Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Birth Control in Gloucester

The Gloucester School Committee is considering whether to offer contraceptives in the school health clinic. This is in response to the rise in teen pregnancies over the past year.

Medical Director of Massachusetts State Department of Public Health Dr. Lauren Smith was asked by Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk to participate on a so-called Blue Ribbon Panel, which is examining how to respond to the spike in teen pregnancies.

Dr. Smith supports providing confidential access to contraceptives in addition to comprehensive sexuality education.

Members of the community will get the chance to voice their opinions about birth control and sex education at a series of meetings yet to be scheduled. School Committee Chairman Greg Verga is quoted in the Globe article as saying, “I think a lot of people would like to have their say.”

Fine. Hear everyone out. But the city has asked experts such as Dr. Smith to weigh in for a reason.

”We have a lot of options to look at,” Mayor Kirk says in the Globe article. “We have abstinence all the way to contraceptives. That’s a huge spectrum.”
I hope Mayor Kirk will heed the advice of the experts. They will tell her and the members of the School Committee that effective sexuality education doesn’t just teach about abstinence or contraceptives. Comprehensive sexuality education, as supported by Dr. Smith, includes both – messages people about contraception and the benefits of abstaining from sex.

Some will charge it’s a mixed message, that it could confuse young people.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy issued a report, Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The author of the report is Dr. Douglas Kirby, who is nationally known for his work in the field of adolescent sexuality.

“Studies clearly demonstrate that the same programs can both delay sex and increase use of condoms or other forms of contraception,” Dr. Kirby writes. “In other words, emphasizing abstinence and the use of protection for those who do have sex in the same program is not confusing to young people; rather, it is realistic and effective.”

I’m reminded of what 17-year- old Mariama told me when I interviewed her for our DVD set, Raising Healthy Kids: Families Talk About Sexual Health.

“My parents instilled in me the values that abstinence was the best thing to do,” Mariama said. “And I waited [for sex] and I will continue to wait until I get married.”

“But they also said to me,” Mariama continues, “ ‘We realize that you’re reaching an age where you’re going to make that decision on your own. And if you do make the decision to have sex, we want you to protect yourself. They also said that we love you enough that, whether you agree with us or not, we still want the best for you, in terms of being protected.’ ”

Preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases isn’t a moral issue. It’s a health issue.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a sex education policy with recommendations that are based on evidence.

Jonathan Klein, M.D., chair of the Committee that wrote the recommendations, said: "Even though there is great enthusiasm in some circles for abstinence-only interventions, the evidence does not support abstinence-only interventions as the best way to keep young people from unintended pregnancy."

I urge Gloucester: Listen to the experts.

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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Monday, July 28, 2008

Check Twice – Save a Life

For three years, I’ve been driving a scooter. It’s a little one, not legal on the highway. I ride it around my hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

My scooter saves on gasoline, reducing my carbon footprint, and it’s fun. Most of the time.

When people ask whether I feel safe driving my scooter, I say of course not. The minute I let down my guard, I’m likely to get hurt.

Years ago, I put myself through college by teaching high school students the classroom portion of driver’s training. Drive defensively was my mantra.

“People riding bikes and motorcycles are invisible to your eye because you’re not looking for them,” I warned my students. “You have to pay special attention.”

When I’m scooting around town, I stay in the middle of the road. People parked on the right side of the street often swing open their car doors without looking.

Recently, one driver pulled out of a parking lot in front of me. I’d seen him coming but still had to slam on my brakes, and almost smashed right into him.

“Do you have a license for that thing?” he snarled.

My scooter is 49 cc’s and requires no special operating license. My scooter is registered, and I do have a driver’s license.

I shot a question back at him: “So if I were on my bicycle, you’d have done the same thing?”

Another time, a driver in front of me kept hitting her brakes. Even from my safe distance behind her, I could see that she was sending a text message. When I beeped my horn to get her attention, her teenage passenger gave me a nasty look.

Yesterday, I was waiting my turn at the stop sign. A driver pulled around me and nearly knocked me over.

I yelled, “Hey!”

I can’t repeat here exactly his retort, but this will suffice: “You @#$%^&*.”

As he drove off, I noticed his bumper sticker: CHECK TWICE, SAVE A LIFE, MOTORCYCLES ARE EVERYWHERE.

When I bought my scooter, there were just two or three other scooters in my hometown. Now there’re about ten times as many.

I predict that it’s only a matter of time before one of us is seriously hurt or killed by an angry or distracted motorist.

Please – parents take note. Remind your kids: Check twice. Save a life.

1 Comments:

Blogger Jack Thomas said...

Be careful on your scooter. I cannot abide the thought of you hurting yourself.

August 07, 2009 12:32 PM

 

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Healthy Hearted Kids

The American Academy of Pediatrics is hoping to prevent adult heart disease by recommending wider cholesterol screening for children. They’re also urging pediatricians to consider prescribing cholesterol-lowering drugs for children as young as eight years old.

Some children – about one in 500 – have genetic cholesterol disorders. But millions kids face an unhealthy future because they eat too much of the wrong foods and don’t get enough exercise.

A few weeks ago, I walked into the locker room at my local YMCA. A mother and her two toddler daughters were getting ready to swim. A third daughter, who appeared to be in her early teens, was sitting cross-legged in her jeans on a bench. They were all dipping into a giant-sized bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos, one handful after another. I could almost hear their arteries clogging. All four were more than a little overweight.

I give the mom credit for taking her kids to the pool. But the Doritos? Why do so many parents indulge their kids’ appetites for junk food?

