Young people may come to a family planning provider not only for contraception but also for advice about physical changes, sex, relationships, family, and problems of growing up. Their needs depend on their particular situations. Some are unmarried and sexually active, others are not sexually active, while still others are already married. Some already have children. Age itself makes a great difference, since young people mature quickly during the adolescent years. These differences make it important to learn about each client first, to understand why that client has come, and to tailor counseling and the offer of services accordingly.

Provide Services with Care and Respect

Young people deserve reproductive health services that meet their needs and are nonjudgmental and respectful, no matter how young the person is. Criticism or unwelcoming attitudes will keep young people away from the care they need. Counseling and services do not encourage young people to have sex. Instead, they help young people protect their health.

Appropriate sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, should be available and accessible to all adolescents without requiring authorization from a parent or guardian by law, policy, or practice. As much as possible, programs should avoid discouraging adolescents from seeking services and avoid limiting their choice of contraceptives because of cost.

To make services friendly to youth, you can:

  • Show young people that you enjoy working with them.
  • Offer services that are free or as low cost as possible.
  • Offer a wide range of contraceptive methods, including long-acting reversible methods.
  • Counsel in private areas where you and the client cannot be seen or overheard. Ensure confidentiality and assure the client of confidentiality.
  • Listen carefully and ask open-ended questions such as “How can I help you?” and “What questions do you have?”
  • Use simple language and avoid medical terms.
  • Use terms that suit young people. Avoid such terms as “family planning,” which may seem irrelevant to those who are not married.
  • Welcome partners and include them in counseling, if the client desires.
  • Try to make sure that a young woman’s choices are her own and are not pressured by her partner or her family. In particular, if she is being pressured to have sex, help a young woman think about what she can say and do to resist and reduce that pressure. Practice with her the skills to negotiate condom use.
  • Speak without expressing judgment (for example, say “You can” rather than “You should”). Do not criticize even if you do not approve of what the young person is saying or doing. Help young clients make decisions that are in their best interest.
  • Take time to fully address questions, fears, and misinformation about sex, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and contraceptives. Many young people want reassurance that the changes in their bodies and their feelings are normal. Be prepared to answer common questions about puberty, monthly bleeding, masturbation, night-time ejaculation, and genital hygiene.
  • Be aware of young people’s norms about gender and gently encourage positive, healthful norms. In particular you can help young women feel that they have the right and the power to make their own decisions about sex and contraception. You can help young men to understand the consequences of their sexual behavior for themselves and for their partners.