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Parents are first line of defense against teen pregnancy
Health advice
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May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and it’s just one of 11 other months during which parents, schools and youth advisers need to take every opportunity to encourage teens to delay becoming sexually active. Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method for avoiding unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Educators should acknowledge the importance of abstinence and equip youth with the knowledge, confidence and skills necessary to make abstinence work. It is also equally as important to provide information about contraception to young people who pledge to remain abstinent so that if and when they do become sexually active, they will prevent unintended pregnancy and avoid HIV and other STDs.
Teen pregnancy is closely linked to multiple social issues, and there appears to be a direct correlation between teen pregnancy and welfare dependency and the overall well-being of children. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy believes that while preventing teen pregnancy is a reproductive health issue, it is also a way to improve all socio-economic measures.
There are many things parents and adults can do to ensure girls do not become pregnant before they are physically and emotionally mature. The fact is, children receive all sorts of messages about sex from the outside world, so the more information they get from a trusted source, like 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.”
Listed below are 10 tips for parents that came from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy’s Web site,
1. Be clear about your own sexual values and attitudes. Communicating with your children about sex, love and relationships is often more successful when you are certain in your own mind about these issues. To help clarify your attitudes and values, think about the following kinds of questions:
• What do you really think about school-aged teenagers being sexually active-perhaps even becoming parents? What do you think about encouraging teenagers to abstain from sex?
• Who is responsible for setting sexual limits in a relationship and how is that done, realistically?
2. Talk with your children early and often about sex and be specific. Kids have lots of questions about sex and they often say that the source they’d most like to go to for answers is their parents. Start the conversation, and make sure that it is honest, open and respectful. Tell them candidly and confidently what you think and why you take these positions. If you’re not sure about some issues, tell them that, too. Be sure to have a two-way conversation, not a one-way lecture. Ask them what they think and what they know so you can correct misconceptions. Ask what, if anything, worries them.
3. Supervise and monitor your children and adolescents. Establish rules, curfews and standards of expected behavior, preferably through an open process of family discussion and respectful communication. Decide who is responsible for making certain that children are safe during unsupervised hours. Are they engaged in useful activities? Where are they when they go out with friends? Are there adults around who are in charge? Supervising and monitoring your kids’ whereabouts doesn’t make you a nag; it makes you a parent.
4. 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. It is easier to enforce a curfew that all your child’s friends share rather than one that makes him or her different, but even if your views don’t match those of other parents, hold fast to your convictions.
5. 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 much before age 16 can lead to trouble.
6. Take a strong stand against your daughter dating a boy significantly older than she is. And don’t allow your son to develop an intense relationship with a girl much younger than he is. Older guys can seem glamorous to a young girl — sometimes they even have money and a car to boot! But the risk of matters getting out of hand increases when the guy is much older than the girl. Try setting a limit of no more than a two- (or at most three-) year age difference.
7. Help your teenagers to have options for the future that are more attractive than early pregnancy and parenthood. The chances that your children will delay sex, pregnancy and parenthood are significantly increased if their futures appears bright. This means helping them set meaningful goals for the future, talking to them about what it takes to make future plans come true and helping them reach their goals.
8. Let your kids know that you value education highly. Encourage children to take school seriously and set high expectations for themselves. School failure is often the first sign of trouble that can end in teenage parenthood. Be very attentive to your children’s progress in school and intervene early if things aren’t going well.
9. Know what your kids are watching, reading, and listening to. All media is chock full of material sending the wrong messages. When it is not consistent with your expectations and values talk with your children about what the media portray and what you think about it. If certain programs or movies offend you, say so, and explain why.
10. These first nine 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, and one that emphasizes mutual trust and respect.
The Liberty County Health Planning Board has two work groups currently addressing the problem of teen pregnancy in Liberty County. For information or two participate in a group, call 876-6399.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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