Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More Kids Having Kids

The number of teens having babies rose three percent in one year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The reason? Fewer kids using contraception, in the opinion of Maria Kefalas who was quoted in a New York Times article.

Kefalas is an associate professor of sociology at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

I’m convinced that one reason fewer kids are using birth control is because of failed abstinence-until-marriage programs paid for by the federal government to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

When I was producing the documentary Sex Education In America, I observed middle school students being taught the virtues of saving sex for marriage. Teachers emphasized and exaggerated the failure rates of condoms and other forms of birth control and encouraged kids to chant catchy phrases: “Pet your dog. Not your date!” and “Give her a ring, not your thing!” (I’m not kidding.)

Some of the students told me that after their sex ed class they felt afraid of sex. That was in 1993. I wonder how those kids handled sexual intimacy as they grew up. If they did have sex before marriage, I wonder whether they used protection or told themselves, “It fails so often so why bother?”

Some abstinence-until-marriage curricula promote virginity pledges. Earlier this month, a study by Dr. Janet E. Rosenbaum of Johns Hopkins University showed, as earlier studies have, that these one-time promises by kids don’t work. In fact, when so-called pledgers broke their promise, they were less likely to use birth control, including condoms.

One teen told me, “If you make a vow to staying a virgin, you aren’t going to be walking around with a condom in your purse,” she said. “Then if do have sex, you have no way to protect yourself.”

Teaching kids responsibility for their sexual behavior is a parent’s job, tough as it may be for some parents to imagine their kids being sexually active. Moms and dads need to push through any discomfort and denial and talk with their kids about sex. Topics need to include the benefits of waiting, healthy relationships, where to get birth control, and how to use it.

In the long run, having these conversations helps protect kids. As former Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, says in Words Can Work: When Talking With Kids About Sexual Health: “Research shows that children who get open and honest messages are more likely to postpone sexual intercourse than those who don’t get the information they need. Moreover, they’re more likely to use contraception if they do have sex.”

So take a deep breath, put your kid’s well-being first, and start talking.

Resources
Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health
Words Can Work: When Talking With Kids About Sexual Health
What Works: Sexuality Education

Related Issues and Answers columns
Parents as educators
Postponing sex
Self-respect
Talking with kids

Related columns for young people

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