Brook provides free and confidential advice online for young people on sex and relationships. Here, Brook's Richard Essery answers some parents' FAQs
My daughter has a male friend and they spend time together in her bedroom, but I don’t know if they’re having sex. How can I approach her about this?
It’s important to keep the channels of communication open between you and your daughter so she feels able to come and talk to you, rather than keeping things secret. Try approaching her in a calm and relaxed way, making it clear that you are not angry with her and you aren’t going to tell her off but are concerned about her welfare.
Hopefully, after making this clear, your daughter won’t become defensive with you and will feel able to open up to you about what’s actually happening. If she is having any sexual contact with him, you can then have a chat with her about how she can protect herself from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
I think my son may start having sex soon. I want to make sure he’s clued up, but I don’t want to give him too much information or think that I am encouraging him to have sex.
If your son is thinking about having sex, then it’s really important he has the basic information about how to protect himself and his partner. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure of how to talk to him about this sort of thing, you may like to suggest he goes along to his local Brook service or another local young person’s service, or Family Planning Clinic.
‘They can help him explore whether or not he feels ready to have sex and answer any questions he may have’
A doctor or nurse at any of these services can have a confidential chat with your son, and give him information that is age-appropriate and geared at his level of maturity. They can help him explore whether or not he feels ready to have sex and answer any questions he may have.
I have found the pill in my daughter’s bedroom. Is it legal for her to get it without my permission?
Brook services and other sexual health services can give free contraception to young people, including those under 16s, when appropriate. If a young person goes along to a service and asks for contraception, a doctor or nurse will always encourage them to tell their parents.
However, if a young person feels unable to tell their parents, for whatever reason, a doctor or nurse will assess whether or not that young person is mature enough to start using contraception without their parent’s involvement. If a doctor or nurse feels that the young person is mature enough and it is in their best interests to use contraception, then they can prescribe contraception without parental consent.
Medical professionals use the Fraser Guidelines to make a judgement about whether or not a young person is mature enough to understand how to use contraception, and whether it is in their best interests to use it. You can find more information about under 16s and consent to medical treatment on Brook’s website.
I walked in on my child masturbating. I feel disgusted and embarrassed. What should I do?
This is a difficult situation for you both, and they are probably feeling just as embarrassed as you are – maybe even more so. To reassure you though, as embarrassing a situation as it might be, it’s definitely not unusual – so the most important thing is to carry on communicating as normal, so you can both put this experience behind you.
It’s totally natural to worry about whether this is normal developmental behaviour or not, but it’s also important to remember that it’s not harmful, and it’s not necessarily a sign of being sexually active either.
Plenty of young people start masturbating just because it feels nice, and they are getting to know their own bodies. Adults often associate masturbation with sex and sexual pleasure, but for children it can be completely unrelated to anything sexual - it just happens to feel good.
Sexual development (puberty) can begin any time between 10 and the late teens, and it involves many changes. Some boys and girls start to masturbate before they start sexual development.
Lots of young people, but especially young men, grow up with feelings of guilt or fear about masturbation. This can lead to them worrying unnecessarily (often long past their teenage years) about non-existent side-effects, so it’s important not to make too much of it. Masturbation does not cause any mental or physical harm, and for most people it’s just a natural part of being human.
If you feel you can broach the subject, you can reassure them that it's nothing to feel dirty or guilty about and is just a normal part of growing up. You might also want to let them know that, while it’s OK, people usually only do it when they are somewhere private. If you can establish clear boundaries it will mean you don’t walk in on them again.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: June 2014
Updated: May 2018