The 10th annual National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is May 4. This promotional campaign is designed to improve the lives and futures of children and families. Organizers also want to help ensure that babies are born into stable, two-parent families ready for the demanding task of raising the next generation, which may improve the well-being of children, moms and dads while decreasing poverty. Lowering the teen pregnancy rate also means young men and women will have more opportunities to complete their education and achieve other life goals. It also may result in fewer abortions and a stronger nation.
When The National Campaign first was launched in 1996, organizers set a goal to reduce the teen pregnancy rate by one-third over 10 years. Although the nation has achieved this ambitious goal, teen pregnancy rates still remain too high. The United States still has the highest rates of teen pregnancy among developed nations. Three in 10 girls in the United States get pregnant at least once by age 20.
Abstinence is the only 100-percent effective method for avoiding unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but health professionals realize not every teen will delay becoming sexually active. For a variety of reasons, some children reject abstinence and instead make decisions that complicate teens’ feelings of being disconnected, misunderstood or unloved.
Many teenagers say they are not concerned about pregnancy because they firmly believe it won’t happen to them. They tend to have many misconceptions that enhance this belief. The No. 1 reason teenage boys and girls give for not using protection is that they weren’t planning to have sex and it “just happened.” Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned — about three million a year.
Teen pregnancy is linked to multiple critical social issues and there is a direct correlation between teen pregnancy, welfare dependency and the overall well-being of children. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy believes that preventing teen pregnancy must be viewed not only as a reproductive health issue, but also as one that works to improve all socio-economic measures.
Parents and adults can reduce the risk of kids becoming pregnant before they are physically and emotionally mature. Children receive all sorts of messages about sex from the outside world, so the more information they can get from a trusted source — like their parents — the better off they will be. In general, an easy rule for knowing when to talk to kids about sex and responsibility is “the sooner the better.”
Here is a list of tips for parents from the teenpregnancy.org website. I suggest parents and grandparents cut it out and read it often.
Help children avoid teen pregnancy:
1. Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes.
2. Talk with your children early and often about sex, and be specific. Kids have lots of questions about sex and they often say they’d like to be able to go to their parents with these questions.
3. Resist the idea that there should be just one conversation about this topic — “the talk.” The truth is, parents and kids should be talking about sex and love all along.
4. Supervise and monitor your children. Establish rules, curfews and standards of expected behavior.
5. Know your children’s friends and their families. Friends have a strong influence on each other, so help your children and teenagers become friends with kids whose families share your values.
6. Discourage early, frequent and steady dating. Group activities among young people are fine and often fun, but allowing teens to begin steady, one-on-one dating before age 16 can lead to trouble.
7. Take a strong stand against your daughter dating a boy who is significantly older than she is. And don’t allow your son to develop an intense relationship with a girl much younger than he is. Try setting a limit of no more than a two- or three-year age difference. The power differences between younger girls and older boys can lead girls into risky situations.
8. Help teenagers choose options for the future that are more attractive than early pregnancy and parenthood. The chances that children will delay sex are increased if their futures appear bright.
These tips for helping your children avoid teen pregnancy work best when they occur as part of strong, close relationships with your children that are built from an early age. Strive for a relationship that is warm in tone, firm in discipline and rich in communication. Emphasize mutual trust and respect in your family.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.