, locating contraceptive counseling, and much more.
When having a conversation about sexual health resources available to your teen, be mindful that you are not being judgmental or closed off about the subject of sex. While you can be clear about your own values and attitudes towards sex and relationships, make sure your teen feels comfortable talking to you, rather than shameful. Some ways to do this are:
- Asking open-ended questions to understand how your teen feels about romantic relationships. What are their values towards sex and relationships?
- Listening to how your teen feels about accessing sexual health resources at college. Do they understand the options and resources available to them?
- Answering any questions they may have. Are you aware of the resources available at their college? If not, do some research yourself so you can be an additional resource for them.
With open communication, honest conversations, and no judgment, your teen will feel comfortable when the time comes to use sexual health resources available to them.
Does your teen have their immunization records?
Going away to college is also a great time to check if your teen has updated immunizations. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is one they should have before they leave home. HPV is a virus that can be sexually transmitted and has been linked to different types of cancers in the genital, mouth, and throat areas. The vaccine is recommended for both boys and girls to receive and is safe and effective for preventing infections in the head, neck, and genital areas. To learn more about the HPV vaccine, and how to start this discussion with your teen, check out some of our latest articles here:
Take Away Message:
Having these conversations about consent, engaging in healthy relationships, and accessing sexual health resources with your teen before they go to college will give them the skills and knowledge needed to live a happy and healthy life.
To view the article on communicating about healthy relationships with your teen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, click here: https://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/parenting/healthy-communication-and-relationships/talk-with-your-teen-about-healthy-relationships