My friend, Maria, says sometimes her kids’ demands for cookies or candy wear her down, and she gives in. Other times, she’s so busy that it’s just easier to grab an unhealthy but prepackaged snack. “I see the segments on the Today Show that tell you to make little snack bags with raisins and nuts. Who’s got the time for that?! “

It’s a case of pay now or pay later. Parents have to nail nutrition 101 and help their kids develop and manage healthy habits. This means replacing the giant-sized bags of Doritos with nutritious snacks, and trading some of the time in front of the computer and TV for daily physical activity.

Make this a priority or you could be condemning your kids to a lifetime of illness and maybe even a drug that prevents heart attacks or strokes. It’s your choice.

Resources
Healthy Weight: True Stories (in development)
Words Can Work: When Talking About Healthy Weight (in development)


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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

From Horribles to Grotesque

Just as I’ve said, the story of the Gloucester teen pregnancies isn’t going away. But I couldn’t have predicted how bizarre the story would turn.

On July 4th, the neighboring town of Beverly held its annual Horribles Parade. It is a tradition to dress up in funny or outrageous costumes and march down Main Street.

The Boston Globe describes one of the floats in the parade: “There were young men in diapers emerging from a female dummy’s open legs, condoms raining on preteen spectators, and a truck that simulated a part of the male anatomy and carried the mocking message: “Knock ‘em up high where expectations are low, Gloucester, MA.”

As if the invention of such a mocking float isn’t sickening enough, it also won second place for creativity.

The Globe tells of one mother along the parade route trying to convince her nine-year-old son that the packages of condoms he was picking up off the street were facial wipes.

When he didn’t buy it, the mother admitted to the reporter that she had some explaining to do. When she did tell her son about sex, the boy said he thought babies came from the baby store.

What the article reveals is that our culture is really messed up when it comes to sexual health.

Parents take note: Teaching kids about sexual health is a lifelong dialogue. It starts at birth – in how you communicate, listen, build trust, and set limits with your child.

Research shows that when families can talk about sexual health, young people tend to delay sexual intercourse and use protection when they do have sex. If these conversations take place early and often, it’s safe to assume that fewer teens would have babies, more nine-year-olds would know that babies don’t come from stores, and young adults like those on the grotesque Beverly float would be more likely to respect themselves and others.

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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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Kids Raising Kids

One might have thought the news about the pregnant teens in Gloucester would have had its fifteen minutes in the spotlight and have faded from the headlines. But the story isn’t going away anytime soon.

A television crew from the BBC is hanging around town. They’re including Gloucester in an hour-long documentary they’re producing about teen pregnancy. People magazine reported the story this week, calling Gloucester High School “Maternity High.”

Summer residents arriving for the season want to rehash every article they’ve read. They ask, Was there a pact?

I’ve felt defensive about Gloucester’s reputation from the start. The numbers – some say it’s up to twenty pregnancies – are alarming. But I love this place. It’s beautiful, rich in history, and home to a lot of hardworking and talented people of all ages.

City officials have rolled up their sleeves. Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk is organizing five “Listening Post” community meetings. Leading experts including Dr. Karen Hacker, nationally respected for her work on pregnancy prevention, have joined a blue ribbon panel that will participate in the meetings. I hope teens show up to paint the picture: tell us of what’s going on in their lives, and what they need.

If City officials do this right, down the road the media will be able to report on how Gloucester has turned things around. Other communities will be able to learn from us. We’ll see how many reporters come back to write about the good news.

There are no quick fixes. Changing the environment that resulted in so many teen pregnancies will require a long term, far-reaching approach.

The entire community – parents, politicians, educators, and business leaders – have to invest time and money in programs and activities to make sure Gloucester’s youth value themselves and see the possibility of a productive future.

Students need comprehensive sexuality education. And it needs to be taught by adults invested in telling young people the truth and teaching them the skills they need to protect their sexual health.

And as I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying: More parents have to start listening to their kids and talking about sexual health, values, goals, and consequences. When parents can’t or won’t, other adults have to pick up the slack.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve kept recalling the words of Wendy, a 15-year-old girl I interviewed about teen pregnancy a few years ago. She said kids need a strong sense of self so they have the confidence to stick up for themselves and make smart choices. She’d learned this through a first sexual encounter that she regretted. After a lot of hard work Wendy gained self-confidence. She was thankful she hadn’t gotten pregnant. “It may sound a little rude,” she said, “but when you’re 14 and you’re pregnant, you’re just a kid raising another kid, and that’s the truth.”

Gloucester’s Director of Public Health Jack Vondras, who’s heading up the study of this issue for Mayor Kirk, is a strong leader. He understands what it will take to turn things around. But he and Mayor Kirk have their hands full. Everyone in Gloucester – described by People magazine as “this mostly Catholic working-class city,” will have to see the light and be willing to do the right thing. If we don’t, we’ll have more pregnant girls, more teen fathers, and more bad press. And we will have failed our kids.

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

1 Comments:

Blogger Barbara said...

Hi Jeanne, Thanks for commenting on the Gloucester issue. I, like you, hope that the media begins to talk about the positive things the Gloucester Mayor and others are doing with the community meetings etc. As a former School Nurse I do understand the difficulties in bringing information to students in regard to the many issues that families feel is only their business to teach to their young people. I do not know what has been dealt with,as far as sex education,death and dying, HIV,suicide and the other "taboo" subjects in the Gloucester Schools as part of the Health Education Curriculum or even if Gloucester has such a curriculum. What I do know is that there needs to be open and honest discussion on all these issues with parents,students and educators. You have provided many tools in regard to many if not all these issues. I certainly do not know what is truth and what is fiction in the Gloucester situation. I do know that kids should not be raising kids in Gloucester or anywhere else. The answer is talk about it. By the way I met you at the introductory program to your suicide prevention program at the MA State House earlier this year. Thank you for your good work. Barbara Whitcomb

July 03, 2008 3:45 PM

 

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