Sunday, October 22, 2006

Close Encounters of the Teenage Kind

Joe is the principal of a high school. We met through my volunteer work with The Perfect Storm Foundation and we've been friends ever since. Every once in a while, I stop by his office to kick around ideas about my work.

I like the big red and white EASY button on his desk. It's from Staples.

I always wonder how many times a day he punches it and hears, “That was easy!” He loves his job, but I bet he hits it a lot…just to pretend things aren't so challenging.

“We need a video for girls about birth control and decision-making,” Joe said. There are 1,000 students at his school. Kim, the school nurse, gave 70 pregnancy tests. Five teenage girls were pregnant.

When Kim stopped by the office, she told me about some of the girls she'd seen. One 14-year-old girl already had two babies. Another girl said she'd been told that she couldn't get pregnant because she was fat.

I asked whether these girls' parents were around. Kim said that one mother of a pregnant teen called to find out when her daughter's baby was due so she could plan a baby shower.

School nurses are on the frontlines. They see and hear it all. Students will often tell them things they won't tell their parents or even their best friends.

Another girl Kim worries about is obsessed with getting pregnant. The girl is having sex with an older guy. They don't date. They have sex. “She's wants to get pregnant so she would have to get an abortion,” Kim said. “That way she says he'll be forced to talk to her.”

I thought about that girl all day. She's so desperate for attention. I thought about the other girls, too. I thought about how Kim, Joe, and I focused on the girls and their decisions. What about the boys?

When I filmed The Power of Girls, 15-year-old Wendy told me how she lost her virginity. She went to his house for a party - but no one else showed up. The guy pushed her on the bed and they had sex. “I had no respect for myself,” she said. “I think that's why I let him do that. If somebody had self-respect, like actually loved themselves they would not let somebody take advantage of them.”

Respect is a two-way street. In Boys on Bullying, 15-year-old Jim said he knows guys who take advantage of girls. “Those guys, they don't really have respect for women. They don't have respect for themselves, because who would do that, you know? They just, they feel like they can use women, and they just want it because they're horny.”

Ninety-three percent of teenage women report that their first sexual intercourse was voluntary. But a quarter of these young women report that they didn't really want to have sex. (Alan Guttmacher Institute)

Joe's right. It's important that girls learn the facts about birth control and making smart choices. But we have to remember to include boys in these conversations - in the classroom and at home.

Challenging? Punch an EASY button. “That was easy!” At least we can pretend.

Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health
Words Can Work: When Talking With Kids About Sexual Health

Related Issues and Answers columns
Growing up gay
Kids and oral sex
Parents as educators
Postponing sex
Talking with kids

Related columns for young people


Dad said...

The best defense against teen pregnancy is girls' strong relationships with their fathers. It's never too late for fathers to start, or to pick up where they left off when the girl was a tot. In the past 10 years, corporate and other job related demands have sapped men of time with their daughters. Now they realize what they've missed and what their daughters have missed. It's not too late, Dads. Go get ice cream with your daughter!

January 11, 2007 11:19 AM


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