Birth Control: Information for Parents of Adolescents
Parents are a trusted source of health information and can help prepare adolescents for developing healthy relationships and navigating challenges.1 Talking regularly with your adolescent and paying attention to where they are and who they are with can help reduce unhealthy behaviors.2,3 Most youth report discussing health topics with parents, including sexual and reproductive health.4 For these conversations to be effective, parents need to know about options to prevent unintended pregnancies, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including not having sex, and using condoms and birth control. There are health services available for young people that can help prevent pregnancy, and it is important that parents know about these services.
Over the past decade, the percent of high school-aged adolescents having sex has declined, however, 57% are sexually active by 12th grade.5,6 The most effective methods of birth control are obtained from a healthcare provider. This info brief summarizes information about these types of birth control and other methods, such as condoms.
Many safe and effective birth control methods are available for adolescents who are sexually active or considering having sex. They can choose the method that works best for them. These include:
Long-acting reversible contraceptives or “LARC” methods
Including intrauterine devices (IUDs) and the hormonal implant. These methods are inserted by a healthcare provider and provide birth control for up to 3 to 10 years (depending on the method) without any required follow-up.
Short-acting hormonal methods
Including pills, mini pills, the patch, the shot, and the vaginal ring. These methods are prescribed by a provider, and users must take action daily (pills), weekly (patch), monthly (ring), or every 3 months (shot) for them to work.
Including condoms, diaphragms, the sponge, and the cervical cap. These methods must be used each time someone has sex. A healthcare provider must initially fit a diaphragm and give a prescription for a cervical cap, but otherwise these methods do not require a visit to the clinic.
More details and information on additional methods are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.
How should adolescents choose a birth control method?
Information from parents and healthcare providers can help adolescents decide which birth control method is right for them. It is important to consider:
- How well does it work? Some birth control methods are more effective at preventing pregnancy than others. IUDs and implants are the most effective reversible methods currently available. This chartexternal iconexternal icon compares method effectiveness.
- Is it easy to use? Some methods are easier to use than others. For example, if it is hard to remember to take a pill every day, birth control pills may not be the best option.
- What are the possible side effects? A healthcare provider can explain potential side effects of methods and ensure that a method is safe given an adolescent’s overall health.
- Does it prevent STDs? Most contraceptive methods do not prevent STDs, so it is recommended that adolescents also always use condoms in addition to their primary birth control method for both STD and pregnancy prevention.6
- How much does it cost? Most insurance plans, including Medicaid, fully cover most birth control methods. For those without health insurance, some clinics provide free or low-cost birth controlexternal iconexternal icon.
What about birth control and STDs?
Make sure your adolescent knows that even if they are using another type of birth control, they should use a condom every timepdf icon they have sex. This reduces the risk for HIV and most other STDs. Birth control such as the IUD, implant, pill, patch, ring, or shot provides effective pregnancy prevention, but it does not protect against HIV and other STDs. Condoms can reduce the risk to both partners for most STDs, including HIV, as well as the risk for pregnancy.7 Getting tested for STDs is also important.
You play an important role in helping your adolescent get regular access to quality healthcare. For example:
- You can help your adolescent find a healthcare provider they like and make sure they get annual check-ups.
- Parents can also help their adolescent fill prescriptions and take medications correctly.
Talking about sex, relationships, and how to prevent HIV, STDs, and pregnancy may not always be comfortable or easy, but you can encourage your teen to ask questions. Some tips to help you include:
- Begin talking with your adolescent early and often.
- Be prepared to give fair and honest answers. This will help keep open communication.
- Explain to your adolescent about the health services a provider may discuss with them and why they are important.
- Make sure they are aware of their options for birth control—it’s important that males know about birth control too and receive routine sexual and reproductive health care.
It is important that adolescents have prepare to seek healthcare with some independence in order to do so as an adult.
- As a first step, your adolescent should have one-on-one time with their healthcare provider routinely, where you step out of the room.8
- Let them know that one-on-one time is a good time for them to ask questions and talk openly and honestly.
- Encourage your adolescent to ask about sexual and reproductive health services when they have one-on-one time with their provider
You and your adolescent’s healthcare provider can work together as a team with the shared goal of improving your adolescent’s health.
- You can let the healthcare provider know that you are supportive of your adolescent receiving recommended health services, including those for preventing HIV, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy.
- You can also ask your adolescent’s healthcare provider to tell you more about services or those that you may be less familiar with, such as LARC.
Be aware of the quality of the health information your adolescent is receiving from school, friends, online, or other sources. Your adolescent may not be receiving complete or accurate information from these sources. Be available to answer any questions that they may have. The more you know about health topics and services, the easier it will be to talk with your adolescent about them.
Resources are available to help you take these action steps. For example, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine’s app THRIVEexternal icon can help you talk with your adolescent about health and track health care visits. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a website called Healthy Childrenexternal icon that includes information for parents about adolescent health services.
Also, CDC has information to help parents talk with their teen, make good decisions about sex, and support one-on-one time between a teen and their health provider.
- Ackard DM, Neumark-Sztainer D. Health care information sources for adolescents: age and gender differences on use, concerns, and needs. J Adolesc Health. 2001;29(3):170-176.
- Dittus PJ, Michael SL, Becasen JS, Gloppen KM, McCarthy K, Guilamo-Ramos V. Parental Monitoring and Its Associations With Adolescent Sexual Risk Behavior: A Meta-analysis. Pediatrics. 2015;136(6):e1587-1599.
- Widman L, Choukas-Bradley S, Noar SM, Nesi J, Garrett K. Parent-Adolescent Sexual Communication and Adolescent Safer Sex Behavior: A Meta-Analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(1):52-61.
- Lindberg LD, Maddow-Zimet I, Boonstra H. Changes in Adolescents’ Receipt of Sex Education, 2006-2013. J Adolesc Health. 2016;58(6):621-627.
- Kann L, McManus T, Harris WA, et al. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 2017. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2018;67(8):1-114.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Data Summary and Trends Report, 2007-2017pdf icon. Accessed June 1, 2020.
- Gavin L, Moskosky S, Carter M, et al. Providing quality family planning services: Recommendations of CDC and the U.S. Office of Population Affairs. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2014;63(RR-04):1-54.
- CDC. (2019, August 8). Reporoductive Health: Teen Pregnancy: For Teens.
- Hagan JF, Shaw JS, Duncan PM, eds. Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants,Children, and Adolescents. 4th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2017