Teen Pregnancy: How to Prevent Our Babies from Having Babies
Between 1991 and 2013, the teen birth rate declined 57% nationwide declining in all 50 states and among all racial and ethnic groups. This is the good news but, teens are still getting pregnant and having to utilize public assistance resources at a substantial cost to the public. Teen pregnancy has a number of foundational reasons but it is closely linked to other social issues such as poverty and income, overall child well-being, out-of-wedlock births, irresponsible fatherhood, health issues, education, child welfare and various risky behaviors.
Nearly all teen pregnancies are unplanned but childbearing during adolescence does not come without consequences to all of those who are involved. It negatively affects the young parents and their families, their children and society as a whole.
Teen girls who have babies are less likely to finish high school and more likely to have to rely on public assistance. Teen mothers are more likely to be poor as adults and to have poorer educational, behavioral and health outcomes over the course of their lives as opposed to women who wait to have children.
Most parents of teens confess an intimidation or uneasiness around the very idea of discussing sex, STDs, and pregnancy protection with their children while some may deny altogether the possibility that their children will be sexually active. Parents of teens also may depend too much on the school system to provide their children with sex education while in many school districts, the sex education programs aren’t always up to date or complete.
Parents who do choose to discuss protection with their teens may recommend abstinence to their kids or will be more pro-active: getting birth control for their daughters or purchasing condoms for their sons. Some parents feel discouraged about competing with the vast amount of information their teens are exposed to in the media and online; from sexually charged television shows and movies, video games and exposure to graphic sex and readily available pornography on the Internet. With sex being more prominent in today’s society, many parents expect their children will learn about sex on their own and that their efforts will be in vain. But Bill Alber, chief program officer of The National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy says;
“But one truth remains: “The research shows,” says Albert, “that parents who brave their own discomfort and talk with their children about relationships, love, sex, and contraception, who express honest caring and concern about these issues, and are clear about what they think and why, greatly reduce their children’s risk of teen parenthood.”
So how can you educate your child about sex, pregnancy, and protection in a way that inspires them to be careful with their own bodies, their partners bodies, and to take responsibility for the very real potential consequences that come with having sex?
You know your teen best, and you know your own communication style – the following are simply suggestions to help you get the conversation started and the lines of communication about sex open between you and your child. Use your own best judgment when discussing sex and pregnancy with your teenager.
- Stay close. Studies show that teens who feel connected to their parents delay sexual intercourse longer than those who don’t.
- Talk to your teen about dating and relationships. Talk to your child about what a healthy relationship looks like. Explain that respecting their date or partner as a person first is one of most important ways they can build and have a good, solid, long-term relationship. Let them know that a loving relationship with another person doesn’t have to include sex right away, or even at all.
- Be prepared. Decide what message you want to send to your child about sex and intimacy. If applicable, remind them of your religious beliefs.
- Focus on education. Explain to your teen why you want them to finish their education before they have children of their own. Help them understand what life as a parent, and especially life as a young, uneducated parent, would really look like for them.
- Know the facts. Make sure you offer facts and solutions, not judgments or opinions. Discuss contraception, STDs, HIV/AIDS and how to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. If your teen is going to have sex anyway, help them understand how to have a healthy sexual relationship. If you need help locating facts and information about sexuality, intercourse, and teen pregnancy Planned Parenthood websites offer plenty of straightforward resources and articles.
- Provide the tools. If you are comfortable providing contraception to your teen, plan a visit to your child’s doctor for more information and the tools your teen will need to stay safe should they engage in sexual activity.
- Stay vigilant. Talk to your teen about their friends, crushes, and any newly developing relationships. Pop in to the room unexpectedly if your child has a friend over. Take snacks with you as a cover if you have to, but make it known you are there and aware. If there is a party at another person’s home, call and ask the parents how it will be monitored and if a parent will be around to supervise.
- Encourage healthy passions. If your child has a talent, skill, or enjoys sports, encourage and get them involved with programs to further develop their skills and encourage their passions. By keeping them active in something they are passionate about your teen will develop a stronger sense of self-worth, which will help them make better decisions, ultimately steering them away from risky behaviors.
- Expose them to babies. Arrange for your teenage son or daughter to babysit. One on one time with an infant is often enough to help a youth realize the sheer amount of responsibility a child will bring. Many schools even offer hands-on classes on parenthood using a computerized baby that is programmed to cry, need feeding and need diaper changing on a real infant’s schedule. Studies show that these types of programs increase awareness among teens and youth of just how demanding and relentless parenting is.
- Offer potential responses to sexual situations. Tell your teen it is okay to say “No.” to sex. Help your teen find words and phrases that feel comfortable for them to say if they are ever pressured to have sex. Discussing various replies in a calm and sincere gives your teen more confidence should they find themselves pressured to have sex. And remember it’s not just girls who will find themselves in these situations. Help your teen boy find ways to say “No.” too.
- Communicate constantly (and don’t give up!). Keep the conversation going with your teen and let them know you care and are available to answer any questions they have or discuss any situations that might come up for them. Building trust is your number one goal in the teen/parent dynamic, and keeping the lines of communication open will help facilitate that trust.
The rate of teen pregnancies and abortions have significantly dropped over the past few years in all states. Thanks to a six-year program in Colorado, the Colorado Family Planning Program distributed free long-acting reversible contraceptives to 30,000 teens and young women. They distributed intrauterine devices or hormonal implants that can prevent pregnancy for up to ten years, and it resulted in a 40% decline in birthrates among teen moms and a 35% decline in teen abortions from 2009 to 2015 as reported in an article by CBS news.