Friday, June 27, 2008

Sex Talk

In this morning’s Boston Globe, Ellen Goodman expresses outrage felt by many who work in sexual health. “Why does it take a myth to get attention for teen pregnancy?” she asks.

For the record, from what I’ve heard and read – and from what I know about teen pregnancy – we’re making far too much out of the word pact. I believe some of the Gloucester teens got pregnant intentionally.

Goodman quotes Patricia Quinn, head of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, as saying that people are freaking out because the Gloucester epidemic touches a deep fear. “We are terrified that we don’t actually decide for our kids when they have sex. We don’t decide when they become parents.”

As I wrote yesterday, I finally understood why the media was all over this story. People really can’t wrap their head around the well established fact: sometimes girls get pregnant on purpose. So when this possibility was suggested by Gloucester principal Joe Sullivan, a respected principal, the media went nuts.

Quinn urges parents to aggressively articulate their values about sexuality, relationships, pleasure, and responsibility.

Parents have told me for years the reasons they hesitate to do this. Some say they don’t know how or when to bring up the subject of sex. Others admit that their parents didn’t talk with them about sex, so they have no role models for these conversations. Invariably, I run into parents who avoid what might be an uncomfortable conversation by convincing themselves that if they talk about sex, their kids will think they’re condoning it. That’s denial in its purest form.

The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the western world. Our kids aren’t having more sex – they’re using less birth control.

This is a tough talk for many parents to have, but if anything comes from the mess here in Gloucester, it’s that parents have been served up an opportunity to talk with their girls and boys about sexuality, choice, and what they want out of life.

So let’s start talking.

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

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

Related columns for young people

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gloucester Pact?

At a press conference to address the epidemic in teen pregnancies in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said there was no evidence that some of the 17 pregnant girls had made a pact to get pregnant.

What is so compelling about this angle of this story? Seventeen girls – four times the annual figure for Gloucester High School – are pregnant. The issue isn't whether there was a pact between the girls, something is desperately wrong.

Why so much attention is focused on whether the pregnant Gloucester teens had a pact has puzzled me since the day the story broke.

I asked Barbara Huberman, Director of Education & Outreach at Advocates for Youth, to explain.

Barbara told me that many people think girls get pregnant by accident. It shocks them that some of the Gloucester teens may have gotten pregnant on purpose. I was puzzled, basically, because I wasn’t shocked. From years of working on issues related to sexual health, I know that many girls do get pregnant intentionally.

Now I understand why people may be so fascinated with what’s happening here in Gloucester. But Barbara’s explanation only underscores how much work there is to be done to educate not just our community of Gloucester, Massachusetts – but adults and young people nationally. How can we help our kids value themselves, and want and plan a future based on smart and healthy choices?


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

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

Related columns for young people

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pregnancy Prevention

Friends from across the country have called and sent e-mails about the Gloucester story. One friend – a mother of two boys – wrote, “What about that BAD Gloucester press? Stupid HS girls!”

The girls involved must accept some responsibility. But where were the adults in these girls (and boys) lives?

This is a fact: the part of the brain that helps us grasp future consequences doesn’t fully develop until we are 21 to 24 years old. That’s why parents/caregivers need to continually help young people understand the impact of their actions and guide them to make smart choices.

Young people tell me they need adults in their lives who will listen first, and then offer guidance and opinions. In essence, conversation.

In a survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 88 percent of teens said it would be easier to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open and honest conversations about these topics with a parent.

Some parents aren’t physically or emotionally present to have those conversations. Other parents/caregivers don’t know when or how to start these crucial conversations.

So, here in Gloucester, as in every community, it’s key that parents/caregivers have the information, the skills, and the words to talk with kids early on about sex, relationships, and values and kids’ futures.


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

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

Related columns for young people

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Teenaged and Pregnant

Everyone is talking about it. In my hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts, 17 teenagers are pregnant. That’s more than four times the number of high school girls who got pregnant last year.

Educators and public health officials don’t know what’s behind the spike. What we do know is that when a girl gets pregnant – and a boy becomes a father – there are many contributing factors, whether the pregnancy is intentional or not.

Reading the Boston Globe article, I zeroed in on a quote from a 46-year-old woman, Lori Mitchell, whose daughter got pregnant at age 16 and dropped out of school. This mother infers that there are things a lot worse than a teen ending up pregnant.

"They could be junkies or prostitutes," she said. "You try to protect them as much as you can, but it's up to them to do the right thing."

Talk about setting low standards for a child. By the way Lori, a 16-year-old can be both a junkie and pregnant.

I don’t know Lori Mitchell, but I’d like to ask her whether she had ever talked with her daughter about sex as she was growing up. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that ongoing, open conversations about sexual health help kids postpone sex and use protection if they do have intercourse.

Under guidance from the Mayor’s office, Gloucester’s Department of Public Health and the School Committee are taking steps to address the teen pregnancy issue. Key will be helping engage adults and the kids in their lives in ongoing conversations about sexual health that may be uncomfortable, but can help kids make healthy choices. Or, as Lori Mitchell says, “…do the right thing.”

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

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

Related columns for young people

0 Comments:

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